Brainstorming SessionWhat is Brainstorming?

Lauren Brugger, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Meliora Consulting

Brainstorming is a creative method of generating a large volume of ideas free from criticism.  Brainstorming was developed in the 1940s by an advertising executive who was frustrated with his employees.  The employees were unable to individually develop ideas for advertising campaigns, but were successful during group sessions.  Brainstorming is now one of the most well-known tools for developing ideas in business.

Brainstorming as part of the DMAIC Process

Brainstorming can be used in any of the five phases of the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process, but it is most often used in the Analyze and Improve phases.  In Analyze, brainstorming can be used to identify potential causes of the problem that were defined in Measure.  In Improve, it can generate creative potential solutions that address the root causes.

How to Brainstorm Effectively

Planning and structure are critical to getting the most out of brainstorming sessions.  Here are a few tips to facilitate an effective brainstorming session:

  • Come prepared with materials.  Post-It® notes and markers are simple supplies that can encourage group participation, capture ideas, and display ideas visually.
  • Make it visual.  Use the Post-It notes to move ideas to a board or wall.  All ideas will be easily visible to the group and this separates the idea from the person, which enables the group to discuss the idea based on its merits.
  • Designate a facilitator.  A facilitator collects the Post-It® notes and places them up on the board, which enables the team to continue thinking and generating ideas.  They also help bring out ideas and keep the team focused.
  • Create an environment where everyone will contribute.  To encourage participation, you may use the “rounds” method of brainstorming, followed by the “popcorn” method.
  • Rounds – after giving the group a few minutes to think of ideas, a facilitator goes around the room and collects one idea from each person
  • Popcorn – ideas are collected on a first-come, first-served basis

Once a brainstorming session has completed, it can be helpful to move similar ideas into affinity groups.  These affinity groups will help identify major themes.  For example, if you are brainstorming ways to maximize meeting productivity, you may have multiple ideas that focus on conduct (e.g. no open laptops, phone calls must be taken outside, no sidebar conversations), or timing (e.g. start and end on time, no meetings before 7 am or after 4 pm).  Consider how you can use brainstorming to leverage the knowledge of your team and achieve your project goals.