It all started with the Business Harvard Review article that immediately intrigued me with its provocative name «Why you should stop Brainstorming». The author of the idea, Tony McCaffrey offers innovative idea generation method that he called Brainswarming.
Without a doubt, the classic version of Brainstorming has a number of disadvantages:
Domination by extroverts, those whose voice is louder generate the ideas
Social pressure, fear to express aloud an offbeat idea
The danger of following one idea only and going in the wrong direction
The relatively low speed, the ideas slow down and block each one
An interesting fact, but no study since 1953 has confirmed the benefits of brainstorming.
Introverts are creative. From 1956 to 1962 a series of studies were held at the University of Berkeley where they studied the nature of creativity. The study included representatives of various professions: architects, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and writers. One of the most interesting findings of this research was that the most creative representatives of these professions were introverts.
These findings don’t mean that introverts are always more creative than extroverts, but they do suggest that in a group of people who have been extremely creative throughout their lifetimes, you’re likely to find a lot of introverts. Why should this be true? Do quiet personalities come with some ineffable quality that fuels creativity? (Quiet, Susan Cain)
What do you think, are there introverts in IT industry?
Productivity and communication. A number of studies show that people in many cases are more productive when they work alone out of the office and there are no distractions (my personal experience confirms this fact). On the other hand, successful teamwork is impossible without regular communication and coordination between people. In Scrum, a main coordination meeting is Daily Scrum. A balance is needed. On one hand, productive work needs full concentration and Focus (one of the values of Scrum). Without focus it is impossible to enter the state of flow. On the other hand, regular synchronization of activities between team members is necessary. Someone may have gone the wrong way, or needs help from his colleagues. There is no ready-made recipe and it is not surprising for complex domain.
How conduct a Brainswarming session. Here are the ways to start a Brainswarming session :
Set the goal for the participants. Make it as SMART as possible.
Divide the space into 2 parts: the actions zone and the tools zone.
Explain the process. Everyone generates ideas in silence writing them down on stickers, puts in any of the zones and builds the graphs. If someone sees an opportunity to combine two ideas from the two zones - we get the solution (look at the image below). Timebox the activity.
How Brainswarming works. I conducted several sessions and I must say that it is a surprisingly productive practice. We had both "live" sessions (stickers, paper, markers) and remote ones using electronic tools (f.e. RealTimeBoard). Especially memorable were, of course, "live" sessions. The energy in the team just rolled over. I always wished I could have a thermometer to measure creativity in the room. Clicking on this link you can view a short clip demonstrating one of those sessions.
How to make Brainswarming session more effective:
The incubation period - instead of 10-30 minutes of exercise, give the team a few days for "growing” the ideas. In this case the information on the board (paper or electronic) is being collected during several days.
A big wall, markers and big stickers give a huge advantage to the team. Large letters are easier to see, so it's best not to write with a pen, but using thick black markers.
Give enough time for the activity if you are not using the incubation period. I found that the sessions with duration of 15-30 minutes are the most productive for very complex problems. Use shorter sessions for trivial issues or if you want to "shake" people or make a warm-up using a short timebox.
A follow-up session. It makes sense to stand in front of the board and discuss what we had generated during it. Perhaps we missed several possible solutions. It makes sense to get feedback from the participants of the session. Ask what worked well and how we can improve the next time.
Why Brainswarming works. I think Tony McCaffrey managed to combine the successful ingredients in a method and also get rid of the classical brainstorming disadvantages.
Since the idea generation space is divided into two parts, it enables people to operate in any of the two parts they prefer. Some people are top-down thinkers, and some focus on the resources that are at hand using bottom-up thinking.
Using graphs creates a structure that allows building on the ideas of other people.
Combining individual work (work in silence) with an early syncing (putting stickers on the wall and observing them).
Possible use of the incubation period that allows the ideas to "grow".
Aligning people, regardless of their psychological profile.
Where Brainswarming can be used. The answer is trivial - in case we need to solve the problem from the Complex Domain (Cynefin framework). There are plenty of such problems in Scrum Teams. Brainswarming is a powerful facilitation tool for Retrospectives, especially if you have introverts in your team. Use Brainswarming and it will never let you down.
What to learn other methods, tips and tricks for effective facilitation and problem solving? Read my FREE LeanPub book "A Scrum Master's Practical Toolbox ".