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STRUCTURED BRAINSTORMING

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 22, 2015

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– Better than the shotgun approach to solving problems and creating ideas.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Brainstorming is back in the news for management. The idea of creating new ideas is certainly not old, but most people tend to take a shotgun approach, meaning they schedule a meeting and bounce ideas off of each other. I have never seen this approach work in a corporate setting. Instead, I have always found a methodical approach works better.

When we were building our “Information Factory” product, I assumed the role of lead Systems Analyst. During the Feasibility Study we defined the project scope, analyzed the current system, and considered the information requirements for the product. In other words, we did our homework. This knowledge was invaluable for producing a systems design. In our “Expert Facility” we came up with designs for tools to automatically design systems based on inference, and a tool to calculate corporate priorities. Many people told us it was impossible to devise such tools. We ignored them and persevered. There was never any thought that it couldn’t be done. Instead, we talked through the problem carefully, wrote out the logic for the tools and implemented accordingly. This obviously didn’t happen overnight. Instead, we used a phased approach to break the problem down. Come to think of it, we never encountered a technical problem that couldn’t be conquered with a little imagination, some concentrated effort, and a lot of good old-fashioned management. Here, the structured methodology defined the thinking process. As an aside, I tend to believe in the old adage, “A problem well stated is half solved.”

An illustrator friend of mine also takes a methodical approach to coming up with ideas. Not too long ago he was lecturing at a university campus where he was explaining his approach to producing an illustration of General Douglas MacArthur during World War II for National Geographic. In particular, they wanted him to depict the silk pajamas MacArthur was known to wear during his stay in the Philippines, something my friend knew nothing about. He started by doing extensive research on the General by going to the main branch of the Cincinnati library. There he poured through several books on MacArthur and read about the pajamas and reviewed hundreds of photos until he found pictures of the legendary pajamas. He then made some sketches of the general in different poses. Next, he reviewed his ideas with NatGeo who selected one of his interpretations. Only then did he begin to work on the drawing. Interestingly, after his lecture he asked if there were any questions. One young student simply asked, “Who is Douglas MacArthur?”

All systems projects should begin with a well defined Feasibility Study which includes such things as a definition of the Project Scope, an analysis of the Current System, well defined requirements, and a suggested System Solution, not to mention a Cost/Benefit Analysis. This simplifies the system design which, in turn, leads to better specifications for software. Basically, it takes the guesswork out of programming.

As we proceeded with our “Information Factory” project, I would schedule a 30 minute review meeting each morning with the programmers to review their progress and determine if they were facing any technical problems. Most were corrected there in the meeting. The stubborn problems required us to perform some research and determine a suitable solution. By facing the problems square on, we were able to overcome all of them, not because they were difficult (many were), but because we took a methodical approach to brainstorming, going from the general to the specific.

Throughout the process, it is important to allow everyone to input their ideas, both veterans and rookies alike. No question or idea was considered insignificant, thereby creating an esprit de corps among the team, and causing the older programmers to mentor the younger ones.

Over time I have learned the naysayers of the world take pleasure in chiding you as to what cannot be done. Prove them wrong and return the favor.

“Remember, it is Ready, Aim, Fire. Any other sequence is counterproductive.” – Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:  timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  TECHNOLOGY’S EFFECT ON SOCIETY – Technology is an effective tool for civil unrest and war.

LAST TIME:  1ST LESSONS IN JOINING THE WORK FORCE  – Some of life’s hard lessons a young reader should expect upon entering the adult world.

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2 Responses to “STRUCTURED BRAINSTORMING”

  1. The most difficult part of the brainstorming process to enforce (as well as the hardest part to teach to those who have never done it) is the need to remain non-judgmental during that initial stage. It is all too easy to allow the tendency for our minds to race ahead through our own instantaneous, mental ‘feasibility studies.’ Lack of discipline at that stage and (all too frequently) the desire to impress the leader with our insights (by criticizing the suggestions of others) seriously breaches the most basic protocol of the exercise. That can not only rob the group of valuable contributions, in the short term, but easily do damage in the long run as well, as team members’ become less willing to participate in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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