The Slingshot: A group process for generating breakthrough ideas

By Anne Orban and Christopher W. Miller

The Slingshot process emerged from a British Airways product development team working to upgrade its business class service.  A focus group with frequent business class users was followed by a debrief session.  Several of the participants happened to be both frequent trans-Atlantic business class customers and skilled professionals in product development. One of these participants was also included in the extensive debriefing creative problem solving session immediately after the focus group. This person was “slingshot” between participating in a consumer experience and then employing her professional product development background in the debrief session.  In the debrief session, she challenged the BA team’s conventional thinking and came up with a breakthrough idea leading to very satisfactory results for the final outcome in seat design. The process innovation became formalized as the Slingshot group process and the person acting in the consumer and professional product development team role was christened, a ‘prosumer’.

What Makes a Slingshot Different and Useful?

There are three characteristics which make a Slingshot different from and more useful than freestanding implementation of either of its component processes in the task of developing a high quality solution set. The three characteristics are:

  • Introduction of the prosumer in both consumer and creative roles. Prosumer participation contributes depth to understanding the consumer experience.  Prosumers also provide high level creative input from a product development professional, as well as impartial and informed challenge to team biases and assumptions from an outside peer.
  • Purposeful development of creative tension to uncover breakthrough ideas when prosumers and project team members are slingshot from the consumer experience and into the creative idea generator role.
  • Close proximity in time of a qualitative research experience and a creative problem solving session to optimize creative tension. Anecdotal evidence supports the value of the close proximity of listening to the voice of the customer and then processing it immediately in a creative problem solving session whether on the same day or consecutive days.

The relatively short time needed to plan and complete a Slingshot also makes the tool useful.  A basic Slingshot can be accomplished in three to four weeks when the topic is not too specialized. The degree to which the topic area is highly specialized will impact the amount of time necessary to get the right prosumers and consumers – key components of a successful Slingshot.

Finally, a Slingshot is useful because third party costs for doing the process are moderate given the value of its output.  The estimated cost for a basic day-long Slingshot with a moderator/facilitator, one focus group with 10 recruits, and two prosumers, is estimated at $9,000.  The components in this estimate include:

  • Focus group and/or other facility rental (video & audio recording)
  • 10 consumers (recruiting fee and incentives)
  • 2 prosumers (honoraria)
  •  Catering



A prosumer for a Slingshot is an individual who can play both the consumer and the product development professional role.  Candidates for the prosumer role can be individuals from other divisions of a large enterprise, non-competing product development practitioners from other enterprises, academics and consultants. They can be from a range of disciplines including market research, marketing, design, logistics, manufacturing, engineering, science, economics, general management, project management, finance, IT and supply chain.

In a Slingshot, a prosumer has three roles:

  • Connected consumer
  • Skilled idea generator
  • Impartial challenger
  1. Prosumer as consumer

In the consumer role prosumers are invited to immerse themselves in the consumer experience.  In this way prosumers develop the intrinsic motivation to care about finding solutions to consumer problems. To be able to be effective in the consumer role, prosumers must have enough characteristics in common with the pre-qualified focus group participants to blend with them. Similarly, prosumers are expected to provide reaction and insights to topics introduced by the moderator in the same way as the pre-qualified target market consumers.

  1. Prosumer as skilled idea generator

In a creative problem solving session, prosumer immersion in the consumer experience is coupled with content expertise and creativity skills which purposefully develop creative tension. Creative tension plays a significant role in stretching the prosumer to offer breakthrough ideas.

  1. Prosumer as impartial challenger

A prosumer can act as an impartial challenger to stretch the project team because they are not part of the team’s business context and dynamic and yet they have a deep understanding of the team’s challenge.  In terms of team dynamic, a prosumer does not have the same filters or biases as project team members neither does a prosumer share  assumptions inherent in that company’s culture.  In terms of the team’s business context, a prosumer is freed up to offer breakthrough ideas because a prosumer is not constrained by internal responsibilities related to developing and implementing any of the ideas.

