As we all know, sometimes the solution to a project management problem isn’t obvious. There may be many moving parts: clashes of personalities, supply problems, technology limitations, personnel shortages, or any number of other challenges. That’s why it’s often useful to sit down in a room with key staff members, throw things at the proverbial wall, and see what sticks.
Here are five brainstorming techniques that are specifically useful in a project management environment. They can be used in a meeting of any number of people, and in a variety of industries. The key is structuring the meeting properly, including introducing each technique effectively, and leaving criticism at the door (that is, at least until you actually get down to evaluating the ideas everyone has generated).
Examining Parallels – How have others in your field tackled the same problem you are tackling? What successes did other organizations have, and where did they fall down? The “others” you are examining could be direct competitors, but it also might be a related but distinct industry. This technique is all about emulating success while at the same time learning from others’ mistakes and making corrections. A brainstorm session using this technique might lead to some competitor research, which can then spur new ideas.
The Mind Map – The mind map is analogous to a tree, with a central trunk (the end project goal) branching off into broad and then more specific sub-categories. For example, if your goal is a “successful acquisition,” you might list “information technology,” “personnel,” and “facilities” as sub-topics and then riff into more sub-topics.
Survival of the Fittest – Do some brainstorming in a freeform, “anything goes” style. After an initial round, knock out the least viable ideas and concentrate on the ones most people feel are promising. Then, do a second round of brainstorming, but with ideation triggered by the “survivor” ideas of the first round. With a third and even fourth round, you’ll likely arrive at brainstorming gold.
Devil’s Advocate – Yes, in this method you get to tear down ideas. But it’s actually much more productive than a first glance would tell you. In Devil’s Advocate, you challenge some basic premises of the goal itself. If the project schedule is three weeks, why? Can it be four? If the goal involves the entire company, could it involve just a few departments? These are broad questions, but Devil’s Advocate can get quite specific as to your individual goal. By challenging assumptions, you’ll arrive at new ideas.
Wall Siege – In this technique, you switch from the project goal to the impediments in the way of that goal. Which of the “moving parts” I talked about in the introduction are in the way of a successful project? And how can these obstacles be reduced or eliminated?
Are there any brainstorming techniques we missed that you’ve found particularly helpful in the boardroom? I’m always up for trying new techniques so please share them in the comments!