Brainstorming: It doesn't have to be hard!

Over the years I've facilitated dozens of brainstorming sessions for all sorts of projects, and I've found that they generally end up like this:

  1.  Everyone starts with their own ideas but keeps open eyes and minds 
  2. The facilitator say they will capture the idea on the whiteboard
  3. People start calling out ideas while the facilitator frantically scribbles them down
  4. The room becomes dominated by one or two individuals, regardless of how large the team is. 
  5. At least a few don't participate at all
  6. At the end, someone grabs a photo of the whiteboard
  7. The facilitator or someone else tries to translate the ideas into words on a page that can become actionable. 
  8. Everyone goes back to work and forgets what was talked about until someone tries to move an idea into an action.

What if I told you there was a better way? Well, there is, and it is awesome.

I've recently found an online white boarding tool called Stormboard.

Here's how my last brainstorming session went while using this tool:

  1. All four of my teammates started with our laptops logged into Stormboard.
  2. Our team lead introduced the topic and set the guidelines:
    1. 15 minutes of silent work as individuals
    2. 5 minutes each to "present" our ideas followed by
    3. 10 minutes to post comments or questions on ideas, again working silently as individuals.
    4. 5-10 minutes of group discussion, Q&A, clarification for each persons's ideas
    5. 5 minutes to add votes to ideas. each person had 10 votes to use as they wished.
  3.  The top three ideas were given priority and explored further in a later meeting

In a group of strong personalities and very opinionated people (yes, including me!) we were able to spend an hour together without a one or two people dominating and rising to the top to exert their influence over the group. 

Not a single idea was lost. Some were discarded, others were given low priority, but even weeks later I can go back and see all of them, revisit them, ask questions, etc. 

Oh...and the best part? 

While the session was conducted real time with all of us logged in together, two of us were working at our desks in Cleveland, one was in India, and another another was working from home. The discussions were via IM using the tool. 

My next task will be to use Stormboard's index card tool to collaborate on a product breakdown. Give me a shout if you're interested in hearing how it goes. 

A small disclaimer: I do not work for the company that developed Stormboard, they have not asked me to write this nor have I received anything in return for posting this article.  (Unless one counts the "5 Articles" badge I got today when I saved it :) ) Also, the tool does not connect to Jira yet, but I believe that is somewhere on their radar.




1 comment

Pretty cool - just created an account and started trying it out! I hope they do manage to link it to Jira/Confluence, I could really see it working for us :)


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