 Characteristics of the Ideal Prosumer

The ideal prosumer in a Slingshot is an individual with the following characteristics:

  • No conflict of interest
  • Ability to sign a confidentiality agreement
  • Consumer connection with the topic area
  • Knowledge relative to the topic
  • Experience with new product development
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Good interpersonal communication skills



The rationale for collecting voice of the customer/consumer data is well supported in studies and articles such as in the 2003 PDMA Comparative Performance Assessment Study. In that study, understanding the customer was ranked in the top two boxes as key factors driving new product development success, while misunderstanding the customer was ranked in the top two boxes as factors causing failure in new product development.  Similarly, Cooper (1999) argued that product developers will continue to introduce failures if customer input is missing. Alam (2005) observed that better strategies were needed to effectively interact with customers to obtain necessary input. Mixing prosumers with consumers in focus group sessions is one way to improve this interaction.

Following a focus group with a creative problem solving session is a natural flow for developing breakthrough ideas. The rationale for the back-to-back use of these two processes derives from the value of creative tension as a springboard for breakthrough idea generation.  With the voice of the consumer resonating in the heads of project team members and prosumers (who continue to carry the torch for the consumer), a skilled facilitator has lots of creative tension with which to stimulate breakthrough thinking in the follow-on creative problem solving session.



Amabile (1998) identifies three core components of individual creativity in the business context as, expertise (technical, procedural, intellection knowledge); creative thinking skills (the flexibility and imagination with which individuals approach problems); and, motivation (especially intrinsic motivation – the inner passion to solve a problem).  Creative tension is a term to describe the state of mind that is the result of combining individual content expertise with creative thinking skills and intrinsic motivation to want to solve a problem in the context of a Slingshot process.  A Slingshot’s topic and objectives provides the focus of a specific business context for the application of creative tension.  In the Slingshot process, project team members and prosumers are active participants in the purposeful development of the creative tension state of mind.

The Slingshot purposefully develops creative tension in two ways.  The first is by immersing individuals with topic expertise and creative thinking skills in a specific consumer/customer context to create intrinsic motivation to solve their problems.  The second way is to immediately harness these individuals’ topic expertise, creative thinking skills and inspired intrinsic motivation in a problem solving process designed to yield breakthrough ideas for the specified business topic.



Project leaders should consider using a Slingshot when a project topic needs to get a set of quality ideas in a short amount of time within a limited budget using first hand consumer insights. A Slingshot process is useful in an exploratory and developmental context in the discovery phase of product development because it provides project team members easy exposure to first-hand experience of the ‘jobs consumers want to get done’ in their particular context and considering the issues associated with products currently available for those jobs.  In an exploratory context at the front end of innovation, a Slingshot is an effective way to identify product opportunity gaps.  Applied in the later developmental context, a Slingshot may be an effective way for a project team to harness consumer input for testing and refining already proposed concepts.



Harvesting the value of a Slingshot depends on paying attention to all components of the process. The steps involved in implementing a Slingshot are:

  • Set the topic and objectives
  • Select the moderator/facilitator
  • Assemble the project team
  • Set up the logistics for the session
  • Screen and recruit prosumers and consumers
  • Develop the focus group discussion guide
  • Develop the creative problem solving process
  • Conduct the focus group(s)
  • Conduct the creative problem solving session
  • Document and disseminate results

Project leaders can use the basic methodology of a Slingshot in a variety of circumstances, as the basic process can be expanded and repeated depending on the topic and objectives.   The details of each step will be described and illustrated with a case study.

Introducing the Case Study Example:

In the discovery phase of product development, a Slingshot may be selected as a component of the research plan in a multi-stage front end of innovation process such as Hunting for Hunting Grounds. (PDMA ToolBook 1, Chapter 2).    The case study which will be used to illustrate all the steps in the Slingshot process is an example of that circumstance.

With all the interest in preventing childhood obesity and improving health and wellness of children, the pediatric nutrition division of a pharmaceutical company wanted to determine what nutritional products they could develop to improve the health outlook for this important cohort. The important research phase needed to be accomplished in two months in order to complete the project to meet the gate review timetable set by senior management.


