- techniques and best practice to obtain the best results from brainstorming when used as a quality tool for problem solving.

Brainstorming can be a very powerful tool for problem solving.

When used correctly, brainstorming can enable fresh ideas to be developed to help solve problem and issues in a variety of areas from general issues to applications such as process improvement.

Brainstorming is an established management tool used in many areas of business where teams are required to resolve problems.

Brainstorming can provide new ways of thinking and be particularly useful where established methods and thinking have not yielded the results that may be needed.

Brainstorming basics

The basic idea behind a brainstorming session is to get a group of people into a frame of mind where they can shout out ideas related to the solution of a problem.

There are a number of factors that need to be thought out before having a brainstorming session:

  • Aim:   The group should have defined aim they are working towards. This should be made clear before the brainstorming session. If no clear definition of the goals and aims is available, then the team will not be able to work towards a clear outcome. They may well veer onto a different course and aim to solve a problem that does not exist.
  • Group make-up:   Typically a group will be made up of two main types of people:

    • Contributors:   People can be drawn from a number of areas. They should generally be able to work with one another and are able to work in a team. Any people who do not get on will prevent the creative thinking required. Some of the people should be drawn from the area where the process being investigated is undertaken. Others may people who are in areas adjacent to the one where the process is undertaken, and other suitable people may those with a good view of the overall system, or those who may be free thinkers.
    • Facilitator:   As the name suggests, the job of the facilitator is to facilitate the session. He may organise the room, and during the session he will act as the organiser, normally not participating in the session but making it work and ensuring everyone is able to contribute. He will initiate the session, collect ideas, encourage the group, and generally make it work. He may even throw in a few comments to stimulate the ideas. He may also have "games" or other methods of getting the session going and breaking the ice. He will aim to ensure even the quieter team members can have their say as their contribution is equally valuable.
  • Room:   The room should be one where people will be free from interruptions, etc. It should give an atmosphere where people will be comfortable and at ease to contribute.
  • Facilities required:   Any facilities required, such as white boards, post-it notes, pens and the like, should all be available before the meeting. Having delays to the start because of last minute issues may reduce the creative thinking. It could put time constraints on the session or have other negative effects.

Brainstorming guidelines

When setting out to do some brainstorming a few guidelines on how to make it more successful always help.

  • Set a time limit   It is always good practice to set a time limit. In this way people's minds are focussed and there is an air of anticipation that keeps the momentum
  • All ideas are accepted:   One of the key premises of brainstorming is that all ideas are accepted. They may not all be used later, but often ones that are the most outlandish can be some of the most creative and can often lead to the best solutions, or at least others may feed of them to develop the theme and come to a good solution.
  • Do not criticise:   Often the outlandish ideas are good. Criticising dampens the thought processes and stops the whole team.
  • Do not talk or discuss:   The aim is to have quick-fire ideas. Discussion can come later. If discussions take place in the brainstorming session the impetus is lost.
  • Record all ideas:   Ideas can be recorded on post-it notes and stuck to a board. These can be re-arranged later into groups.
  • Have a facilitator to organise the meeting:   The facilitator can note down the ideas and also encourage people to come out with new ideas and help even the less forward people to contribute.

By Ian Poole

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