Brainstorming is the foundation of any innovation exercise and the foundation for most ideation sessions. While it is such a universal exercise, there are many different ways to go about brainstorming, and we have found that whiteboard sessions are some of the best exercises to conduct to get the most out of your brainstorming session.
Whether it’s simply ideating or specifically auditing a project, we have compiled a guide of the best questions to ask and techniques to use when brainstorming on a whiteboard.
Brainstorming is arguably the most widely used exercise within teams and individuals and can be done for an infinitely large number of reasons. Conducting brainstorming on a whiteboard, however, is much more effective than a simple idea scramble. You can collect, organize, and eliminate ideas, and focus on the path to success through a diagram of your ideas.
Whiteboards allow you to operate on a shared visual medium to express your ideas and their connections with one another. This is something that is super important to brainstorming and seldom shared by other workplace tools.
The main technique of collaboration on whiteboards is using sticky notes to express your ideas and move them freely around the board. This allows for you and your team to work quickly and efficiently with each other to process ideas, organize them in the correct places, and run through a ton of different possibilities.
Brainstorming can be a really hard thing to accomplish when teams aren’t thinking organically, and one of the biggest pitfalls of brainstorming is thinking there is one “right” idea. When people begin to contribute in a way that they think is closest to the “right” idea, you lose the organic brainpower of brainstorming and your contributions become directed towards an expected result.
In order to avoid group-think within your brainstorming session, you might need to prepare some prompting questions to help people think independently and work on the board organically. There are exercises that could go hand in hand with this, and some of these we’ll discuss later, but for now here are our 20 favorite brainstorming prompts for whiteboard sessions.
- What is our end goal? Brainstorm backward from this point to diagram the path forward.
- What is the best outcome you can think of?
- What is the worst outcome you can think of?
- How do these outcomes translate to the actions we can take today?
- How can we mitigate the risk associated with a negative outcome?
- What similar projects/products do we want to take inspiration from?
- How can we communicate our changes/progress effectively? What does this schedule look like?
- Who is the principal user for this solution? Create a Persona Map to flesh this out.
- How does our solution address the functional needs of the customer? What about the emotional & social needs?
- What is the core reason we are brainstorming this solution?
- How can we learn from previous projects to improve our performance here?
- What don’t we want to include/emulate? Why should these features be avoided?
- What about the project’s success might be concerning?
- What might some potential roadblocks look like for our success?
- How can we incorporate risk-taking and innovation into our project? Do we want to incorporate those elements?
- What stands out the most about _____?
- What items should be the highest priority and which should be lower?
- How can we interlink ideas/concepts for maximum efficacy?
- What does our timetable look like from now until completion?
- Why is the positioning of our solution unique? How will this translate to its success?
One of the most successful things that you can do when brainstorming is making sure your team is set up for success. This can often be achieved by asking some good prompting questions, but it can also be really helpful to integrate structure into your brainstorming sessions.
Structured collaboration is one of the most effective ways to brainstorm and through using online whiteboards you can utilize a ton of unique templates that enable your brainstorming success. Below are some of our favorite techniques and templates to achieve a productive brainstorming session.
There are many reasons that using a visual collaboration tool is more advantageous than simply using a whiteboard, and one of them is the ability to make incognito contributions.
We previously stated that one of the most dangerous aspects of brainstorming is when people begin to think about the perceived “right” answer rather than thinking independently and collaborating with their unique brainpower. Incognito collaboration is a method that overrides this possibility and leads to a ton of independent lead generation.
When using online whiteboards, you can hide the group’s contributions and only see your own notes. This exercise enables you in thinking independently and avoids influence from other people. After your team has finished your specific brainstorming exercise, you can reveal the rest of the contributions to discuss which ideas are the most pertinent and how they can be best organized.
This demonstrates the importance of independence to brainstorming and how online whiteboards can promote new techniques that achieve independence and free-thinking.
Design thinking is one of the most popular exercises for creatives everywhere and can be easily applied to brainstorming sessions as well. This method of collaboration asks people to use visual elements to diagram their thoughts and ideas.
You don’t have to be a great artist to make effective use of design thinking either. Most of the efficacy of design thinking comes from its ability to help other people grasp ideas quickly, and it also enables you to diagram the connection between certain ideas or elements to make them abundantly clear to people.
Humans are very visual learners, and it only makes sense that emphasizing a visual aspect to our brainstorming can help people understand ideas much quicker. This is made possible through design thinking and makes for an effective brainstorming exercise.
Brainwriting, otherwise known as agile solution building, is arguably the most common alternative to brainstorming and, like incognito collaboration, is focused on independence in brainstorming.
This exercise is also commonly used to ensure everyone in the brainstorming process has their voice heard and acknowledged, which can be difficult in a traditional brainstorming environment.
Brainwriting asks everyone to write down their idea/solution to a given concept, and then everyone takes turns making chronological additions to the next persons solution. By doing this, everyone in the group gets to propose their own idea and gets to comment on every other idea in the process.
In the end, you will have multiple fully fleshed-out solutions that take unique elements from each person and form a logical train of thought. These ideas will have elements of each individual wrapped up in them and will ensure the collaboration of everyone involved. By hitting these key brainstorming marks, brainwriting is a great alternative to brainstorming for those who want to maximize inclusion and independence in brainstorming.
This template poses an initial problem and has spaces on either side to dig deeper into why this problem happens and how it manifests itself. By analyzing the why side of the issue you can uncover the root issue that is causing the problem to affect your team. The “how” side of the issue helps your team understand how the problem manifests itself into the operations of your team, and how it affects other aspects of your work.
Solution laddering is a great template if your team is looking to brainstorm some solutions and problem points that you’re experiencing and once you begin to uncover the why and how of the issue you can start brainstorming solutions to help your team.
The 5 Why’s Exercise
The 5 Why’s Exercise is similar to the solution laddering board but is more focused on the “why” aspect of the problem-solving process. This board has multiple columns for different problem statements, and in each column, there are multiple different rows that all simply ask: Why?
As you proceed down the rows from the initial problem statement to the various “why’s” you will begin to uncover the root causes for the issues that you’ve been experiencing. These causes might be a small as a small communication error in the workflow, or as large as a flawed system that affects your entire product.
Whatever you uncover from this process, repeatedly asking why questions is one of the most simple brainstorming techniques to bring your team from a stage of confusion to a final answer.
While many would consider themselves brainstorming experts, there is always room to grow. Hopefully, these questions and techniques have inspired you to take your brainstorming to the next level. If you want to learn more about brainstorming, virtual workshopping, and more, check out Fresco.