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10 Ways to Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions

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10 Ways to Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions: Elicit the Requirements You Really Need

Hello, I’m Dr. Martin Schedlbauer and I’m a senior trainer and consultant with Corporate Education Group, a leader in corporate training and professional development.

Brainstorming sessions are a productive way to understand requirements or identify root causes for a problem: if, and only if, they are done right!

Here are 10 ways to make a brainstorming session more effective:

(1) Decide what you want to accomplish during the brainstorming session. Are you trying to identify requirements, ideas, the root cause of an issue, or something else entirely?

(2) Always have a clear goal and communicate that goal to the participants before the brainstorming session begins.

(3) Keep your participant list short. Three to five people is usually a good attendee number.

(4) Find a quiet place with lots of whiteboard space. Only hold brainstorming sessions online if you really have to and make sure you have a virtual white boarding tool.

(5) Schedule 60 to 90 minutes for the session and don’t allow food or other distractions so everyone can remain focused.

(6) Get rid of the chairs and tables and have the team stand around the whiteboard. Provide each attendee with a marker so they know they’re expected to participate in this collaborative session where one person’s idea can spark a unique thought in someone else. It should be all about piggy-backing off ideas and free associating.

(7) To keep the ideas flowing, make sure that you set ground rules like: only one person speaks at a time, no ideas are bad, no judging of ideas, no eye rolling, no shooting down ideas as "impossible" or "makes no sense" or "stupid".

(8) Instead of a bulleted list, try mind mapping by placing the topic of the session at the center and the ideas flowing around that topic. Using this technique connects related ideas. It can get messy, but that’s the point. Don’t stop the flow initially, you can always clean it up later.

(9) If your meeting is to explore root causes for an issue, try using an Ishikawa diagram, also known as a fishbone diagram or a cause-and-effect diagram, rather than a mind map. The basic concept of the Ishikawa diagram was first used in the 1920s, and is considered one of the seven basic tools of quality control.

(10) Most importantly, remember that a brainstorming session is not simply a get-together where you’ll chat for an hour, but rather a meeting of the minds with a focus and a goal.