How to Make Sense of Brainstorming Ideas


Image credit:

Have you ever conducted a brainstorming session? Perhaps you found yourself drowning in a sea of ideas.

How can we organize and distill the information? How can we ensure action occurs after the session?

Allow me to share a couple of tools to help you and your team members understand the mass of information. Let’s look at: 1) the Affinity Map and 2) Dot Voting.

Why Use the Affinity Map?

Use the Affinity Map in order to categorize a large number of ideas. For example, you and your team may brainstorm risks for a project. Let’s assume the team identifies 30 risks. Using the Affinity Map technique, the team could sort the risks into common groups such as:

  • Schedule risks
  • Budget risks
  • Quality risks

After identifying and categorizing the risks, probe deeper by asking questions about each category. Seek to reach consensus on the top risks and how the risks relate to one another.

How to Conduct the Affinity Map Exercise

  1. Define the issue or the question on a whiteboard or flipchart or cling on sheets. Here are some example questions:
    • What are the risks for this project?
    • What are the greatest opportunities for our organization to increase revenue?
    • What is causing our social media marketing project to fall behind schedule?
    • Why are we seeing our software testing defect rate going up?
  1. Ask participants for responses. Have the participants write their responses on sticky notes or index cards.
  2. Collect and post ideas.
  3. Sort the ideas into columns or clusters. Ask the participants to help you sort the ideas into common groups.
  4. Define categories. Ask the participants to define category names or headings.
  5. Discuss the Affinity Map. Ask participants for key observations. Ask probing questions to help everyone better understand the results.

When you complete the exercise, the team should have a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the issues. Sometimes the team may need additional help to identify the most significant items. Let’s look at another simple tool to help with prioritizing items.

Why Use Dot Voting

Use Dot Voting when you need to prioritize items quickly.

 How to Conduct the Dot Voting Exercise

photo (1)1. Determine what to vote on.
2. Give the participants a number of votes. I give participants 5 sticky dots.
3. Give guidelines for voting. For example, participants may cast one or more votes for any one idea. Participants may cast all of their votes for one idea if they feel strongly enough about the idea.
4. Ask participants to cast votes. Participants cast their votes by putting their dots on the sticky notes.
5. Total votes. Count the dots and declare the top items.
6. Discuss the results. Are most of the votes in one category? What are the top 3-5 ideas?

The Affinity Map and Dot Voting provide a one-two punch. You and your team will be able to sort and prioritize the ideas in an organized and democratic manner.

Once you have completed the exercises, be sure to identify action items. An exercise without action is simply an exercise. Take action!

Question: What other tools have you used after brainstorming to analyze the information? Why do you use the tool? How do you conduct the exercise?





Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “How to Make Sense of Brainstorming Ideas

Comments are closed.