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March 29, 2024

Creativity reborn: 9 Brainstorming techniques to spark your next great ideas

Project Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Overcoming mental roadblocks isn’t easy, especially with looming deadlines that cause extra stress.

Luckily, a variety of brainstorming techniques are available to refresh your thinking processes and promote the continuous flow of creativity. And, more importantly, these methods enable you and your team to generate new ideas, refine existing ones, and solve problems effectively.

Effective brainstorming techniques to explore

Brainstorming is a team sport. And as as a team sport, it necessitates the participation of multiple individuals working together. But, considering people’s individual personalities, it can be difficult to expect everyone to contribute to the session equally.

That’s where the brainstorming techniques come into play.

They provide a structured approach to your brainstorming sessions, ensuring active participation from all members, regardless of personality type. They also introduce order to the chaos of thoughts in your mind or your team’s, transforming them into a coherent and logical flow of ideas.

Experiment with these techniques to identify the best ones for your team, whether you’re collaborating in person or remotely.

#1. 6-3-5 Brainwriting

The 6-3-5 brainwriting method facilitates rapid idea generation within a team by building upon existing concepts. It involves six participants, each generating three ideas in five-minute rounds, resulting in a total of 108 ideas in just 30 minutes.

With this brainstorming technique, each person generates and shares their ideas in writing. That considered, brainwriting promotes balanced engagement among team members and prevents louder individuals from dominating discussions. Individuals can also use it for solo brainstorming.

How to use 6-3-5 brainwriting

  • Allot five minutes for participants to write down three ideas on a worksheet.

  • At the end of the five minutes, each participant should pass their worksheet to the person on the right.

  • Continue this process until every participant has contributed ideas on every worksheet.

  • Review and categorize the generated ideas.

  • Select the most promising ideas through a voting process.

A template for the Brainwriting technique.

 

If you’re pressed for time, you can cut ideation rounds into two- or three-minute segments (or whatever works for your team). Just make sure everyone has enough time to review ideas at the end.

#2. Cubing brainstorming

Cubing encourages examining a topic from six distinct perspectives, like the six sides of a cube. This technique fosters a comprehensive exploration of a problem and reveals insights that might only emerge when combining various viewpoints.

The six perspectives (sides of the cube) involved in cubing brainstorming are:

1. Description – participants list as many qualities, characteristics and details about the topic as come to their minds. If it’s an object, they can use senses to describe it (smell, feel, look, etc.)

2. Comparison – participants compare and contrast the subject in topic with similar or non-similar items.

3. Association – participants drill through the concepts that are similar to the subject in question. “What other ideas, events or issues can you associate with the topic?”, “What prior experiences do you associate with the topic?”, “What comes to your mind when you think about the topic?”

4. Analysis – participants break the subject or idea down into parts. “How is the topic meaningful or significant?”, “What does the event/object/abstract idea consist of?”, “What is its function?”, “How is it made?”

5. Application – participants state how the subject or idea can be used or applied. “How does idea X applies to topic Z?”

6. Argumentation – participants argue for or against subject or topic. “Are there any controversies that surround the topic?”, “What is your stand and why?” “What are the strengths and weaknesses of this topic?”

How to use cubing brainstorming

  • Utilize the six-sided perspective approach: Description, Comparison, Association, Analysis, Application, and Argumentation.

  • Write down your answers on a sheet of paper.

  • Reflect on those answers to identify any emerging insights. Look for recurring patterns or themes. Notice if a specific side of the cube stands out in energizing your teammates — this side may prove more helpful for finding a solution for the problem at hand.

#3. SCAMPER

The SCAMPER technique refines idea generation with seven targeted steps designed to evolve and enhance concepts. Its flexible, yet structured, approach is fitting for both individual and group brainstorming sessions.

Steps in SCAMPER:

  • S – Substitute

  • C –  Combine

  • A – Adapt

  • M – Modify

  • P – Put to Another Use

  • E – Eliminate

  • R – Reverse

SCAMPER brainstorming technique – steps and potential questions to ask.

How to use SCAMPER

  • Use the questions you prepared in each SCAMPER step and apply them to your product or problem.

  • Record answers and review them when the brainstorming session ends.

  • Consider if any of the answers show potential as a solution to the problem. Can you use it to solve your problem, create a new product, or improve an existing one?

#4. Charrette procedure

The Charette (French for “cart”) originated from architecture students in the early 1800s who used carts to rush their drawings from one place to another for final approvals.

The Charrette procedure involves sequential brainstorming among small groups, ensuring every participant’s ideas are expanded upon and refined. This method is ideal for sessions with many different participants and promotes focused and productive discussions. This technique lets groups brainstorm multiple ideas at once and elevate the most popular ideas in each round.

How to use the Charrette procedure

  • Define discussion topics and divide participants into small groups.

  • Each group discusses assigned topics, with a Recorder documenting ideas.

  • Assign a topic to each group. If you have more topics than groups, assign more topics to the groups.

  • Set a timebox for a brainstorming round.

  • Recorders move between groups to cross-pollinate ideas and encourage further development.
    If another group has already addressed a problem, the moderator briefly summarizes the earlier ideas and asks the participants to build upon them. (Pro tip: You can use the SCAMPER technique to facilitate this step.)

  • Once each group has finished discussing all the issues, the Recorders summarize the developed ideas and compile them into a cohesive document.

