Brainstorming technique – Asking all the questions

Every time we have a new idea, it takes into account a wide range of assumptions that are based on our own personal background/experience.  Just because we have personal data that leads to an assumption, does not mean that assumption is correct.

There is a group brainstorming activity which does not seek answers or solutions.  Instead the process looks to define the scope of a particular space through exploring questions.  The process seeks to eliminate assumptions and take nothing for granted.

This is just the start of a strategic planning process, but it is a really important one to make everyone think broadly before starting to hone in on answering questions and solving problems that you feel are most pertinent for your idea.

Before you begin, you should lay out some very high-level goals and carve your idea space into a few sub-topics that you want to explore.  This works best if your facilitator also is versed in the topic you are discussing.

You will need the following materials

  • large 5″x8″ colored post-it notepads (at least one per attendee)
  • sharpee pens (at least 1 per attendee)
  • colored sticker dots (at least 20 per attendee)

Note: optionally you can hand different colored pads to different attendees if you are interested in visually understanding which people are asking what questions.  For example you might have Marketing folks and Management in the same room and it might be interesting to get a sense of the different perspectives.

For each sub-topic you will build a wall of questions:

  1. Using the pens on the pads, ask each of the attendees to begin writing down questions on that they feel are important to know the answers for in that topic area
  2. Pass each note up to the facilitator
  3. The facilitator will read each question and ask for clarification where appropriate
  4. Each question follows one of these paths
    • The facilitator asks for question to be modified or broken up etc… and then re-submitted.
    • Facilitator determines that a question is better suited for another sub-topic: writes that sub-topic on the note and puts it off to the side
    • Facilitator asks author if question is perhaps similar to one already on the wall.
    • Facilitator places that question on the wall grouped with other related questions when possible
  5. As each participant hears the questions being read, that is going to spark additional questions in their heads.  They should keep writing them down and passing them up as this happens.

You will find that the stack of questions waiting to be read may grow longer and shorter as the process continues.  Keep going while there is a steady flow of questions that are not repeating previous questions.

Now you are going to rate the questions via a process called dotmocracy

  1. each attendee gets X sticker dots.  X is any number you decide
  2. Attendees are allowed to place their dots on any of the notes on the wall
  3. They can place more than one dot and in fact as many as they like on any note.

There is nothing explicitly to do with the ranking of the questions.  There may be some that garner more votes because they are broader while others may receive less because they split votes with other similar ones.  The votes should just be used as one data point when using the questions to build a strategy.

Anyone used a process like this?  Parts you liked?  Parts you didn’t?

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