Coming together and getting on the same page at the start of a new project helps to increase the likelihood that you’ll create an effective solution for the problem at hand. As much as we’d like to believe it, we’re not going to get all the information or anecdotes we need to be successful just by sending a checklist to a client. Instead, we can use generative activities to better understand what we’re solving for, what constraints do (or will) exist, and how to come together as a team. Below are three activities I’ve found helpful in further defining projects with teams; specifically, for projects in digital product development.

Draft the Release

A great way to get to the crux of the product vision is to start with how it would be marketed. This activity works well for aligning external stakeholders when they’re from various departments, and can often help inform the vision statement or value proposition. The structure of this activity is pretty simple: have everyone spend five minutes writing their press release for the new product or feature set. Show a few examples of press releases, and go over the general building blocks of them, to ensure everyone is on the same page. At the end of the five minute deadline, everyone should share their press release and vote on their favorite to drive further discussion. A similar version of this exercise can be done using this template from Google Ventures. More information on how to use this template can be found in this post by Jake Knapp.

MoSCoW

MoSCoW works well in a kickoff when you have a client who has already done research and/or has a clear vision for the product they want to create. This activity helps understand all of the thought they’ve already put into this product (and the more granular features) without going through a redundant strategic planning exercise. I first learned about MoSCoW through Folding Burritos (a GREAT resource for product managers) and have used it to facilitate conversations around product features by using a SWOT-esque chart to align with the four categories that drive this activity. The four categories are…

  • Must have: Non-negotiable and required
  • Should have: High-value, but not required to be functional per the product vision statement or value prop
  • Could have: “Nice to Have"
  • Won’t have: Lowest value, but could add value in the future

You can read more about this method on Wikipedia.

Understand the Job

If you’re kicking off a project that already has a clearly-defined vision, but may just be in the initial brainstorming phase for specific features, ‘Understand the Job’ can work well for getting started. This vetting technique is based on (and named after) this well-known lecture from Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. The activity itself is pretty simple: brainstorm potential features your product would need to drive value for your audience. After you have a healthy list (5-10 major features), go through and annotate the following:

  • Who’s it for? Which of your audience personas would use this?
  • When do they use it?
  • What triggers them to use it?
  • What’s in it for them?

Pro tip: Bet you never would have guessed to use Post-it notes in a workshop activity (insert sarcasm here). But seriously, sticky notes are great for this activity as they can help visually show which features may require more thought or might not meet the necessary criteria to be worth building. Choose a different color sticky note for each question response to be able to quickly see these types of themes.

Benefits of Doing These Types of Activities

The benefits are pretty straight-forward for incorporating activities like these, or variations of them, into your project kickoffs. For one, you’ll have the opportunity to get to know your team and build rapport before even starting development. More tangibly, you’ll have a team-generated artifact right off the bat that can act as your ‘guiding light’ for the project. And, most notably, you can skip the formal PowerPoint-heavy sessions and get collaborative instead.

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