How to run a successful ideation session.

Facilitate with empathy, timebox and stick to it, get tech barriers sorted out early on, trust the process and keep the energy high!

Photo by CJ Dayrit on Unsplash

This post is part of a series concerning ideation. If you want to get a clear picture of what ideation is, the benefits of ideation, when to use it, what are prior steps before ideating, and how to plan an ideation session for future success, check these 3 prior posts 👇🏼

Quick recap: You covered all the elements needed to successfully prepare for your ideation session:

  • Prior market research has been realized ✅
  • A user problem/need and a potential opportunity for business growth have been identified (Define user problem statement) ✅
  • Alignment of all key stakeholders secured ✅
  • Logistics: Agenda is set, invites send, onboarding prepared, teams organized, digital playground ✅

General topics

  1. Facilitate with empathy: As always everybody wants his idea to succeed and you will have a very diverse group in the room (or at least you should). Therefore it’s normal that everybody will have their agenda in mind and potentially if there are different hierarchies within the group you can be sure that people want to make their mark and stand out. So try to guide conversations and the flow with empathy. Listen carefully and redirect discussions towards the intended outcome without giving your opinion.
  2. Timekeeping: Every exercise should have a clear timebox. Otherwise, it wouldn´t be a sprint and people would take ages to complete the task. Sprints are always based on the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. Done is better than perfect in this context.
  3. Let discussions breathe: Even if you guide conversations people will need time to digest thoughts and discuss different opinions. When planning the agenda, make sure you let it breathe a little bit.
  4. Keep the energy high: Give people a clear expectation of breaks so that they can plan their coffees, lunch, snacks, checking emails. It’s better to plan smaller breaks and often instead of larger breaks and fewer.

Introduction: People and process

It’s logical and a matter of good education to present yourself, but it’s equally necessary to introduce (or repeat) the process of ideation as many participants won´t understand the first part (DIVERGE) of the sprint and feel they are getting off track and maybe question if we stick to the initial brief.

The overarching scheme of an ideation workshop is 2 phases.

  1. The first phase is all about diverging and generating ideas.
  2. The second phase is where we narrow things down and select the best ideas to take further.

During the introduction you should cover:

  • Who you are (if you’re conducting a workshop with a client).
  • The workshop objectives and the challenge. Recall scope & goal.
  • The workshop agenda.
  • The process.

Get tech barriers and problems sorted out early

Nowadays many of these kinds of workshops will be held remotely. Therefore one of the main barriers is to sort out tech barriers early on to give everybody the chance to participate without the additional hassle of dealing with technology issues during the session.

Plan a proper onboarding session and let people play around with the digital whiteboard functionalities before starting any exercise.


The objective is to create a safe space or judgment-free zone for the generation of ideas. Therefore you have to start by creating a relaxed atmosphere and eliminate mental blockers. It also helps to get to know one another better, which can ultimately foster better discussions and openness.

If you go online and search for icebreaker examples you’ll find a lot of different methods. Just choose the one you are most comfortable with e.g. here you’ll find 5 virtual icebreaker methods based on Miro templates 👇🏼

Building empathy for the user and deep dive on user needs

Fully understanding your end user’s needs is the first step towards innovation and therefore it should be part of every ideation session (even though you might have a proper problem statement defined). It gets participants into the mood of solving different layers of needs (functional, emotional, social, financial 👉🏼 Check my post “Become great at creating new products and services people will love and buy”). For that exercise, you can use tools such as empathy maps .

Generating ideas

Time to apply the selected ideation techniques (check which ideation techniques to choose here). As mentioned before the objective is to create a safe space or judgment-free zone for the generation of ideas. So in this stage, you should encourage quantity over quality. You can still use the time for refinement afterward. In various iterations and exercises, you will generate a lot of initial ideas and give everyone virtual voting dots and ask them to vote on the parts of each idea they like the most. These can then inform your future concept refinement work.

Concept card development

The preliminary winning ideas should be refined and polished with the help of a concept card template e.g.

This forces all participants to think about the different dimensions of the concept.

Pitch & vote for the winning concept

Finally, all participants should pitch their concept card to the group and you start another round of dot voting to pick the winner.

Debrief and Next steps. What to do after the ideation workshop?

Once you’ve completed the ideation phase, you will move on to prototyping and user testing. It’s important to highlight that the process is not always linear; the prototyping and testing may prove your ideas as not desired which takes you back to another ideation round.

Close with some time for reflection, discussion and feedback.

You want to take action or you need help?

Do you want to carry out an ideation workshop with your team? Do you want to develop concrete concepts and get from vague ideas and opportunities to tangible solution approaches?

👉🏼 Get more information about my Ideation Workshop Service to kickstart your innovation journey or build upon spotted opportunities.

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About Me

About Me

Helping companies with effective strategies and execution for a systematic, user- and growth-centered innovation.

My name is Fabian Roschig and I am a consultant for innovation strategies and innovation management.

My mission is to drive innovation at all levels, based on the individual strengths of each organization, to enable and accelerate sustainable commercial growth. Together we make this happen by setting clear goals, focusing on the right balance between strategy and execution, and using validated, systematic methods and tools that guarantee continuous, measurable results.

For more than 12 years, I have had the privilege to successfully plan, implement or optimize new strategies, products, and services, innovation programs, structures, agile teams as well as processes for a variety of clients and employers such as The Coca-Cola Company, Condor, kicker, Dr. Oetker or TUI. In doing so, I work closely with executive boards, middle management, cross-functional teams, and external service providers.



Fabian Roschig - Innovation Consultant

Helping companies with effective strategies and execution for a systematic, user- and growth-centered innovation.