Guidelines to Plan and Facilitate a Brainstorming Session

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In a previous post, I referred to brainstorming as one of the most constructive and fruitful techniques to collect project requirements.

Brainstorming can be similarly effective and efficient when applied to solving challenges in a project. Project managers can gather the project team together and brainstorm for creative ways to address the issues.

In a brainstorming session, the project manager can take on the planner role, as well as the facilitator role.

As a planner, project managers might consider the following guidelines:

  1. Clearly outline the problem or the idea to be explored.
  2. Define basic ground rules, such as no criticizing, analyzing or judging ideas during the session. Criticism inhibits creativity. The ideas evaluation should be done at the end of the session.
  3. Depending on the complexity of the targeted problem or idea, plan the session with no more than five to 10 people. In a larger group, it's challenging for everyone to participate.
  4. When looking to develop new ideas or concepts, gather a mixed audience to gain a wider perspective. On the other hand, if looking to solve a problem, gather people from a focused or specialized group.
  5. Schedule sufficient time so that people won't feel constrained. Factor in time for breaks so that people can feel refreshed.
  6. Have someone capturing the generated ideas and the underlying notes. 
  7. Plan the logistics such as use of flip charts, pin boards, snacks, etc.
As a facilitator, project managers might consider the following best practices:

  1. Create a relaxed atmosphere that stimulates creativity.
  2. Start the session with an icebreaker, a warm-up exercise or something funny.
  3. Allow open brainstorming but keep the focus on the initial idea or problem.
  4. Encourage everyone to participate and ensure a fair participation from each attendee.
  5. Accept all ideas positively and appraise them equally.
  6. Encourage people to be constructive, as well as to build on people's ideas.
  7. Keep the session unstructured and unconstrained.
Do you use brainstorming on your projects? What is your experience and results?

Posted by Marian Haus on: August 28, 2012 11:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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The ongoing recessional phase of the global economy has made the companies to complete a project within a stipulated time, resources and manpower. So the project managers have to frequently explore innovative ways to complete the project to the satisfaction of the clients. As highlighted in this blog, brainstorming has become a key element of project management strategy. A project manager also has to play dual roles of a facilitator and planner to clearly outline the problem faced by the team, along with overcoming the problem by getting fair participation from each team member. The ideas shared by Marian Haus can be implemented by the project managers for the smooth completion of a variety of projects.

Padmakar B
Brain storming is one of the tools that is used in Project Management. We use brain storming for Requirement gathering, Vendor Analysis, Risk/Issue analysis and resolution etc., I feel that it is one of the efficient tool where you can make the stakeholders accountable and own the project. But, it has to be used in an efficient and effective way inorder to avoid conflicts or else you have to start conflict management.

Saugata Dutta
Good topic and can't agree more with Mr. Haus. I have seen sometime people interchangeably use Brainstorming with Workshops. However as eluded, these are two distinctly different techniques and should be used when necessary based on the needs. The most important point to be noted that these sessions are unstrucrted and unconstrainted - that how the ideas are tapped. In the past I had distributed colored post it(s) to brainstorm attendees who used them to write doen their ideas and then I stick them on the giant while board and start sharing and elaborating with the Team. Well facilitated brainstorming are very rewarding and augments effective project management.

Christopher J. Ford, MSIS, PMP
I use it and find it extremely useful when part of a meeting plan. The problem I see at a lot of meetings is people over using the technique or allowing it to run out of control for fear of missing something.

PM Excellence Group
Brainstorming is a valued tool I use during the project scoping. Even more, I use it starting at the early beginning to develop the Project Charter in order to identify focus points (milestones, constraints, risk, dependencies, etc). I encourage my colleagues to use this value-added tool and for sure it will be provide benefits to support your project success.

Saket Bansal , PMP , PMI-ACP
Sometime it becomes difficult to manage brainstorming sessions specially when you have people from diverse background and interest ... in such cases we always find tool like six thinking hats useful. Six thinking hats help us in focusing one dimension at a time and increases effectiveness of session in general.

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