Step 1: Set the topic and objectives

Setting the topic and clarifying the objectives for a Slingshot is part of the first step in successful implementation. The topic and objectives for a Slingshot will depend on the business context for which it has been selected. In general, strategic intent should drive project definition and project definition should drive process selection. The project leader is the person responsible for ensuring that the Slingshot is focused on the right topic and that the objectives are clear.

The topic of the Slingshot will determine the specifications for screening prosumers and consumers into the process.  Setting the objectives for the Slingshot is equally important and they will determine the content of the discussion guide and the process design for the creative problem solving session.  A well-written topic and set of objectives should clarify

  • Target market
  • Problem to be understood
  • Desired outcomes

Setting the topic and objectives in the case study example:

In the case study, the strategic intent was to ensure that the company had explored all possible ways of making a positive contribution to a significant national public health challenge. The project leader selected a multi-step front end of innovation process with exploratory research as a component. The Slingshot process was one of a number of processes selected as part of the exploratory research agenda which included focus groups with children in 4th and 5th grades and ethnographies in homes with families representative of the target population. The topic for the Slingshot process was uncovering opportunity gaps in pediatric nutrition for improving the health and wellness of children ages 1 to 14 years.  The objectives for the Slingshot were to identify nutritional product gaps for the target population and to develop at least twenty concepts for new products and services with potential to fill the gaps.


Step 2: Selecting the moderator/facilitator

The focus group moderator and creative problem solving facilitator roles may be played by one person with skill sets for both. Alternatively, two people may be recruited – one with the moderator skill set and the other with the creative problem solving skill set. The person(s) to fulfill the roles of moderator and facilitator may be recruited from within the company or from outside.  If the person recruited for the role is internal to the company, then it is very important for that individual to be perceived as neutral, objective and impartial in relation to the topic and to members of the project team and especially the team leader.

The candidate for moderator must be able to accomplish all steps in preparing for and conducting the focus group including developing a screener to obtain people qualified as being within the target market, writing the discussion guide to obtain the relevant consumer input during the focus group, and effectively managing participant discussion.

The skill set required of the facilitator role for the creative problem solving session includes experience with a range of tools and techniques for managing group dynamics, eliciting insights and ideas, and developing and prioritizing ideas for next steps.

Selecting the moderator/facilitator in the case study example:

In the case study, the project leader recruited one person who had both moderator and facilitator skill sets. The continuity of one person doing both roles streamlined project management and reduced the briefing time necessary for these roles.  From the moderator/facilitator’s perspective, involvement in both components of the Slingshot enhanced familiarity with the content and rapport with the team. This increased the person’s effectiveness in both roles.


Step 3: Assemble the project team

Assembling the project team is another responsibility of the project team leader.  There is considerable agreement about what constitutes an effective team for product development in terms of number, type of participants, functions, gender, information processing strength, and topic experience. Similarly, there is agreement that effective team members must have enough time allocated to do the work of the team and that co-location improves communication and overall effectiveness.

It is generally accepted that a project team works well with 6 to no more than 12 members. (Rees, 1997) Team members should represent a range of functions appropriate to the project topic, a range of experience inside and outside the company, and a mix of gender and age. It is also possible to put together teams that are diverse in terms of problem solving preferences, creativity, and personality which can be identified using various psychometric tools.

Assembling the project team in the case study example:

In this case study, there were twelve members of the project team. The team was led by a senior manager of marketing and business development.  There were two other members from marketing and business development, a representative from packaging research and development, two consumer product managers, and one team member from marketing research. From the research side of the house there were five scientists. Seven of the team members were men and five were women.  Several of the team members were new to the company. The team leader appointed a non-team member with significant project management skills as coordinator for logistics.

The team leader and a senior member from the marketing and the science side were full-time on the project.  They constituted the core team and were co-located for the duration of the project.  The other members of the project team had fifty percent of their time allocated to the project and remained in their various geographies.


