External Co-Creation

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External Co-creation focuses on creating collaboration between business subject matter experts, business decision makers, and external partners in the creative ideation process to generate innovative ideas for the organization.

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Related Mindset:



Idea Generation


Organizational Foundations


An idea that is ready for consideration within the agile portfolio of the organization

Businesses today recognize that consistent innovation is critical to business growth and survival in the ever-changing business environment.

Budgets still reign, however, and businesses are striving to make sure dollars are being spent effectively for maximum impact, especially when it comes to research and development activities, which can often take months or even years to yield results.

Speed to value and return on investment are highly prioritized objectives. More and more, organizations are seeking the assistance of external partners when trying to achieve these objectives in a cost-effective manner. These partners are experts in uncovering unknown customer friction points, understanding how to smooth those friction points using technology, and mapping business value to these technological solutions.

A critical component of this innovation process is the concept of External Co-creation.

External Co-creation is the idea that user experience practitioners can source more effective and meaningful ideas when working collaboratively and physically with an organization’s subject matter experts and key business decision makers.

The traditional model of agencies generating ideas in month-long or more solo efforts and returning with a flashy presentation isn’t cutting it. More than ever, a collaborative, iterative process is necessary to generate viable ideas fast.

External Co-creation starts as a divergent process, meaning that the group first opens themselves up to all possibilities, and only converges on the best solution that adheres to business and technical limitations after the ideation portion is complete and refinement begins.

While there are longer term elements, such as Labs, which focus on generating the idea and proving it out in a matter of weeks, External Co-creation is more focused on the process of using a single ideation session as a means of co-creating an idea for consideration within the agile portfolio.

Format and Process

A sample agenda and process for a Co-creation can be seen below. This session will last from 6-8 hours and it should include all key stakeholders for the area of focus.

  • Include these people:
    • Partner business subject matter experts (deep industry knowledge) with external user experience practitioners (experts in understanding how to map customer needs to solutions that meet business objectives).
    • Enable this group to affect change by giving them access to the key business decision makers
  • Follow this process:
    • 15 minutes - Introductions and agenda review
    • 30 minutes - Define the problem the group is trying to solve
    • 30 minutes - Define the business goals trying to be solved
    • 30 minutes - Break into a few groups and have each group define the end user(s) using Archetypes or Personas being addressed.
    • 30 minutes - Solo brainstorming - start ideating individually. Focus on quantity of ideas. Visualize ideas by drawing or storyboarding.
    • 90 minutes - Small group brainstorming - group individuals into groups of 3 or 4, have each individual present their solo ideas, and then have the group start a new round of ideation together. Focus on quantity of ideas. Visualize ideas by drawing or storyboarding.
    • 60 minutes - Small group convergence - in the groups of 4, begin to narrow down your ideas to a single best solution that meets the business objectives and user needs, and stays within known business, technical, and other constraints. There are many ways to decide as a group on the best idea:
    • 30 minutes - Presentations - all groups present their selected ideas to the whole group.
    • 60 minutes - Large group convergence - begin to narrow down your ideas to a single best solution that meets the business objectives and user needs and stays within known business, technical, and other constraints. Use one of the aforementioned voting techniques to decide on the best idea.
    • 60 minutes - Roadmapping - discuss next steps for executing on the idea, defining timing, supporting roles and resources, assumptions, and potential risks.

Best Practices

When engaging in a Co-creation session, there are best practices that should be followed to ensure that the workshop is productive for the organizations involved:

  • No criticism - It is imperative that the workshop be an environment where all ideas can be considered. The effectiveness is limited when there is criticism of ideas during the ideation session.
  • Stay focused on the task at hand - The facilitator should keep the group focused on the task at hand. Ideas that are beneficial but not related to the focus area should be tabled. Many organizations will have an area where these ideas are placed so that the team can return to them (generally referred to as a “parking lot”).
  • Get to an idea quickly - While the entire time could be spent simply generating ideas, it is important that the team arrive at an idea to focus on early in the process. This allows the rest of the workshop to focus on validation and developing an initial roadmap for one or more ideas.
  • No multitasking - Individuals attending the meeting should not use mobile devices or laptops at all, except for breaks. This workshop requires all of the focus of all participants.
  • Keep all exercises time limited - The facilitator will have the responsibility of enforcing a time limit for every element of the agenda. Within the context of the workshop, nothing is untimed.
  • Provide breaks between sessions - The facilitator will need to ensure that there are adequate breaks in the process. Well-timed breaks will ensure that individuals stay focused on the task at hand.
  • Focus on pain points, user friction, and opportunities - In most cases, participants will need guidance on where to focus their efforts. Most ideas will either focus on pain points that exist, friction that has been observed for the user, or business opportunities that the organization could capitalize on. If your organization has done Co-creation workshop before, it might be useful to discuss a couple of ideas that were generated before the workshop.

Common Pitfalls

External Co-creation is a key step in the process of generating solutions within the human centered design framework.

It must be organized and facilitated effectively for it to be a success.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when organizing an External Co-creation session:

  • Lack of availability/willingness to be involved - Often times it will be hard to secure stakeholders because they may not immediately see the value of being involved in the ideation portion of process. Make sure that you have all of the necessary stakeholders in the room, because this process isn’t possible without them. Everyone brings something unique and necessary to the table and without the necessary roles involved, External Co-creation is not possible.
  • Lack of input/effort - Once in the room, people may, at times, revert to their email, phones, or a phone-call in the hallway. Avoid this disengagement at all costs by facilitating actively and keeping everyone in the room busy with the workshops and break-out sessions.
  • Fighting the spirit of the exercise - An External Co-creation session is not possible without everyone’s buy-in, and these sessions are proven to yield results if people are bought in. Encourage participants to give it a go, explaining that sessions are intentionally structured to reveal results.


External Co-creation is purposefully a very analog process to allow for quick iteration, minimal distractions, and physical interaction.

Ensure that people have the following supplies available to them during the session:

  • Whiteboards and dry-erase markers
  • Sticky notes and sharpies
  • Blank sketch paper, pencils, pens, markers, and erasers
  • Collaborative space