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The Brainstorming Diagram Overview
Who would have thought that brainstorming, something many of us have been familiar with most of our lives, had an actual process that could be diagrammed? While you may be familiar with different brainstorming methods or a variety of techniques for brainstorming, are you familiar with the brainstorming process and the proper way to get a team together for collaborative brainstorming?
Before going into individual steps, it is important to make sure that you have defined the problem to be solved through brainstorming. If you look a the brainstorm diagram to the left, you will see that that is the first step, at the top. Defining the problem can be done individually, or as a small group, where everyone contributes to refining the definition. The more defined the problem you wish to solve is, the easier it will be for your team to solve it through brainstorming.
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Selecting Participants and Sending out Background Information
In the early stages of brainstorming, you might find it helpful to send out background information to everyone involved, but as time marches on, you will want to narrow down your list and select participants. There are a few ways to do each.
When sending out background information, you can do so in a memo or through an email. If your company uses collaborative software, you can create a bulletin board posting that will be sent to everyone on the team. Sometimes you can get preliminary results this way. Other times, you may find that only a few people respond, or no one at all.
At this point, you will want to select participants for your brainstorming session. There are a few ways to do this. If you have a small to mid-sized team, you will probably want all members and stakeholders to be there. If you have a large team, however, this will not be possible. Instead, you should take a sample of your team members. For example, if you have an IT team, you may have a sampling of programmers and testers come to the brainstorming session. Alternatively, you can base your team selection on those who will be most likely to show up.
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Developing Lead Questions
In order to prepare for the brainstorming session, it will be helpful if you first develop some lead questions. These questions will help you, as the brainstorming facilitator to lead your team through the brainstorming process. Questions you develop might include "Great, now is there another way to look at that?" or "Is it possible to elaborate on that more?" It is important to develop leading questions because it may be hard to get the brainstorming session off the ground, or alternatively, the session may stall at some points.
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Conducting the Brainstorming Session
Once you've developed lead questions, you may wish to send out a second round of questions for the brainstorming session to generate some preliminary responses. Some members again may respond, you may get a large response, or you may get no response, but by sending out lead questions with the brainstorming topic before the meeting, participants will get a chance to think about things ahead of time.
During the brainstorm session, give individuals a set time to work on idea-generation. this can be 15-20 minutes. Once individuals have had a chance to come up with their own thoughts, bring everyone back to the group. Go around and have everyone discuss what they came up with. Make sure to record all findings. If a lull occurs in the conversation, ask leading questions to generate more ideas. Make sure you don't edit or censor ideas, as this can stifle creativity.
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Once the brainstorming has come to an end, you can either organize the ideas that you came up with as a group, or you can organize the ideas after the session is finished on your own. Once you have organized the ideas, you should send out a copy of the brainstorming documents to your team so that they might add anything they come up with to the brainstorm.
If you would like, a copy of the brainstorm diagram is included in our media gallery for your convenience.