Brainstorming: How To Do IT The Right Way!

by drjim on July 24, 2008

Product managers need to learn to brainstorm in a group

Product managers need to learn to brainstorm in a group

If you’ve even come close to a business book in the last 5 years or so, you have probably discovered that “innovation” is what every IT organization is desperately trying to capture, grow, encourage, enhance, etc. Although this sounds like a great idea, and product management is one area that would directly benefit from this, it turns out that it’s actually quite hard to do consistently over time. What gives?

One of the key skills that a organization needs in order to be innovative and to develop better products, is the ability to brainstorm as a team well. We all THINK that we know what it means to brainstorm; however, it turns out that more often than not we are wrong. Too often we think of brainstorming as being a solitary task where we go off an think about a problem until an apple drops on our head and the answer emerges. Matt Bowen who is the CEO of Aloft Group spends a lot of time teaching his marketing firm’s employees how to brainstorm as a group — a much more powerful form of brainstorming. Here are his suggestions for how you can learn to use this powerful tool:

  • Creativity Starts With The Hiring Process: When you are inviting people to join your team, you need to make sure that they will be able to contribute to the group’s ability to innovate. This means that you need to understand how they think. A great way to do this is to ask them to tell you stories about jobs that they’ve had. If their storys revolve around creating new solutions than you know that you have a creative type. If instead, they focus on incremental improvements in the way that things are done, then you’re probably talking with an operations person.
  • How To Prepare To Brainstorm In A Group: The best way to learn to do this is to jump in and just do it. You will need to have a designated facilitator to lead the process. The first thing that the facilitator needs to help the group do is to very clearly lay out a single sentence that clearly describes what the goal of the brainstorming session is. Distribute this sentence a day or two before the meeting to everyone who will be attending so that they can start to think about it. Also, the facilitator needs to spend some time establishing criteria for how he/she thinks the resulting ideas need to be rated. What’s are the most important characteristics of a solution and how should you rank them?
  • Group Brainstorming Rules: Never have the meeting last more than an hour. Limit the size of the meeting to no more than 5-7 people (less if the facilitator is new to this). Try to make sure that the participants come from different departments because this will help to ensure that you get multiple perspectives. Normal brainstorming rules apply: no critiquing, no editing, no such thing as a bad idea, and always try to build on other people’s ideas.

The real key to successful brainstorming lies in what you do AFTER the meeting. The facilitator needs to assemble a group of people to rate the ideas generated by the brainstorming based on the criteria that was established before the meeting. This group can be different from the group that created the ideas.

Finally, don’t you let the resulting ideas die! In order for brainstorming to catch on in any department the staff need to see changes occurring that they can clearly relate back to brainstorming sessions. Do this and you’ll have an innovative department that will be the envy of the rest of the firm.

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