News and thoughts from CS Odessa, maker of the ConceptDraw product line: ConceptDraw PRO, ConceptDraw PROJECT and ConceptDraw MINDMAP.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guidelines for Efficient Team Brainstorming

In this post I am going to be discussing brainstorming as a group. It is very much like working as an individual, the primary differences being that it is necessary to have one person designated as a facilitator and some guidelines to work by. The facilitator should be a person who understands the brainstorming process well and has the knack for keeping people on track. I find that an electronic projector connected to a computer in a conference room with a projection screen or wall, and of course ConceptDraw MINDMAP is just about all the hardware and software that is needed.

It is good to pick a facilitator who is a strong typist who can capture the ideas as they come up. I have seen brainstorming meetings were the keyboard is passed to the individual whose idea it is. This takes too much time and is disruptive to the process. It is much more efficient to have one person type. It is OK to pass the keyboard to someone else when starting another session. But during the session the keyboard should be with one person.

I am going to present a few guidelines here that I find helpful when brainstorming with a group.

  1. The facilitator controls the keyboard, clock and reminds people to stay on track (if a person is not cut out to be a facilitator, replace them).
  2. Mention at the start that there is no such thing as a bad idea (this rule is only for during the session) and that everything that pertains to the discussion topic is recorded and then sorted out later
  3. Spelling is important but not in a brainstorming session, all typos can be fixed after the fact.
  4. When doing a drill down or brainstorming session on a subject it is good to break the brainstorming into two sessions. For the first session 10 minutes is a good time frame, and then make the second session much shorter (say 2 minutes). If after 5 minutes there are no contributions that are still coming from the group, cut the session short. No need to look at one another with a blank stare for 5 or 10 minutes.
  5. Watch the clock. The clock is so easy to use in ConceptDraw MINDMAP. Just go to the box labeled with a numerical 2 and type the amount of time you are going to spend on the session. The default is set for 10 minutes, and I find that a reasonable amount of time for the first session. Click on the clock icon and the timer starts to count down. Someone who is involved in the process has to step out for a minute; it is easy to pause the time by pressing the icon a second time. Session back in, press the timer again. It is very easy to toggle the clock on and off. And when your time is up a small screen comes up and says “Time is up!” Press OK and the window goes away.
  6. When session is complete you can press “Finish Brainstorming” in box 4. You are now in map mode and can start to place the items in their appropriate places on your map. Let’s say your map is not complete and you feel it is appropriate to brainstorm some more just go into brainstorming mode again.
  7. I have found that these basic rules work in the meetings I have participated in. One last item that I feel is important and I would like to share with you is that it is important to share the results by giving everyone who participates an electronic or paper copy soon after the event. This goes a long way to building agreement on the team. If you send out the map a week later, people will have forgotten and it will not be as impactful.

So as you can see there are not many guidelines and they all are very logical. The next step is to get your ConceptDraw MINDMAP out and be productive. If you have any experiences you would like to add about brainstorming I would love to hear from you.

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