Six Sigma Tools for continuous quality improvement


Brainstorming Techniques

to use the Brainstorming template and other brainstorming tools that come with the Six Sigma Tools

Purpose of Brainstorming Tools

Use brainstorming to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time.

The Standard Brainstorming Process

Review how to do brainstorming

  1. Review the (general) Brainstorming Rules
  2. Review any special alternative brainstorming techniques that will be used in this session

Brainstorming Rules

Clearly state the question or problem

that you are seeking to resolve

often phrased with why, how, or what

(A problem well defined is a problem half solved, right?)

Agree upon Objectives

Most disagreements come from seeking to optimize different objectives.

Example: Your idea optimizes time-savings, but I'm trying to optimize quality.
No wonder we don't agree on the best way to solve our problem...

Allow a few minutes of silence

to think, ponder, and reflect on the question

Facilitate brainstorming

  1. Follow the agreed-upon rules.
  2. Suspend judgment. No discussion or debate. Just ideas.
  3. Encourage piggyback ideas and radical ideas.
  4. Write ideas exactly as they are stated. (Can clarify later.)

Optional: Nominal Group Technique (NGT)

To encourage contributions from everyone — each team member contributes one idea at a time

(perhaps with no discussion at all — not even clarification questions)

A member may 'pass', but will again be asked the next time it is his or her turn.

Keep going until all members pass — or for a specified amount of time.


When brainstorming is done...

Ask for clarifications (from the person that suggested the idea),

and perhaps rephrase some ideas more clearly

being careful to ensure that the rephrased idea still accurately reflects the originator's intended thought

Bookmark = ListReduction

Reduce the List

List reduction

  1. Display the entire list of brainstormed items so that everyone can see the complete list.
  2. For each item, ask, "Should this continue to be considered?"
    If majority votes "no", mark that item in brackets.

    After all items have been voted on, ask...
    "Does anyone want to put any bracketed item back on the list?"

    Even a single person can keep the item on the list. Cross off all other bracketed items.

  3. Combine ideas that are similar or complimentary. Values List template

    Perhaps systematically comparing each item to every other item,
    but more commonly, using a less systematic, intuitive approach.

  4. Optionally perform Criteria Filtering or other advanced list reduction methods

    as described in our online training for decision making techniques

  5. Optionally use your Values List or Prioritization Matrix templates

    to reduce your list

Optional: Organize ideas into 'Affinity Group' categories

Also known as Affinity Diagram

This can be done before and/or after reducing the list.

Tip: Even if you did your original brainstorming on paper — this is where it is often "worth it" to transcribe your ideas to your Systems2win Brainstorming Worksheet — to make editing & organizing much easier.

Brainstorming template

is a Word template
(not Excel)

  1. Show the Navigation Pane: Home > Navigation Pane

    This will open a sidebar collapsible menu in the left sidebar —
    that makes viewing affinity groups easier.

    This brainstorming template has been designed so that
    ideas should be documented using Style Heading 3,
    which will appear within the collapsible Document Map.

    If any ideas are somehow documented using Normal Style —
    convert them to Heading 3. (Shortcut = CTRL+ALT+3)

  2. Facilitate consensus-building

    to cut and paste all Brainstorm Ideas into Affinity Group Headings

  3. Your goal is to identify patterns, overcome old paradigms, and stimulate fresh ideas

    so encourage new ideas to come up, and add them to your list

  4. Use your intuitive minds to allow Affinity Group category headings to emerge.

    In addition, you might consider using...

    Classic organization category headings

    4 M's — Man, Machine, Material, Methods
    6 M's — Machine, Method, Materials, Man, Measurement, Mother Nature
    4 P's — People, Place/Plant, Policies, Procedures
    8 P's — Price, Promotion, People, Processes, Place/Plant, Policies, Procedures, Product
    4 S's — Surroundings, Suppliers, Systems, Skills
    6 X's — Equipment, Process, People, Materials, Environment, Management
    4 I’s —  System, Sub-system, and Component Interfaces:
                 Spatial (physically touching), Energy (transfer),
                 Information (exchange), Material (exchange)
    5 Pd’s — P-diagram design robustness noises:
                 Piece-to-piece, Customer usage and duty cycle, Degradation over time,
                 Environment, Interactions with other systems (4I’s)

  5. If an Affinity Group has only 1 or 2 items,

    perhaps it can be combined with another

  6. If an Affinity Group contains an overwhelming number of ideas,

    perhaps it can be divided further

Optional: Seek root causes

Root Cause Analysis

by transferring your data to a Fishbone Diagram template

  1. Copy the ideas for each Affinity Group
    into a separate column in a blank Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Import your ideas into the fishbone diagram
  3. Continue brainstorming ideas —
    seeking deeper root causes by continuing to ask "Why?"

Agree upon solutions

Optionally take the time to rank ideas.

Decision Making template

Perhaps give each person a specified number of votes.

(perhaps their vote for the top 5 ideas)

Just add an x next to each idea for each vote that it receives.

And then make your decision —

using any decision making tools or techniques.

Two popular ways to use your

Brainstorming template


1) Use a projector

to record ideas as they are generated
    directly on the Systems2win Brainstorming tool.

2) Write ideas on large paper

while an assistant uses your Brainstorming template
to transcribe the results into a more legible version that can then...

Tip: Your Brainstorming.docx template is a Word template (not Excel)

Bookmark = alt

Alternative Brainstorming Techniques

Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis

For Root Cause Analysis

follow the above instructions for standard brainstorming,
but do your brainstorming right within the Fishbone template,
and keep brainstorming answers to the repeated question:

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Round Robin Brainstorming

  1. Move around the room in sequential order — each person states an idea or has the option to "pass".
  2. Keep going around the room until everyone passes.

Wildest Idea

When everyone is out of ideas — or imagination is running low — start again —

but this time allowing only outrageous ridiculous ideas.

wild ideas

Afterward —

see if some of these ideas might be modified into realistic possibilities.

Double Reversal

When everyone is out of ideas —
or imagination is running low — start again —

but this time reverse the problem statement —
so that you're brainstorming ideas for how to make the problem worse.

Afterward — reverse each idea

to see if any reversed ideas lead to new ideas
that can now be added to the original brainstorming

(for how to make the problem better)

Affinity Diagram

Same as above —
but rather than using the Brainstorming template — use handwritten cards.

Using a thick marker pen — write each idea on a card or sticky note.

Randomly spread cards on large work surface where the team gathers round.

Without talking —

All team members participate to move cards into groups that seem related in some way. It's okay to move a card someone else has already placed. It's okay to make a second card for something that seems to belong in more than one group. It's okay for a card to be all alone.

When everyone seems done — talk.

Discuss the groups. Come up with a label for each group (perhaps using a different colored card or ink).

Perhaps combine groups into larger groups — if appropriate.


Same as brainstorming — but no talking during the brainstorming phase.

Participants write one idea per card.

All cards are placed in the center of the table and shuffled.

Then follow the instructions for Affinity Diagram.









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