BABOK™ version 3 defines brainstorming as a technique intended to produce a broad or diverse set of options. The PMI-PBA® guide defines “Brainstorming” as a data gathering technique that can be used to identify a list of ideas from a diverse group of individuals in a short period of time.
Brainstorming is a great method to promote creative thinking about a business need. During brainstorming a group of people meet to generate ideas around a specific area of interest or a topic or problem with the participants encouraged thinking freely and moving into new areas of thought. Thus, these areas of interest can be related to problems, opportunities, solution options, stakeholders, risks, features etc.
Brainstorming is best applied in a group since a key objective of using this technique is to draw upon the experience and creativity of individuals participating in the brainstorming session. There are instances where a brainstorming session is run by a single individual when there is no group setting. The individual may let his or her mind run wild but in a controlled manner in order to generate as many ideas as possible.
Steps of a brainstorming session
The BABOK® describes three main aspects to run a successful brainstorming session.
Normally a facilitator who has some sort of interest in the topic leads a group brainstorming sessions. The facilitator will first of all plan for the session by identifying the participants, their roles, the area of interest to be taken up for discussion, methodology for idea generation, evaluation and documentation along with time and other resources required for the session.
The facilitator will then get ready for the brainstorming session by setting up the meeting, inviting participants, defining the agenda and by organizing the required logistics on the day of the session. The facilitator must set the ground rules for the session and encourage everyone to participate in creating ideas. The ideas generated must be recorded in some form (white boards, sticky notes, on paper etc.), group similar ideas together by using affinity technique and select most suitable or preferred ideas using voting methods (dot voting, weighted criteria). The selected idea(s) may be built upon further where the team may brainstorm even further amidst the guidance of the facilitator.
During the wrap-up of the brainstorming session, the facilitator may count the votes, finalize the detailed ideas elicited during the session, document them in a format that can be shared among participants and other stakeholders and then finally share the results among stakeholders. Ideas may also be generated for further evaluation and discussion during future brainstorming sessions.
Brainstorming session types
There are different types of Brainstorming as defined in the PMI-PBA® guide.
A free-form brainstorming session gives freedom to the participants to contribute to the discussion of their own accord. The facilitator poses the idea or the problem to be discussed where anyone participating in the discussion is given the freedom to contribute at any point in time. A free-form brainstorming session may get chaotic when discussing highly sensitive topics or when it is presided by dominant participants. Similarly, the more conservative participants may be silent and not be willing to contribute thus resulting some key ideas been left out.
2) Round Robin
Round Robin brainstorming sessions help overcome issues in free-form brainstorming sessions where each participant in the discussion is allowed to voice his or her opinion. Each participant is given a chance to contribute one by one. If the participant has no ideas, he or she may just ‘pass’ on the baton to the next participant in the discussion. This method is suitable when the room is full of experts from whom you as the facilitator want to get as much information as possible.
3) Silent Writing / Pencil & Paper
Sometimes, introverts prefer to communicate ideas by writing them down rather than voicing them in public. Highly sensitive ideas can also be communicated using this manner. This method allows people to express ideas while maintaining their anonymity.
4) Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a more visual method of brainstorming where the team tries to show the ideas generated in a diagrammatic format. Mind mapping helps visually represent ideas on a canvas and helps break down complex ideas along with the interrelationships among those ideas.
5 )Nominal Group Technique
A nominal group technique is normally conducted in order to generate a few key ideas from a group of Subject Matter Experts. This technique involves a formal process presided by a facilitator who first of all spells out the objectives of the session. The participants build upon the idea and generate more detailed ideas. These ideas are grouped into themes and listed down on a white board. Each participant is able to clarify doubts on any of the ideas listed down. The facilitator then conducts a round of voting, where each participant is asked to vote for ideas in the order of preference. The ideas receiving the highest number of votes are prioritized and decomposed further in order to create a concrete list of ideas.
Brainstorming is a highly collaborative and useful technique to create team synergy and a conducive environment to generate highly innovative ideas within a very short period of time. If used wisely, it can be a great asset for any organization.