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Brainstorming and Mindmapping::Continuous Quality Improvement

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I am a trainer and consultant in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, quality management, and business management.

Continuous Quality Improvement using Brainstorming

Brainstorming and mindmapping are highly effective creative thinking techniques that you can use as part of your drive towards continuous quality improvement.

Brainstorming and mindmapping can both help discover why a problem exists and what the potential causes are. These techniques are also perfect for finding poential solutions to your problems.

Both techniques help you to draw out multiple ideas from a team of people and then to organize those ideas in a highly visual format allowing those ideas to be more readily digested and understood. No special training is required and most people can easily use these techniques with a minimum of training or supervision.

Using teams of people allows each member of the team to feed off of the creativity of the other members; often what one person suggests will trigger several more suggestions by the other members of the brainstorming team. Although you do need to use a set of rules to control your sessions so as to prevent some individuals intimidating the other participants into silence.

Continuous Quality Improvement using Brainstorming

Brainstorming, an effective quality tool

Brainstorming, an effective quality tool

What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a team based activity to come up with a multitude of ideas around a specific agreed objective! This can be anything from trying to identify the causes of a specific problem to trying to come up with features to add to a new product range.

It is however not a “free for all”, a brainstorming session should have rules, someone to run the session and keep order and someone to scribe the ideas directly onto the board.

Continuous quality improvement requires quality tools such as Brainstorming if it is to be successful, implement these tools to improve every aspect of your business processes. Brainstorming is not just a tool for trying to discover the cause of your latest quality defect; it can be used for everything including strategy development.

In fact brainstorming is one of the most important tools that you can use within your business if you really want to drive improvements. Run correctly brainstorming sessions used in conjunction with other quality tools can make a significant impact on every aspect of your business.

Rules of Brainstorming

Brainstorming session rules

Brainstorming session rules

Brainstorming Rules

There are a set of very simple rules by which to run your Brainstorming session;

  1. Withhold your judgment of other’s ideas until after the session, we should not be discussing the pros and cons at this stage of each idea as this will kill the generation of ideas.
  2. Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas, sometimes the more way out the suggestion the better, especially when combined with rule 4 below
  3. Strive for quantity of ideas not quality, we can go through them at a later stage.
  4. Build on other’s ideas. Sometimes what someone else says will trigger many more ideas. Sometimes one "crazy" idea can lead to the breakthrough that you need.
  5. Every team member and every idea has equal worth, there are no job titles in a brainstorming session.
  6. Ensure all ideas are recorded, don’t miss anything.

Brainstorming Video

Conducting a Brainstorming Session

Despite the fact that you are trying to generate potentially hundreds of ideas there has to be some order to the session. There has to be someone who will ensure that all of the rules above are adhered to.

It is also worth while using a scribe to record the ideas, I have run sessions where people write their own ideas but they begin to be distracted by the writing and people fail to start to build on others ideas as they don’t hear them while they are busy writing.

Ideas should be written onto post-it notes and applied to the board, using post-it notes allows you to reorganize all the ideas much easier at later stages.

When things begin to run dry stop, it is very easy for people to start analyzing the already written ideas at this point.

The best way is to have a someone lead the session who asks each person in turn for one idea, this should then be written by the scribe either onto a post it or directly onto the board. The leader should work all of the way around the group one by one. Don't worry if someone does not have anything to add, just continue to the next person until you have been around the whole team with no new ideas. You will often find that people who miss one round will have ideas the next as another suggestion will trigger ideas.

Once this has been completed all of the ideas should be briefly described and then ask one more time if anyone has anything to add. Often reviewing what has already been raised can trigger several more rounds of ideas.

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Mind Mapping Video

Brainstorming Analysis

The Brainstorm will have generated potentially hundreds of ideas, these need to be analyzed in some manner. There are a number of ways to organize these thoughts.

Arrange the ideas into similar groups with similar themes onto the board, this is why using post-it notes for your ideas is so useful.

Organize them as to the value of the idea, have the team re-arrange them into the best, medium and worst ideas.

Another option is to feed them into a cause and effect diagram (Fishbone diagram or Ishikawa Diagram). This allows you to group the ideas into the different categories Man, Method, Machines, Materials, Measurements and the Environment. This will allow the team to make better sense of the many ideas generated as well as better organize any problem solutions.

A less formal type of fishbone diagram is what is called a mind map;

Mind Map Example

Example of Mind Mapping

Example of Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is taking the ideas generated around a central theme and linking together similar themes and ideas to show their relationship to each other. Unlike a Fishbone diagram the “effect” is placed in the center and the groupings can be formed from any sensible ideas unlike the predefined titles of the fishbone diagram.

Create a Mind Map

Another way to create a mind map is to use the mapping process to actually create the idea rather than a "free for all" brainstorming session.

Start with either your problem or what you want to achieve in the center and then ask either of two very simple questions;

WHY (If it is a problem)

HOW (If is a goal to achieve)

This will give you your initial spokes from the mind map which you can then ask the same question again from. This is very similar to using the 5 Whys problem solving technique but does not limit you to just one answer to each level of why.

Continuous Quality Improvement, Quality Tools

Quality Tools for Continuous Quality Improvement; Brainstorming

Quality Tools for Continuous Quality Improvement; Brainstorming

Continuous Quality Improvement

Continuous quality improvement does not just happen by itself, it has to be carefully planned and managed. Without a continual process of business improvement you will always be behind your competitors until eventually they pull miles ahead of you. If your business is to flourish then quality tools like brainstorming and mind mapping can help you drive continuous quality improvement.

But brainstorming and mindmapping are only part of the story, you need to utilize a host of other tools to gather and analyze data before you can successfully start looking for causes and attempting to discover solutions. This requires an understanding of the other 7 Quality tools.for continuous improvement/

Continuous Quality Improvement Video

Brainstorm and Mind Map

Brainstorm continuous quality improvement

Brainstorm continuous quality improvement


Liam Hughes on October 05, 2011:

Great post about mind mapping. You might like to check out the mind map library at for examples of how people have used mind maps to work through these and other processes!

Tony (author) from At the Gemba on September 23, 2010:

We have done a lot of Brainstorming wavegirl, but I can't find my mind after all that to map it!

Shari from New York, NY on September 23, 2010:

I must say I have loved our brain storming during the 60 day challenge. Now about the mindmapping . .. :O

Tony (author) from At the Gemba on September 11, 2010:

Hi Pamela, thank you also for commenting, it is nice to have your work appreciated.

Tony (author) from At the Gemba on September 11, 2010:

Thank you for your comments wavegirl, nice to have you stop by. We certainly have done a lot of brainstorming over the last few weeks, it has been fun.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 11, 2010:

LeanMan, This is a very good hub and well thought out. I liked the step by step process for success.

Shari from New York, NY on September 10, 2010:

I must say this Hub is a welcome addition to your portfolio. I do declare that Mind mapping with you for the past 3 weeks on the 60dc has been a mind blowing event. Brainstorming at its finest, as is this Hub of yours. Bookmarked and Tweeted!

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