Step 4: Set up the logistics for the session

The project team leader is responsible for determining the geographic location for a Slingshot.  Multiple locations for a Slingshot can be selected if the project is national or international in scope. In making any location decision, the project leader will be guided by a number of factors including, the perceived value of a location in fulfilling Slingshot’s objectives, the impact of the location on the overall project budget and team members’ availability, the likely incidence/availability of the kinds of prosumers and consumers that are needed to ensure success, and, the desirability of having a choice of appropriate market research facilities.  When the location decision is made, then the detailed logistics for the Slingshot can be handled by the project leader collaborating with the moderator/facilitator and assisted typically by a project manager or logistics coordinator.

The focus group discussion must take place in a typical market research facility that provides a front room for the moderated discussion and a back room with one-way glass and a sound system for project team members to see and hear the front room discussion. Each session should be both audio- and videotaped, so that the team and other stakeholders can review the content in the future. As for scheduling the focus group and the creative problem solving session, the project leader will confer with the moderator/facilitator concerning time slots convenient for getting participation from the desired consumers and prosumers. If consumers can be recruited for a morning discussion, then the creative problem solving session can follow in the facility in the afternoon.  If the desired consumers and prosumers can best be recruited for a late afternoon or early evening focus group, then the creative problem solving session must take place the next day.  It could take place in the same facility or in another convenient location.

Setting up the logistics for the session in the case study example:

Given the national scope of the project, the project leader wanted an east coast, west coast and Midwestern location. The objectives for the Slingshot necessitated access to medical and health professionals more likely to be found in large cities with public and private universities, hospitals, schools and with a range of enterprises in the nutritional areas of interest such as organic foods.   The locations chosen were Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

The Slingshot process can include more than one focus group session. The project leader will determine the total number of focus groups based any overall project considerations, Slingshot topic and objectives, budget and time available from project team members.


Step 5: Screen and recruit prosumers and consumers

Consumers/customers will be needed to participate in the focus group research.  Prosumers will be needed as participants in both the focus group research and in the creative problem solving debrief. Customers are those who buy the company’s products. Consumers are those who have the problems the company is trying to solve with their products, but who may buy from someone else, buy a different type of product, make rather than buy a solution, or go with the problem unsolved because no one has “the right” solution.

To start with, the project leader needs to understand whether the Slingshot topic needs an exploratory focus group or a developmental focus group.  The difference is that in an exploratory focus group, the task is to better understand consumer/customer experiences related to the topic and to probe to identify gaps in current available products/services.  In a developmental focus group, the task is to understand consumer/customer reactions to concepts and/or prototypes.

There are some rules of thumb to guide project leaders in establishing screening specifications for all focus group participants:

  • If it is an exploratory Slingshot focus group then the emphasis is on consumers who also have the expertise necessary for exploring the topic.
  • If it is a developmental Slingshot focus group then recruit a mix of consumers and customers.

Prosumers need to be recruited based on the following criteria:

  • Relevant content knowledge
  • Degree of competition or potential collaboration
  • Relevant consumer experience
  • Amount of product development experience
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Interpersonal skills

If a company requires prosumers to sign a confidentially agreement then it is important to determine, at the outset, whether the prosumer candidate is able to do that.

Prosumer candidates can be found from within other divisions in a company, in the membership of the Product Development & Management Association, in professional organizations, in speaker rosters from professional conferences, from researching trade and academic publications and from networking at professional meetings.

The first task in screening and recruiting prosumers is to identify necessary topic expertise and to develop a screening instrument with questions that reflect the breadth of capabilities desired, such as those covering the six bullet points above. The project team leader’s next task is to establish the acceptable score range for all components of the screener. The range of acceptability will vary from Slingshot to Slingshot depending on the perceived competitive sensitivity of the project and the importance of prosumer content knowledge and skill set.  The next task is for the project team to identify a lot of possible candidates. Team members can then contact prosumer candidates and have the qualifying conversation based on the screener.  Results of the screening conversation will help the project leader identify a short list to contact for securing participation of the required number of prosumers in the Slingshot. As a rule of thumb, two prosumers are optimal for participation in one focus group in which there are six to ten consumers.

Screening and Recruiting Prosumers in the case study example:

In the Boston Slingshot location, four prosumers were recruited.  They represented a mix of business professionals and academics with relevant health and nutrition credentials.

