The Number of Participants
Ideation is not a numbers game. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it has been shown time and again with empirical evidence that individual brainstorming is actually more productive than group brainstorming.
While we are not suggesting people to brainstorm in their rooms, you need to be aware of the pitfalls of having a high number of people sit in the same room. It is always good to limit the team size to less than 12 people.
This is the main reason why you need true professional diversity in your cross-functional team. We know that when you repeatedly brainstorm in a particular industry, even with completely different participants, after the umpteenth brainstorming session, you not only get the same ideas, but you also get the same paths arriving at those ideas. The main reason for this is availability bias.
You need to have outsiders and professionals. These are typically innovation professionals and consultants. In order for a company to successfully fill and maintain an innovation pipeline, it also needs to nurture its own innovation professionals as well in order to overcome availability bias in an organization. These are not your engineers or marketing managers moonlighting as innovation professionals. They need to do this all day, everyday.
In cross-functional package innovation teams, typically engineering, manufacturing, brand management, product management, and financial analysis are represented. The professionals who facilitate the sessions are typically industrial designers, usability specialists, and prototyping personnel.
It is desirable to have open minded and free thinking individuals in ideation sessions. While negative and strongly opinionated people can drag the team chemistry down and hinder ideation productivity, our first priority is to look for people who are comfortable in working in a chaotic environment. People who have done this before repeatedly, i.e. the professionals, tend to trust the process and be more productive in it.
Invention is not innovation. Structured innovation is not about sitting in a room until you invent something. Our innovation projects in packaging typically run about 6 months each. In a period shorter than that you do not have sufficient time to innovate. If it lasts longer than that, the process gets stagnant, and takes on a life of its own.
In our process, the formal ideation part takes two to three days. This does not mean that ideas are generated in three days, and then it is over. In the three days, seeds of concepts are generated which are worked on in the second half of the project, prototyped, tested (with consumers), improved, combined with other ideas, and retested in a reiterative fashion. But ideation as such, lasts only two to three days.
Usually, 100-150 ideas and early concepts are generated to be taken to the next part of the process. It is important to have a high number of entries. If your ideation yields over a hundred ideas and concepts, at the end of the process you may end up with 2-4 workable innovative full-blown package concepts. The reason is innovation processes typically function at their highest efficiency when failures occur fast and early, when failing is cheap. This results in lower yields by design.