You can read a russian version here
The Real Story. In 1938 in one of open cafes of New York two people had lunch. Journalist Alex Osborn, the founder of well known BBDO agency(Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn) was one of them. His interviewer – the editor of one of the popular published magazines before the second World War. These two had an interesting dialogue:
Editor: What is your hobby, Mr. Osborn?
Osborn: Hmm … I think everything that is connected with creativity, the imagination, creativity, and the generation of ideas.
Editor: It seems to me that you have to write a book about it. The world has been waiting for something like this for a long time now. And put all your energy and knowledge in it. I think, we will help you publish it.
Certainly, it is an imaginary dialogue. But, as it seems to me, something similar happened anyway. As a result of this conversation, a series of the books were published in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Alex Osborn described a method of Brainstorming which his agency used since the end of the 1930’s.
Brainstorming is a technique that is often used in Scrum. Especially during Sprint Retrospectives. Brainstorming has some basic rules which are urged to provide its efficiency:
- Don’t judge or criticize ideas.
- Encourage fantastic and wild ideas.
- Go for quantity. The more ideas you have the better.
- Build on the ideas of fellow group members.
- One conversation at a time.
Brainstorming is so widespread and common that we don't even think about its disadvantages. A large number of researches have shown its inefficiency. Studies have shown that performance gets worse the group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four. The one exception to this is online brainstorming. When properly managed, then not only do better than individuals, the larger the group the better it performs.
Psychologists speak. Psychologists explain the three main reasons why group Brainstorming can be a failure:
- Social loafing – some people prefer not to take active part in the game. They simply "lean back on a chair back" and watching.
- Production blocking – while one person is speaking, the rest of the group is passive and blocked.
- Evaluation apprehension – we are often afraid to introduce our thoughts, being afraid to look silly or incompetent in front of our colleagues.
Stop! We have just outlined the rules of Brainstorming. The first of them says "Don’t judge or criticize ideas". Yes, Osborn's rules were called for creation of such environment where participants could feel themselves safe. But it just a rule. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find magic words that would make people instantly relax, and remove tension indoors automatically. The fear of public humiliation is a potent force.
When it’s storming. Let's look at a typical Scrum team which is in a condition of Formation or the Storm (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing by Tuckman). It is unlikely that group Brainstorming will be the most effective tool for them. Internal contradictions are still very strong, team members are very cautious when sharing their thoughts with each other, there is no trust still. They are not a team yet, only a group of people that can become one over time.
There is also another problem which is very typical the IT industry. It is not a secret or revelation for anyone that we have a large number of introverts on teams. Open dialogue, the competition of ideas, and other forms of social stimulation are not the most comfortable approaches for them.
Let us reject the Brainstorming? By no means, we can simply use its different forms. Let’s use the Brain Games that can ensure the necessary safety of people. Let’s be directed by the appeal "Everyone will be heard". I want to give some practical examples.
Silent Mind Mapping
Mind Map - the powerful and well known tool. So many brilliant books and articles are written about it. Next time ask the team to create the Map in silence on a board or paper. You can also use one of many available electronic tools for this exercise.
Silent User Stories and Product Backlog generation
Round 1. User Stories creation by discussing them within a group.
Round 2. Everyone silently writes stories. At the end of a round we filter out duplicates.
Round 3. Everyone writes one line of the User History, then transfers to the neighbor who writes the following line.
Round 4. The same as in previous round, only the User Story is written in different order - at first "value" part, then we describe a specific user, a "wants something" part.
Round 5. Silent Mind Map creation of the Product Backlog.
The detailed description of this technique can be found here in Lyssa Adkin’s blog.
Silent Grouping. Not so long ago I wrote how it is possible to estimate a big number of User Stories within a short period of time and how create an estimation net. As fine add on for this exercise is the Silent Grouping of User Stories. Everyone has the right to move silently any User Story in the necessary section of his own opinion. You can read more about this technique in details here.
And in the End. Think thoroughly about which Brain Games can be applicable for your team so that in discussion there would be no domination of the group extroverts. And, if it’s done correctly, there will be a miracle – suddenly the most silent and imperceptible member of team will give out such original and fresh ideas that all those present will simply gasp.
I wish you marvellous and balanced meetings during which the opinion of EACH member of team will be HEARD and CONSIDERED.