Screen and Recruit Consumers/Customers

The purpose of the Slingshot and the type of people who will provide meaningful input will determine the screening specifications for a Slingshot focus group.  In general, the screening instrument will want to consider specifications that also include a range of topic appropriate demographics such as age, gender, household characteristics, race/ethnicity, and location.  The exact type and number of people to be recruited for participation in a Slingshot focus group will vary based on whether the purpose discussion is exploratory or developmental.

In a focus group with an exploratory purpose, the emphasis is on learning as much as possible from appropriate content experts and allowing them plenty of time to interact with each other and the topic in the time allotted. Therefore, a small group of content expert consumers/customers is preferable for exploratory focus groups. As noted in the Slingshot format options in Table 1, more than one focus group can be included in a Slingshot process which permits in depth discussion with more experts in the exploratory context.

In a focus group with a developmental purpose the emphasis is on getting as many relevant perspectives as possible based on participants’ experience with the topic. The British Airways example that originated the Slingshot is an example of a focus group with a developmental purpose.  To be included in the focus group discussion about new business class seat concepts, participants had to be customers and consumers who frequently made the trans-Atlantic crossing in business class for business purposes.  As noted in the Slingshot format options in Table 1, more than one focus group can be included in a Slingshot process which permits breadth of input from eligible participants in the developmental context.

Screening and Recruiting Consumers/Customers for the case study example:

In the case study, the purpose of the Slingshot focus group research was exploratory. Each Slingshot focus group needed to recruit four participants who in their professional roles were consumers (not necessarily the company’s customers) of nutritional products for children. All participants had to be trained professionals in some aspect of childhood health and nutrition, either as a pediatrician, pediatric nurse, or dietician.  Finally, each professional had to have some experience addressing the needs of children with diabetes, weight management or obesity problems. Participants who screened into the Slingshot focus group in Boston are described below


Step 6: Develop the focus group discussion guide

The discussion guide in a Slingshot provides the framework for learning about the topic area from the perspective of consumers and customers.  Whether the purpose of the discussion is exploratory or developmental, the outline and flow of discussion guides tend to be more similar than different. The typical concerns for developing a discussion guide are shown in Table 5. Three areas in the discussion guide, homework, stimuli and deconstructing the topic, require some explanation.

  • Pre-work that is done at home and brought to the focus group facility for the session is important for helping participants focus on the topic area as well as for helping the moderator generate rich discussion.  For example, participant dairies record activities and thoughts relevant to the topic area that otherwise might be forgotten or go unmentioned.  Collages – combinations of visual images, words, tables – relevant to the topic and assembled by participants using materials at home can reveal values and frames of reference that might otherwise be hard to express in words only front of strangers.
  • Stimuli refers to such things that represent the Slingshot topic such as product/service physical prototypes, samples of snack mixes, visual representations of product/service concepts, descriptions of concepts, mock-ups of websites and software programs that represent the topic of the Slingshot.  Introducing stimuli to participants can be an integral part of the discussion guide in the focus group session.
  • Deconstructing the topic area refers to efforts within the focus group discussion to uncover, understand and explore all aspects of the topic in one or a range of contexts.  For example, understanding the opportunities to improve service for business class flyers across the Atlantic requires deconstructing all aspects of the experience from the decision to make the trip to collecting any checked baggage and leaving the airport, and all the steps in between.

Developing the focus group discussion guide for the case study example:

In the case study, the moderator and the project team leader collaborated on developing a framework for managing discussion of the scope and complexities of the topic.  The discussion framework was visually represented by a multi-celled chart with three consumer age segments on the y axis and six nutrition contexts on the y axis. (See figure 2)

On the y axis age segmentations were:

  • Ages 1- 4
  • Ages 5 – 9
  • Ages 10 – 14

On the x axis nutrition contexts were:

  • What I eat
  • What I do
  • What my body does
  • What my family does
  • What my community does
  • What my doctor/nurse/nutritional professional does

The Slingshot case study focus group discussion guide is detailed in Table 6.

Discussion Guide  

Participant homework: All focus group participants were asked to create a collage using visual images, words, tables etc. that represented their perspective on nutritional challenges for/as parents of children ages 1 – 14 years in the USA today.


Step 7: Develop creative problem solving debrief session process

The creative problem solving session debrief session immediately following the focus group and is designed to collect insights and generate new concepts to accomplish the Slingshot’s objectives. The project team leader and facilitator should agree on the amount of time necessary to achieve the desired results. A creative problem solving debrief session should use a minimum of two hours but can last as long as a day. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to design a process using appropriate tools and techniques to get results in the time allotted. (For a sample process see PDMA Handbook 2nd Edition, Chapter 17).

A pattern of divergent and convergent exercises is typical of a successful creative problem solving debrief session.  The selection of tools and techniques depends on the objectives of the Slingshot.  For example, a facilitator could choose a brand pyramid (de Chernatony 2001) exercise to help a marketing team develop communication strategies for a product launch; a morphological analysis (Kahn 2001) to drive idea generation at the intersection of selected market needs and technological capabilities; or an analogical reasoning (Sifonis 2003) exercise to stimulate thinking about new paradigms.

A process plan contains information about timing, tasks and materials necessary to accomplish the tasks. It must also factor in the need to create a record of the discussion and outcomes.  Basic materials for every group creative problem solving session include a flip chart stand, pads, different colored markers, different colored post-it® notes, paper and pens for participants, blue masking tape to hang paper and enough wall space to do that, different colored dots for voting, and paper formatted for writing concepts.  Table 7 links some creative problem solving tasks with tools and techniques that facilitators can employ.

Matching process tasks with creative problem solving tools and techniques

Developing the creative problem solving process in the case study example:

In the case study, the moderator/facilitator designed a four hour process to create a rich set of insights and learnings and to turn those into breakthrough ideas and concepts. Selected creative problem solving tools and techniques included divergent and convergent techniques of wish brainstorming and dot voting as well as processes for synthesizing learnings categorizing and concept writing. Table 8 outlines the plan. Appendix 3 provides a template for developing product concept statements.

Slingshot Creative Problem Solving Process Plan

Step 8: Conducting the focus group

Prior to starting the Slingshot focus group, the moderator will coach project team members and prosumers on the need to acknowledge and manage their biases and assumptions. To help manage biases and assumptions and to promote active listening, the participants in the back room will be asked to value what they don’t know, suspend judgment and adopt an attitude of unconditional positive regard for the people in the front room and what they say.  The project team members in the back room will also be instructed on how to send notes into the moderator during the focus group session for new lines of inquiry or for additional probing questions.

The moderator will instruct participants in the back room on how to record the discussion in the front room, asking them to focus on observations and insights. Observations are the raw material for generating insights.  Observations include verbatim reporting of verbal comments and tone of voice, and description of how participants physically handled any stimuli and related body language. Insights are the ideas inspired by the observations within the business context of the topic.

The moderator also briefs prosumers on how to handle their consumer role.  Before inviting the consumers to enter the discussion room, the moderator will ask the prosumers to join the consumers in the waiting room so that they can be ushered into the meeting space together.

In the focus group session, a skilled moderator 1) ensures that all the consumers contribute to the discussion, 2) stimulates productive interaction among all participants, 3) manages time so that all areas of the discussion guide are covered, and 4) integrates additional back room questions as seamlessly as possible.

Conducting the focus group in the case study example:

The stage was set for an in-depth discussion from a diverse set of highly informed perspectives. The moderator had hung on walls in the focus group room flip chart sheets of paper prepared for the morphological analysis (figure 2) and for the mind map/spider diagram (figure 3) exercise. The table had post-it® notes, pens and markers ready for the participants to use in the stimulus exercises.  The focus group consisted of four prosumers and four consumers.   The discussion lasted for three hours – somewhat longer than is typical for a consumer focus group, which is usually 90 minutes.  The moderator had a flip chart stand and pad in the room to use as necessary for stimulating and documenting discussion.  Step 6 and Table 6 contains details about the discussion guide.

