Improving Products and Services
Generating new ideas to develop a product or service is a key skill in business. It helps you to stay ahead of the competition and keep your audience satisfied. But, it can often be difficult to come up with new ideas when you're focusing on an existing product.
This is where a tool like SCAMPER can help. It's useful for generating ideas for new products and services by encouraging you to think about how you could improve existing ones.
In this article, video and infographic, we'll look at the meaning of SCAMPER, and demonstrate how to use the technique.
Are you making the most of the products already at your disposal?
About the Tool
SCAMPER stands for:
Put to another use.
SCAMPER is a quick, easy and direct form of creative brainstorming. You use the tool by asking questions about existing products, using each of the seven prompts above. These questions help you come up with creative ideas for developing new products, and for improving current ones.
Alex Osborn, credited by many as the originator of brainstorming, originally came up with many of the questions used in the technique. However, it was Bob Eberle, an education administrator and author, who organized these questions into the SCAMPER mnemonic. 
Remember that the word "products" doesn't only refer to physical goods. Products can also include processes, services, and even people. You can therefore adapt this technique to a wide range of situations.
How to Use the Tool
First, take an existing product or service. This could be one that you want to improve, one that you're currently having problems with, or one that you think could be a good starting point for future development.
Then, ask questions about the product you've identified, using the mnemonic to guide you. Brainstorm as many questions and answers as you can. (We've included some example questions, below.)
Some ideas that you generate using the tool may be impractical or may not suit your circumstances. Don't worry about this – the aim is to generate as many ideas as you can.
Finally, look at the answers that you came up with. Do any stand out as viable solutions? Could you use any of them to create a new product, or develop an existing one? If any of your ideas seem viable, then you can explore them further.
Let's look at some of the questions you could ask for each letter of the mnemonic:
- What materials or resources can you substitute or swap to improve the product?
- What other product or process could you use?
- What rules could you substitute?
- Can you use this product somewhere else, or as a substitute for something else?
- What will happen if you change your feelings or attitude toward this product?
- What would happen if you combine this product with another, to create something new?
- What if you combine purposes or objectives?
- What could you combine to maximize the uses of this product?
- How could you combine talent and resources to create a new approach to this product?
- How could you adapt or readjust this product to serve another purpose or use?
- What else is the product like?
- Who or what could you emulate to adapt this product?
- What else is like your product?
- What other context could you put your product into?
- What other products or ideas could you use for inspiration?
- How could you change the shape, look, or feel of your product?
- What could you add to modify this product?
- What could you emphasize or highlight to create more value?
- What element of this product could you strengthen to create something new?
Put to Another Use
- Can you use this product somewhere else, perhaps in another industry?
- Who else could use this product?
- How would this product behave differently in another setting?
- Could you recycle the waste from this product to make something new?
- How could you streamline or simplify this product?
- What features, parts, or rules could you eliminate?
- What could you understate or tone down?
- How could you make it smaller, faster, lighter, or more fun?
- What would happen if you took away part of this product? What would you have in its place?
- What would happen if you reversed this process or sequenced things differently?
- What if you try to do the exact opposite of what you're trying to do now?
- What components could you substitute to change the order of this product?
- What roles could you reverse or swap?
- How could you reorganize this product?
To demonstrate how SCAMPER works, let's imagine that you need to improve a simple thermal flask aimed at the morning commuter. We'll work through some of the questions above to think of ways to develop this product.
Substitute: You could replace the metal cap with a plastic one to reduce heat loss. And perhaps there is a more environmentally-friendly manufacturing process you could use instead, that would make the product more appealing to green-minded consumers.
Combine: You could work with artists and designers to make the flasks more attractive and unique.
Adapt: Flasks are similar in shape to telescopes, though much shorter. Explore how you could adapt the materials and design so that your flask could extend like an old-fashioned spyglass to hold more liquid.
Modify: The flask isn't especially easy or comfortable to hold. You could add a rubber sleeve to aid grip, or make the bottle thinner so that it can be held in one hand.
Put to another use: So far, you've designed the flask around individual commuters, but there are many other groups of people who could also use the product. Take traveling couples, for example. They won't want to carry a flask each, so think about redesigning the flask to include detachable compartments which can be used as mugs. Then two people can share the drink from one flask.
Eliminate: You could eliminate the handle on the side of the bottle so that it fits more easily into a work bag or backpack.
Reverse: If you tried to do the exact opposite, you'd end up with a cold drink rather than a hot one! But this would be useful in summer months or hotter climates. So, explore ways of keeping liquid cool in the flask instead of hot.
You can see our infographic on SCAMPER here:
SCAMPER helps you develop new products and services. Many of the questions it uses were created by Alex Osborn, but Bob Eberle developed the mnemonic.
SCAMPER stands for:
- Put to another use.
To use SCAMPER, you simply go down the list and ask questions regarding each element. Remember, not every idea you generate will be viable; however, you can take good ideas and explore them further.
This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!