Improvement tools: Brainstorming

Page last updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2017 - 11:52am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Sometimes it can be difficult to start thinking about how to go about achieving a goal or solving a problem. Brainstorming is a quick way to generate lots of ideas and possibilities. One of the strengths of this tool is that it stimulates creative, unconstrained thinking. This can help us think about new and different ways of doing things.

Brainstorming can be used in groups or by individuals. Business teams can use it to share and build on each other's ideas.

Brainstorming in a group

For effective group brainstorming someone needs to set up and lead the session. This person encourages people to participate and helps them to follow the rules. The rules of brainstorming are:

  • stay focused on the goal
  • come up with as many ideas as you can
  • any idea is acceptable
  • there is no criticism of people's ideas or comparing of ideas
  • build on other people's thinking and combine ideas
  • one person speaks at a time
  • comments need to be quick and to the point.

Preparing for the brainstorming session

  • Define the goal or problem you will focus on.
  • Choose the people to be involved. It is good to have a mix of people, for example, those with practical experience, specialists and creative thinkers. Involving people who have different perspectives makes the brainstorming more productive.
  • Set up a comfortable environment where people can sit and see each other and a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Make sure everyone has a pen and paper.
  • Include someone who can accurately, neatly and quickly write the thinking on the flip chart using marker pens.

Running the brainstorming session

  1. Explain the purpose of the session. Make sure people understand the goal.
  2. Ask everyone to take five minutes to work on their own and write down all the ideas they have for achieving the goal.
  3. Each person in turn reads out one idea. These are written on the flipchart. Keep going from person to person until all of the initial ideas have been recorded.
  4. While this is happening, people listen to what others are saying. Encourage them to build on ideas. This could mean combining two ideas to come up with a new one.
  5. When all the initial ideas have been recorded, see if any more ideas have been stimulated. Give people time to think because it can take a while for more ideas to start to flow.
  6. When the extra ideas have been recorded review the full list. Make sure everyone understands all the ideas. This is about checking that people understand. It is not about discussing or judging the ideas.
  7. Once people understand the ideas, similar ones can be grouped as long as everyone agrees.
  8. After the brainstorming session the ideas can be assessed and prioritised in relation to their impact on the goal.

Tools to use with brainstorming

Brainstorming can be used in steps 2 and 7 of the Continuous improvement and innovation (CI&I) process.

Use the SMARTT goal tool to clarify the goal you will be focusing on during the brainstorming.

The Impact and influence tool, Eight criteria technique and gross margin analysis can help to assess and prioritise the ideas.

Inverse thinking is a type of brainstorming where you think about how not to achieve a goal. This then informs how you could achieve it.

Tools like Inverse thinking, free writing, word association and mind maps can be used to stimulate thinking in personal brainstorming.

Support to use the tool

Please contact us if you would like help to use brainstorming.