Chart prepared for case study topic analysis discussion:

Chart prepared to illustrate mind map/spider diagram skeleton in case study:

Step 9: Conducting the creative problem solving session

In the creative problem solving session a skilled facilitator helps project team members and prosumers achieve breakthrough ideas. Effective facilitation involves:

  • Managing the dynamics of the group to ensure that everyone participates.
  • Coaching prosumers for the transition from consumer to team member role.
  • Implementing the process plan with all its divergent and convergent group processes in the time available.
  • Making sure that there is a complete record of the session discussion and its outcomes.

The creative problem solving session begins after consumers have left the facility. Project team members bring their notes and join prosumers around the table in the front room. The facilitator reviews the process and restates the overall task and desired outcomes. Then the facilitator introduces the first of the debrief exercises to the group and continues through the process plan to the final exercise. During the session the facilitator checks in with the team leader to get any feedback that might require adjustments to the process.  At the end of the session, the facilitator reviews the outcomes.  The team leader will thank prosumers and comment on next steps. The team leader and facilitator will collect all documentation generated during the session for digitizing and delivery in hard and soft copy for next steps.

Conducting the creative problem solving session in the case study example:

In the case study, after the focus group session, the facilitator coached prosumers for their role in the creative problem solving session.  They were told that they are not responsible for implementation and to use that to manage any reflex to self censor and to follow the facilitators lead to stretch beyond threshold of acceptability. (See Appendix 1 for more advice to prosumers on how to wear two hats).

The session started with a review of the task and desired outcomes.  Prosumers and consumers were then asked to offer key insights and learnings.  The facilitator went around the room as many times as possible in thirty minutes. All insights and learnings were numbered and scribed onto flip chart pages and these were hung on the walls for all to see. Participants noted that it was helpful to be able to see the insights and learnings visually as it helped stimulate content for the next exercise.  Based on the insights and learnings, the team was asked to identify elements/categories of a nutrition strategy which was written on large post-it® notes and attached to chart paper for all to see. The facilitator asked the team to use a brainstorming format starting with “I wish”, “We could”, “What if” and “How to” followed by the nugget of the idea (7 to 10 words) to generate ideas for products/services for each of the nutrition strategy elements/categories. The facilitator introduced voting with dots to identify those ideas which had the most interest for participants. Different colored dots were used for prosumers, marketing and scientific participants because the project leader wanted to know what each group thought was most interesting.  The facilitator then asked the team to take a step back to see what gaps, if any, there were in the elements/categories.  There were gaps in education strategies that the team leader decided were not useful to pursue at this point. With that discussion completed, the facilitator asked the team to use three dots to vote and identify the elements/categories of most importance to the company. Only those categories that got at least three votes were to be used for the next exercise.  The facilitator asked each person to use a marker and circle and initial one idea in each of the three vote-getting categories to develop into a beginning concept.   The facilitator then introduced the concept sheet format. (See Appendix 3).   After the break 30 concepts were written and participants verbally delivered their concepts to the whole group. This step also included facilitated discussion for builds and connections.  As a final exercise, each prosumer and each team member were asked to offer advice to the project team based on the Slingshot.  After the Slingshot session, all the notes were digitized and 30 concepts considered breakthrough by the project team were entered into an electronic data base for use in the next stage of the front end of innovation process, refinement and initial review. (See, for example, ToolBook1, Chapter 2.)

 Step 12: Document and disseminate results

Documenting results is an important component for any process.  A Slingshot process can be documented by:

  • Digitizing the notes made by participants in the back room
  • Digitizing all notes, votes and concepts written during the creative problem solving session
  • Archiving the video and audio recordings made during the focus group
  • Creating a searchable video/audio database
  • Asking the moderator to write a report of the focus group discussion
  • Putting all concepts into a data base

Documenting the output of a Slingshot is guided by the project’s need to create a data base for further use and the need to disseminate the process’s output/results.

The purpose for which a slingshot was chosen will determine the distribution list for disseminating results. Such dissemination is the responsibility of the project leader.  All the various stakeholders in the Slingshot project should receive the results.  Team members and others who have actively participated in the Slingshot process are stakeholders in the tactical results and need to receive a report of the results for specific next steps.  Other types of stakeholders are those in the company who need to know the results to work out any strategic implications.  Each type of report – whether for tactical next steps or for strategic deliberations – needs to be appropriately tailored for the differences in those stakeholders.  Specifically, the project team will use the terminology used by the consumers in the project for communicating results.  This communication to strategic stakeholders should be translated into language appropriate to each strategic stakeholders’ role (e.g. finance, strategic portfolio review, marketing, scientific research, etc.).