Steps in the Charrette procedure.

#5. Starbursting

Starbursting focuses on generating questions rather than answers and exploring a topic through a comprehensive, analytical lens. This method lets participants break down the problem and explore it from different angles, is particularly effective in large groups.

For example, “Who is this product for?” (Managers) → “What kind of Managers?” (Project Managers) → “What kind of projects do they manage?” (Agile, Hybrid, and Waterfall) → and so on.

Starbursting is similar to the “5 Whys” problem-solving strategy, where one question leads to another. But in Starbursting, you don’t limit yourselves to just five or only the “Why” type of question — you want to ask all six different questions (who, what, how, where, when, and why) and as many other questions as you can think of.

How to use Starbursting

  • Draw a large six-pointed star and write your idea, product, or challenge in the middle of it.

  • Place one of the question types (who, what, how, …) at each star tip.

  • Brainstorm your topic, starting with each of these questions.

  • Once you generate as many questions as you can, it’s time to discuss the answers.

An example of using the Starbursting technique for generating ideas on a new app project.

#6. How Now Wow (HNW)

The “How Now Wow” is an analytical idea selection technique that groups ideas based on their uniqueness (originality) and ease of implementation (feasibility). You can conduct the brainstorming session with large and small groups using this technique.

The HNW method involves a matrix in a 2×2 format featuring three quadrants denoting three main aspects of the idea:

  • How – This quadrant is for innovative but difficult to implement ideas. Those ideas aren’t feasible yet but might be worth considering in the future.

  • Now – This quadrant is for unoriginal but easy to implement ideas that have proved to work well.

  • Wow – This quadrant is for new ideas that are easy to implement and execute. Aim to generate as many ideas falling into this category as possible.

The questions inside the quadrants are weighted along two dimensions: the X-axis, which represents feasibility, and the Y-axis, which represents originality.

The How Now Wow matrix.

How to use How Now Wow

  • Ask your group to assign each idea they come up with to the appropriate quadrant along the horizontal and vertical axes.

If you want to avoid groupthink chaos or peer pressure on your participants, ask them to brainstorm their ideas individually.

#7. Reverse brainstorming

Instead of brainstorming feasible solutions, participants think of ways for a product/idea/concept to fail. Reverse brainstorming is effective because it’s driven by a natural human inclination toward seeing problems better than solutions.

You may use it when your team members are tired or skeptical about a new concept or project. In such a situation, reverse brainstorming allows you to channel their negative energy to focus on gaps rather than ways for a project to succeed. If your group members are demotivated, a reverse brainstorming session might be a fun and motivating experience for them.

How to use reverse brainstorming

  • The facilitator begins the brainstorming session with a question and then converts it to a negative question. For example, instead of “How can we reduce app performance issues?” ask, “How can we decrease app performance?”
    But be careful with this technique, as it may lead your group to form emotionally negative or opinionated questions. Ask your group to form their questions short and clear, or encourage them to think more creatively.

  • After you generate enough negative ideas, schedule a session where you’ll convert the negative ideas into positive ones (solutions).

#8. Round-Robin brainstorming

With this brainstorming technique, each of the participants develops at least one idea for the session’s topic. The key principle of this technique is to value all ideas equally and refrain from elaborating on any ideas until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute.

Round-robin creates a safe zone free of interruptions and judgments where everyone can flesh out their ideas one by one. For that reason, the round-robin activity is particularly beneficial for mid to large-sized teams, quieter participants, or when there’s an apparent imbalance in creative input in your group (based on your previous brainstorming experiences).

Round-robin brainstorming.

How to use round-robin brainstorming

  • Allocate enough time for the participants to think about the problem and generate an idea. (Typically, five minutes is enough for one ideation round.)

  • Ask each team member, individually and in silence, to think of one idea related to the topic and write it down.

  • When the time is up, each member shares their idea.
    Be sure to allot equal time and attention to each team member when it’s their turn to speak. If a team member mentions that their idea has already been expressed by someone else, encourage them to think of a new idea while continuing the round-robin process.

  • Evaluate ideas and consolidate duplicates.

  • Determine the most viable ideas.

#9. Stepladder brainstorming

The Stepladder is a great technique when you want to make decisions as a team but you have some issues with group decision-making (like peer pressure or loud individuals). With this brainstorming technique, each team member shares their thoughts individually without hearing what others think first. This helps get a full picture of everyone’s ideas before the group decides together. It encourages more diverse ideas because it reduces the pressure to conform with others.

How to use the stepladder technique

  • A facilitator explains a question or problem to the entire group.

  • Then, almost everyone leaves the room except for two people. These two share their ideas together while everyone else waits outside.

  • After a while, the facilitator asks one person from outside to come in.

  • The new person shares their idea first, followed by the two who were already in the room.

  • Then, another person joins and shares their idea first, followed by the others.

  • This keeps going until everyone has shared their ideas.

Stepladder brainstorming technique.

Choose your brainstorming technique and dive in

The right brainstorming technique can turn a mundane task into a fun experience, no matter your group dynamics. It also helps your group work together and develop ideas more effectively. The brainstorming session works best when your technique allows for different ways of thinking and expressing ideas.

Once you’ve generated enough brilliant ideas, pick the one you want to execute. Then, use a project management tool to plan, schedule, and execute it.