B is for Brainstorming

Purpose 1: Problem Analysis

A simple, powerful tool, brainstorming can be used to harness the collective thoughts of team members to generate possible Root Causes *of a targeted problem.

  • The team should be selected based upon their ability to provide insight into the process or problem being analysed. Actual work teams are ideal.
  • The problem should be clearly described using data prior to the Brainstorming commencing. (often the problem identified shall be articulated using the Current Condition section of a Problem Solving A3)
  • Brainstorming if correctly managed, can produce large numbers of potential Root Causes within a short period of time.
  • Brainstorming is an excellent way of addressing problems that are likely to have more than one Root Cause.
  • After completing the Brainstorming session the team should identify through discussion which of the generated ideas have a real likelihood of being the Root Cause or one of the Root Causes to the problem.
  • Following the Brainstorming and generation of the possible Root Causes the team should utilise and apply additional problem-solving tools to “drill down” through the potential causes and clearly identify which of these causes warrant further action and solutions. Such tools include – The 5 Why’s and the Cause and Effect Diagram (Fishbone or Ishikawa diagram)

Purpose 2: Solution Generation

  • Having analysed the initial problem and having successfully identified the actual Root Causes of the problem we can now utilise Brainstorming to help us generate solutions.
  • Firstly we create a statement articulating the actual Root Cause issue to be addressed.
  • We have a separate Brainstorming session for each Root Cause identified during our analysis.
  • Using this method we can generate many possible solutions of components of a solution that can be amalgamated and constructed through group discussion.
  • Brainstorming within this context can assist in the creation of effective and permanent solutions.

(* a Root Cause is an initiating cause that triggers the problem effect the eradication of which would eliminate the problem)

Brainstorming Operation and Rules:

  1. Invite members to the session and seat them around a table.
  2. Brief the team on the nature of the problem to be addressed.
  3. Utilise a Problem-Solving A3 (Current Condition) or similar to clearly describe the problem to be addressed.
  4. Set an allotted time for the activity. Ideally a maximum of thirty minutes.
  5. Promote someone from the group to be a “scribe” and to lead the activity.
  6. If using a White Board to write on – make sure that you have a way of capturing the lists of possible Root causes or suggestions. Use a copying type board or photograph board upon completion.
  7.  Start at a fixed point and ask for the first suggestion from the team.
  8. Move from person to person in a clockwise motion.
  9.  Accept only one suggestion at a time.
  10. Write each suggestion down.
  11. DO NOT attempt to analyse the suggestions at this point.
  12. ANY suggestion is a good suggestion. (Strangely many suggestions that sound odd or ridiculous at first often turn out to be key to problem resolution).
  13. Encourage everyone to participate, do not let any individual dominate.
  14. Encourage participants to build on each other’s ideas.
  15. If someone cannot think of an answer or suggestion then they can say “pass” and we can move on to the next person.
  16. Upon completion of the generated lists date and sign them and list the names of all the people contributing to the session.
  17. Give each completed list a number – in this way the session can be documented for permanence.


Often people say that Brainstorming does not work or is ineffective. In my opinion that is because they have either been exposed to or being part of Brainstorming sessions that have been badly organised, prepared or run.

By following the simple rules that have been included here, by operating Brainstorming in a systematic and ordered fashion and by using it in conjunction with other simple problem solving and creative tools it can be incredibly powerful.

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