Documenting and disseminating results in the case study example:

In the case study, the concepts generated were digitized and stored in a secure electronic data base.  Results in the same concept format were added to the data base from other tools and techniques that were used in the exploratory research part of the team’s front end of innovation project. All project team members and other selected individuals (including strategic stakeholders) had access to the database.  These persons were asked to review and rank concepts for next steps.


This checklist iis designed for the project team leader who is ultimately responsible for the implementation of a Slingshot.

Slingshot Check List

  1. Define project, budget and recruit team
  2. Identify reasons to use a Slingshot
  3. Make decision to use a Slingshot
  4. Clarify topic, objectives, and format(s) for documenting output
  5. Determine details including:
    • Number of focus group sessions
    • Total number of prosumers
    • Total number of consumers
    • Number of locations
    • Which locations
  6. Decide if moderator/facilitator role to be done in house or outsourced
  7. Select moderator and facilitator
  8. Determine date and location
  9. Determine total number of prosumers
  10. Screen & recruit prosumers
  11. Collect non-disclosure agreements
  12. Screen and recruit consumers
  13. Develop screener
  14. Select market research company to do the recruit,
  15. Ensure adequate spaces for all Slingshot needs
  16. Manage all aspects of using the market research company and it’s facility
  17. Develop discussion guide
  18. Approve discussion guide
  19. Disseminate guide to team members
  20. Design debrief/creative problem solving process
  21. Approve process
  22. Communicate it to project team members and prosumers
  23. Manage all aspects of logistics and catering for focus group and creative problem solving session
  24. Send all necessary details to team members and prosumers
  25. Conduct focus group (s)
  26. Document discussion
  27. Conduct debrief/creative problem solving session
  28. Document and disseminate results
  29. Implement next steps


There are three keys for accomplishing a successful Slingshot:

  • Detailed preparation and planning
  • Selecting a skilled moderator and/or facilitator
  • Implementing the process with rigor, discipline and flexibility

All successful projects require detailed preparation and planning. The most important details to get right include:

  • Ensuring that a Slingshot is the right process tool for the task
  • Recruiting the right prosumers and consumers
  • Designing a discussion guide to extract real value from consumers’ experience
  • Designing debrief/creative problem solving process to optimize the purposeful development of creative tension in prosumers

Aligning important tasks with the skills and personal characteristics of individuals is a key to success for any undertaking. The most important attributes for a moderator/facilitator include:

  • Process design skills
  • Ability to acquire language appropriate to topic area
  • Skill to probe and challenge without alienating participants

The right mix of rigor, discipline and flexibility is a key to the success of any undertaking. The most important guidelines in this regard include:

  • Knowing when to insist on process rigor and discipline
  • Knowing how and when to be flexible


One pitfall to avoid is failure to manage project team members and executive level expectations for the process.  It is always important when choosing to use a Slingshot to communicate a clear understanding of why the Slingshot process has been  selected.

Another pitfall to avoid is the proclivity of project teams to overestimate the value of a high profile prosumer candidate and to underestimate the value of a less well-known, lower profile prosumer candidate.  For example, in a Slingshot for a manufacturer who wanted to explore diaper- changing contexts, the team had turned down one good prosumer participant after another.  On the basis of professional and personal expertise, it was hard to convince the team to recruit the male designer of Black & Decker’s successful Snake Light into the session although he had two children under the age of three. Men were just not seen by this team as diaper changers. As it turned out, not only had the designer had a lot of experience as a diaper changer but his creation of the snake light had been prompted by the insight that it was the ‘third hand’ needed to be able to have focused work light. It always seems like a third hand is needed in diaper changing as well.

Another pitfall is when project teams want prosumer candidates who are an exact match for their project. Since diversity is important for bringing fresh and challenging perspectives to any project, it is important to consider prosumers who are tangentially related to or outside the topics area. a project’s core content.




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