Using Opportunity Mapping to Create Amazing Products From a Wall Of Wild Ideas

Roland Butler

Head of Product at Zalando



To be able to decide between a myriad of opportunities and choose the ones that will propel your product to the next level, product managers should start their journey by collecting all the possible opportunities casting the net as wide as possible. Instead of re-iterating on the theme and repeating themselves, they should stop for a moment and take a look at the totality of all the existing opportunities.

Product managers should be continuously talking to customers identifying all their needs and pain points and then gathering ideas collected in blue sky sessions and marketing surveys and research on the competition.

Actions taken

Every four months -- a provenly good cadence -- you should stop, step away from the daily tasks and review your wall of wild ideas. The wall of ideas is a precursor to the opportunity map and a powerful ideation method that will help you generate the plenitude of ideas. You should pick an idea, draw it on a card, and put it on a wall. Ideas are added following informal conversations you are having, brainstorming sessions, the latest research, etc. I prefer using physical cards and placing them on a real wall located in one of our offices. While virtual tools can also be useful, I find the tangibility of physical things rather powerful. For the remote setting, I would suggest Miro boards that could be nicely arranged into clusters.

Each card is placed on the wall without any hierarchical order. When your wall becomes populated with ideas, you should group them by themes. For example, ideas could relate to a specific customer segment or user problem. The challenge is to single out ideas worth pursuing further and submit them to a more rigorous examination. This selection process should come prior to any revision or the development of a new strategy and/or even selecting objectives for the next quarter.

Clearly, you won’t be able to address every need or pain point customers have. And it is here that opportunity mapping should help you select customer problems to solve that would drive the desired outcome as established at the company level. To learn which are those opportunities, you should work up selected ideas in a bit more detail and take them into an initial user testing or simple paper prototype. You should then evaluate the size of the market and different opportunities with more rigorous user research to check that those ideas would resonate with people.

I think that picking two to three ideas is optimal and leaving the rest on the wall for another session. To better understand what would be the ideas that would have the biggest impact, you can bring them to life in an entirely made-up world; there are many examples of these, the most typical being a short film made with the help of video engineers, UX designers, and CGI specialists showcasing how our product will look and the role it will play in people’s lives in a five-year time. This approach also generates enthusiasm and excitement for people on the team because this long-term projection stirs their ambition and reminds them why they joined the company.

Lessons learned

  • Understanding the opportunity space and selecting the most impactful ideas that will bring the highest value and desired outcome is at the crux of any product leader’s job. The wall of ideas and opportunity mapping are the most useful tools that rely on the process of visualization to help product leaders make the best decisions within the often perplexing opportunity space.
  • I prefer visual, tangible tools and was impressed by the impact that a photo comic book we created had. Each frame of the comic book contained multiple ideas from our wall of ideas that helped us decide which of these frames we would bring to life. We also did a video that was inspirational and galvanized the whole team. Sometimes, a prototype in Sketch would be more compelling than a mediocre video, but both should be considered as illustrative exercises in a presentation.

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Roland Butler

Head of Product at Zalando

Decision Making

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