Rapid Brainstorming Brings a Deluge of Ideas

Method helps ASQ section provide value to members

by John Lynch

What’s the easiest way to gather a lot of great ideas in a short period of time? That is the challenge the Charlotte Section of ASQ deals with each May when we hold our members’ recognition meeting.

Following a free dinner for members, recognition of key office holders and those who did something exceptional during the year, and the awarding of our highest honor—the “Garland Blackwell”—comes the challenge. That’s when members in attendance are asked to help plan future programs.

In the past, we used a standard brainstorming session to solicit program ideas for the upcoming ASQ dinner meeting season. With about 40 members attending, it was sometimes difficult to maintain their full attention. Feedback from many of the recent programs indicated we had secured expert speakers who explained the topic well. What they lacked was creativity—for instance, attendees wanted examples of how the quality tools had been successfully used.

The Charlotte Section board recognized a need to upgrade the presentations. We wanted to make the dinner meeting experience better and to attract 80, 90 or even 100 attendees, because the topics were that good, because they had heard about the improvements in the presentations and because they had seen dramatic improvement in the day-to-day performance of those who had attended.

To start the process, it was important to get input from the membership in a way that helped us improve the programs. As a result, we developed the following goals:

  1. Keep everyone fully engaged.
  2. Generate a lot of exciting topic ideas.
  3. Fully use the members’ input.
  4. Find new topics and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to member needs.
  5. Begin building enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
  6. Do all of this in less than 30 minutes.

It took some organization, but here is how rapid brainstorming was used during the recognition meeting to accomplish those goals.

The dinner meeting attendees assembled at four large tables. These became the rapid brainstorm groups. Each group had a flip chart and markers, and selected a scribe. Before beginning, the method was described. For two minutes, the scribes recorded the ideas generated by the small groups. Each scribe then moved clockwise to the next group with the page they had generated.

To help the new group build on the ideas generated, the scribe had about one minute to answer questions and explain any ideas that were on the flip chart page. Once all four groups indicated they were ready with a new scribe selected, a clean flip chart page was readied, and the same two-minute brainstorm commenced, followed by the scribe rotation and one-minute explanation. This occurred two more times.

The process allowed for a variety of participants and supported building off other ideas. What typically would be considered the largest negative—the severe time limits—actually became the biggest benefit. The members didn’t have time to tune out.

The 16 pages generated were posted on the walls of the meeting room. Each attendee had five votes and marked the topics he or she preferred. This became the input for a board meeting held later that month. Prior to the meeting, the program chair organized the list to eliminate the topics with no (or low) votes. The board provided contacts to the program chair to support the topics selected.

With the topics and contacts provided, all of the speakers were set for the ASQ Charlotte Section dinner meetings by the end of June. The rapid brainstorm method played a key role in ensuring the speakers addressed the topics of interest to our members.

JOHN LYNCH has been a member of the Charlotte Section of ASQ since 1993 and holds a bachelor of science in industrial engineering and an MBA from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. A past chair, Lynch is an ASQ certified quality engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt and manager of quality/organizational excellence, as well as a certified ISO/TS 16949, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 auditor.

This is a good way to keep everyone in the brainstorming session focused.
--Georges Van Cauwenbergh, 06-17-2008

--Juan Chapa, 03-15-2008

--Paul Janke, 02-26-2008

--Jim Jenkins, 02-26-2008

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