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To follow is an example of how to use brainstorming to generate solutions to a business issue.

This process includes the following steps:

  • Identifying the Business Issue
  • Defining the Brainstorming Topic
  • Documenting the Results
  • Sorting/Ranking the Results

Business Issue: A team is concerned with reducing the number of errors in its order entry process

Defining the Brainstorming Topic

First, they worked on writing the best question for the brainstorming exercise. Initially, they suggested brainstorming the topic: “How could we improve our order entry system?”

This was deemed too broad a topic. The topic they ultimately selected was: “What could we do to reduce the number of errors in orders as they are entered into our system?”

The group chose this narrower brainstorming question to focus more sharply on the errors at this relatively early stage of its investigation.

Brainstorming Results

Below is a refined list of ideas generated from the initial brainstorming session after the group clarified each idea to make sure everyone understood what was meant and then combined related ideas.

  1. Train people better
  2. Make the forms easier to read
  3. Get people to print the order
  4. Use bigger order forms
  5. Use electronic readers to make the entry
  6. Employ more order entry operators
  7. Offer recognition for error free performance
  8. Make it easier to enter the data
  9. Use bar coding stickers in the catalogue to avoid keying
  10. Don't take so many orders
  11. Get customers to dial into a 1-800-# to make the order
  12. Have someone check the entries
  13. Stop Accepting orders
  14. Make people accept what you send them
  15. Train salesmen to enter orders directly
  16. Simplify our process
  17. Fire people who get the worst error record for three months running
  18. Develop an award for the person who has the least errors
  19. Increase our prices so people stop ordering
  20. Reduce the range of products we sell so there is less chance of error
  21. Only accept phone orders and read back the order
  22. Send out confirmation of the order to let the customer know what they ordered and get them to check it
  23. Ensure the input operators understand the cost of a mistake
  24. Improve keying standards for new hires
  25. Electronically match the order with our inventory and give the operator a description of the product.

Sorting/Ranking Ideas:

The group then decided to proceed with an attempt to categorize their ideas and began a sorting process. Base on their assessment, they determined the following:

1) We can eliminate several ideas immediately: 6,10,12,13,14,17,19,20 would not make good business sense

2) Some are possible but not probably because they imply changing customer behavior: 3,11,21, 22

3) The rest are worthy of a second look. These can be categorized as easy or hard to implement

  • Easy: 2, 3, 7, 18, 23, and 24
  • Hard: 1, 9, 8, 16, 15, and 25

At this point the group felt it had categorized the ideas, separated the “jewels” from the “junk” and could move ahead with its investigation.

This is a fairly simple and intuitive example of generating, sorting, categorizing, and ranking results of a brainstorming session. Some circumstances call for more sophisticated tools. Here are two tools that we recommend:

Nominal Group Technique: Provides a more structured form of brainstorming which results in a prioritized list of ideas. It is particularly useful when brainstorming with a large group and when it is important to synthesize results into several prioritized items.

Prioritization Matrix: Provides a structured method of establishing the relative priority and sequencing of alternatives regarding an issue, objective or goal.

More Help

If you have questions about using the Nominal Group Technique or other Brainstorming methods, please contact Beth Chartier at 781-343-4008 or at She will set up time for you talk to one our consultants, free of charge, who will help you with your specific questions and concerns.

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