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David Kohrell: Brainstorming – Facilitated Workshops for Project Selection & Scope

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The whiteboard. The dry eraser. The multi-color pens. The overbearing meeting participant. Those four things often come together when thinking of brainstorming. It’s a technique among multiple management nexus disciplines and at the heart of agile, business analysis and project management. It can produce great results from a team.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (4th Edition) references brainstorming as the tool and technique, Facilitated Workshops, for Collect Requirements (5.1) and Define Scope (5.2). It also is a tool for project selection. The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (2nd Edition) addresses it in section 9.3.

Brainstorming is also technique, despite years of coaching and training to improve its effectiveness, that can go easily astray.

An innocent enough brainstorming session can quickly turn into a diatribe from a “power figure” or as easily slip into a real life parody of the television show “The Office“.

When effectively facilitated brainstorming sessions can unleash a wealth of ideas, strategies and enthusiasm for a team. One approach that helps keep the brainstorming in the positive side is nominal group technique (NGT). And one little tool that makes NGT work is the ubiquitous post-it note (aka sticky note). Here are 10 steps for NGT within a Facilitated Workshop – we’ll use deciding features for a new Twitter interface as an example:

  1. Gather the team together – preferably 12 or less (for larger groups break into smaller groups and report back to the larger group)
  2. Distribute 10 post-it notes
  3. Keep a supply of extra post-its handy
  4. Have participants write their ideas for the new Twitter interface, silently, on their post-it. One idea per post-it (people often forget the 1 per post-it rule, so gently remind them).
  5. When everyone has a chance to capture their ideas, call for confirmation that “we’re done”
  6. Have each team member read 1 idea at a time and go around the table or room
  7. Clarification questions are OK, judgment questions are not
  8. Continue going around the room until all post-its have been shared – one at a time
  9. When all post-its have been shared, ask “what’s missing”?
  10. Gather up the post-its and have the group arrange by topic or association – for example #trending topics, social network plugs, twitter statistics, geocoding, etc. This leads wonderfully into another technique called affinity diagramming!


by David Kohrell, MA, PMP®, CBAP®, CISA®, CSSBB®


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