Posted by: JC Gatlin | October 10, 2009

Ground Rules for Brainstorming


Brainstorming is an integral part of the PDCA process. You want to look at a problem from every possible perspective — and free thinking is great way to start the problem definition or 5-Why Analysis.

In a brainstorm session, each member of the PDCA group takes a turn expressing an idea. Go in a specific order around the table or room, giving everyone as many turns as necessary. Continue through that order until someone says, “Pass – I’m out of ideas.” Then continue through the order without him. Once everyone has said “pass” the brainstorm is over.

For brainstorm to be successful, there are three rules you cannot break.

1. All ideas are written on the board, no matter how off topic or pointless one may seem. There are no wrong or bad ideas – just different perspectives. If a Construction Professional wanted to describe a Building Partner problem as “they’re little green men from Mars” – that’s okay. Abstract ideas may point the group in a direction that would have been left unexplored otherwise, and that’s the whole point of a brainstorm.

2. There is no discussion or explanation about the ideas. Talking about an idea during the brain storming process will interrupt the flow. Everyone’s head will focus on that one idea, and your brainstorming will end. You want free thinking.

3. Under no circumstances do you shoot down someone’s idea. Whether you see it as relevant or not doesn’t matter. You can never discount or disagree with an idea during a brainstorm. Once you say, “Well, that’s not it…” you’ve committed “Beta Error” and the brainstorm will end. Beta Error will prevent the group from free thinking.

The PDCA Leader must be strong enuogh to hold the group to these three rules. It’s human nature to want to break them.

© October 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.



  1. I disagree that “pass” is the end of brainstorming. Stopping here leaves most of the creativity on the table. Try this by yourself even. If you need to brainstorm an idea or a name or whatever, just start writing (absolutely agree with you on the writing part). Just keep going. Force yourself through the stupid because on the other side of stupid is creative. IF you end up with 60 ideas, chances are that the first 20 are the obvious ones, the next 20 are the impossible, and the truly creative come out in the last 20.

    Thanks for blogging about a vital but under-appreciated methodology.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. […] first step was brainstorming. (Read more about brainstorming by clicking here.) Each member of the group got an opportunity to describe the problem as he or she saw it, and the […]

  3. […] then breaks it down to a Point of Cause). It also includes problem investigation, which includes brain storming, a fishbone & 5-Why analysis mining down to several root causes. There are counter measures […]

  4. HI – I’d like to use your little brainstorm cartoon for a job interview & so request permission. (I can’t find any way of contacting you otherwise!)
    I’d be grateful if you could let me know.
    Many thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: