What is a Watson Ideation session?

What is a “Watson”?  What does Watson do?

Many people and organizations are looking to jump on the “cognitive bandwagon”. Business leaders see cognitive applications and think, “We need something like that”. But what exactly is something “like that”? What is possible? What cognitive capabilities are available, and how can I apply them against my business challenges?

Many of these organizations are new to machine learning/artificial intelligence, and really don’t know where to begin. I had these customers in mind when we created the Watson Ideation session. It’s a targeted one day session that we run for organizations that want to get started with cognitive technology and the Watson services, but really have no idea on how to get started or how to apply them to their own business challenges.

How does a Watson Ideation session work?

A Watson Ideation session is a one day, everyone at one site, focused session. It is run by a Watson architect, who will lead the group and act as a facilitator and teacher. The attendees are a collection of roughly 8 – 15 people (the size can vary), with a mix of developers, architects, data scientists, subject matter experts (SME’s), and business leaders. We haven’t really tried remote attendance for one of these sessions yet, but I typically discourage it due to the collaborative nature of the activities.

Session Preparation

There is really no intense preparation needed for one of these sessions. You will just need to have the following things:

  • A location with good internet access, that can support some fact-finding activities and showing some examples of existing cognitive applications that are available today.
  • A large room at your site for all the day’s activities.  We’ll need to have a projector so we can share some slides.

Ideation in Action

Our Ideation session begins with the usual pleasantries, with people introducing themselves and their roles. We then do a quick presentation on the Watson services that are available on the IBM Cloud platform (more commonly known as Bluemix).  This is an overview of each of the services, with some discussion of what they do, and how they are often leveraged in providing cognitive capabilities to applications.  We’ll then go over some of the typical patterns and application types that we have seen our customers implement. This includes patterns like chatbots and social customer care applications.

While the technical content of the material is not overly deep, we do often spend a lot of time answering questions during this phase. With questions and some conversations, this part of the session will usually take our team right into lunch.

After lunch the ideation part of the session begins. The entire team begins to think of different possible cognitive applications, cognitive services, or cognitive additions to existing applications. People are encouraged to “think out loud”, and the session is freewheeling.  The intent is to have a lot of “blue sky” thinking (I know  – the term is overused), with no idea being immediately shut down. The facilitator will often use whiteboards, Post-it notes, or other idea capturing tools to capture the ideas and refine them.

The goal of this second half of the session is to generate some good ideas for cognitive applications and to do a quick evaluation of those ideas in terms of feasibility.

Session Close Out

At the end of the day, the facilitator will collect the various ideas and the entire team will agree on a top 3 (or top 5 or top 10) ideas. At this point the team has the basis for a cognitive use case. And this allows them to do some further exploration on the potential effort needed to develop the idea, as well as some scoping to estimate the cost (in terms of time and money) for implementing and building the use case. After this ideation session, the organization may have enough information to go off and further refine and develop these ideas. If not, they may want to look into doing an IBM Design Thinking session, or an IBM Learn session (which used to be called an IBM Watson Bootcamp).

Why does this work?

This ideation approach seems to work for a large number of our customers just getting started with cognitive software development. The main factors that contribute to this are:

  • People building off of other’s ideas – People in the workshop will often leverage the ideas of others in the group, or some of the use case patterns that are shared during the morning, and expand and refine those approaches. This helps refine ideas, but it also helps get “buy-in” for ideas from multiple members of the team.
  • Learning from someone who has “been there and seen that” – Having a Watson architect as the facilitator allows an organization to tap into the deep experience that these people have had with other customers. The facilitator can get the team focused on ideas that are feasible, and give the team an idea of how easy or hard the implementation will be.
  • It sets proper expectations – The facilitator is able to quickly communicate to the assembled team the feasibility of an approach, and can explain the difficulties involved with any approach. Most teams that are new to cognitive development tend to underestimate the role that DATA plays in any successful cognitive development project.
  • It’s simple – it’s a single day, it’s focused, and it’s not complicated. Simple and straight-forward is good.

How do I get one of these?

If you are looking to have one of these sessions using IBM’s Watson Coaches, just reach out to me (or have your IBM representative reach out to me), and we can see about getting a session set up.

I find that the people and organizations that execute these ideation sessions tend to come away from them with a MUCH better understanding of Watson and its capabilities. They also understand how cognitive technology  can have an impact on their business.


Learn more about IBM Watson and cognitive computing


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