Elicitation Technique: Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a great technique for accomplishing a variety of Business Analysis activities. Frequently, it is used as a way to elicit requirements from stakeholders. What makes Brainstorming so useful is that it promotes divergent thinking by harnessing the power of group creativity. The hallmark of Brainstorming is that a large quantity of ideas is generated; however, the quality of those ideas is not addressed during the brainstorming session—wild ideas are even encouraged! Although it has become a bit of a cliché, it is true: it’s far easier to tame a wild idea than it is to invigorate a lame idea.
There are several different ways in which to conduct a Brainstorming session. First, many business analysts will use Individual Brainstorming to come up with creative solutions. While this does not really take advantage of group creativity, it is a great way to start. Many Brainstorming sessions could benefit by having the participants each do a little bit of individual brainstorming before the actual session. This can be a helpful way to encourage participation from all of the participants. When individuals are given an opportunity to think about a topic for a bit in advance, they might be less intimidated to then contribute their ideas to the group.
Of course, the whole idea of Brainstorming is to use that creative power of the group. As such, the most common way in which to conduct a Brainstorming session is to get a group of people together to focus on a particular topic. Provided the team dynamics are good, ideas can be quickly called out to the group. A good scribe is a necessity in these sessions to ensure that ALL of the ideas are captured. A good facilitator (not necessarily the business analyst) is also a necessity to ensure that no one starts to evaluate ideas during the session; instead, the facilitator should continue to encourage new ideas and to build on ideas that were already suggested.
In order to ensure a successful Brainstorming session, it is valuable to conduct some pre-work. First, Brainstorming sessions work best when they are focused on a single objective. Be sure to clearly define what the session should be about. This will enable the participants to remain focused on that objective. Second, there should be a time limit on the session (but not a limit on the number of ideas!). While there is no ideal duration for a Brainstorming session (it depends on the scope and the number of participants), they usually last between five minutes and two hours. Be sure that your time limit reflects the scope of your sessions.
Third, you want to make sure that you have the right people in the session. Group dynamics are very important for a successful Brainstorming session. When choosing your participants, try to find those people who will contribute most to the session. Ideally, you want to find people who could be, literally, jumping out of their seats to participate. When this kind of group is not possible (or if your participants are somewhat reluctant to talk in a group session), you might have to modify your session to get their participation. In that case, use index cards or sticky notes. Have each participant continue to write down ideas individually and submit them to the facilitator to be called out. Several rounds of this can be as beneficial as the traditional Brainstorming session.
Once the Brainstorming session is finished, there is still work to be done! The business analyst needs to now look at how to evaluate the ideas that came out of the session. This could be done with the group or individually. Discuss and evaluate the ideas. Condense similar ideas. Rate all of the ideas. As the end of this evaluation process, be sure to distribute the results to all of the participants.
Brainstorming sessions are a great way to elicit a lot of ideas and encourage group thinking. As part of a longer meeting or workshop, they can also help reduce tension and change the tone of the meeting. Consider using a Brainstorming session as part of your future business analysis activities!