Brainstorming Does Work for Agile

Does brainstorming work? The post has lead to a few follow ups. As always, there is a question of is it done right? To take a quote from the article linked:

“Group brainstorming sessions might produce a higher volume of ideas than a single person would but groups don’t produce higher quality ideas. A small number of people often dominate the conversation and group think almost always happens as a result of peer pressure. In my experience, the most creative ideas have come from individuals working alone.”

Obviously, this is an example of brainstorming done wrong. Perhaps this happens all the time when mr Becher participates in a brain storm meeting. I do not know as I have never met him.

Proper brainstorming

IMHO proper brainstorming is done in the form of a “mini co-located delphi forum”. That is to say that the following steps work for me:

  1. Pose a problem or topic for the session. Introduce the topic properly.
  2. Ideas are generated, in silence, by members writing them down on post it notes. The facilitator gathers the notes and posts them for everyone to see.
  3. Ideas are voted on. This is done semi-anonymously using simple techniques such as “dot-voting”.

How to fake the brainstorm

In step 1, let members shout out their ideas and have the facilitator note them on the board. Snide and spiteful remarks are recommended! 🙂

In step 2, let members shout out their preferences. Stop after one or two persons.

Does brainstorming work?

Here is a bit of personal experience to show that brainstorming does work. Back in 2001 I was the project manager for an industrial research project. We performed a brain storm session every friday morning with all the project members. Despite the fact that almost all of the members were new to the industrial research department we scored higher than other parallel projects on Key Performance Indicators such as inventions and innovations per many year. One result was this patent.

Brainstorming for Agile

In my experience, brainstorming work especially well in Agile projects for retrospectives. I usually apply the following steps:

  1. Let members draw a mood time line and discuss the highs and lows.
  2. Perform a first brain storming session to identify the top three areas of improvement.
  3. Perform a second brain storm to identify the top three actions to incorporate into the next sprint.

What Science has to Say on Brainstorming

What does science have to say on brainstorming? I performed a search on Google Scholar for “brainstorming”. You will find proper references in the “references” section at the bottom of this page. Here are some of the top results:
Individual creativity is higher than group creativity. Which kind of supports Mr Becher’s point but it also supports my point above that the creative part of the brainstorm should be performed individually, in silence. Perhaps this is due to group inhibitory mechanisms?

More recent research suggests that this critiscm of brainstorming as being improductive is flawed as it only looks at the number of ideas generated and not on other effects which include:

(1) supporting the organizational memory of design solutions; (2) providing skill variety for designers; (3) supporting an attitude of wisdom (acting with knowledge while doubting what one knows); (4) creating a status auction (a competition for status based on technical skill); (5) impressing clients; and (6) providing income for the firm.

Apart from these benefits brainstorming has the benefit of perceived effectiveness.

Conclusion

Does brain storming work? There are short comings to brainstorming but Yes, brain storming does work if done properly.

References

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services

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