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Dealing with Brainstorming Challenges

Getting participants to stick to ground rules is a common problem in brainstorming sessions, but it isn’t the only challenge that can arise. There’s also the tricky human factor to consider — specifically different personality types and group dynamics.

You may encounter dominant participants, who may use the session for their own agenda and prevent others from contributing, and “groupthink,” which causes people to go along with the group.


You may also see digression, which can take attention away from the real risks, and quiet group members, who sometimes get excluded from the discussion. But there are some methods you can use to combat these situations.

Dominant participants

If the problem is dominant participants who want to hijack the session for their own personal agenda, interrupt them politely and summarize the point they’re trying to make.

Then ask what risk the issue they’re focused on poses to your current project, and invite the input of other group members.


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Conducting a Brainstorming Session

You successfully planned a brainstorming session to identify risks within your organization, but now that you’re conducting the session, what comes next?

Explain purpose

The first thing to do is remind participants of the purpose of the session. To do this, you could write the project name at the top of a whiteboard at the start of the session.

Establish rules

You also need to establish some ground rules. Some common general rules are to specify the time constraints, and explain that the goal is quantity, not quality. You want a great number of ideas to start, then you can filter out the risks that seem unlikely or trivial.

Avoiding criticism

Ask participants to avoid criticizing each other’s ideas. People can become defensive and shut down if they fear their ideas will be criticized or ridiculed. Also ensure the group knows not to be afraid of silence — it’s important to give everyone time to think about potential risks to your project.


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Planning a Brainstorming Session

You’ve considered approaches to identifying risk and settled on brainstorming as the best fit for your organization. So, what’s next?

Define the scope

First, you need to define the scope of the brainstorming session. Use existing documentation and historical data to provide a context for your current project.

Look at the project management plan, project scope statement, and organizational process assets as the main sources of information.

Adapt for risk identification

The next thing you should do is adapt the brainstorming session for risk identification. Participants sometimes focus on indicators of risks, rather than risks themselves.

To avoid this, try to express any issues that are identified using risk metalanguage, a format that helps separate risks from their causes and effects:

Because of cause “x” risk “y” might occur, which could lead to effect “z.” In your own situation, you might find yourself saying, “Because of the increase in currency exchange rates, import costs may increase, reducing the organization’s profit margin.”

Defining the scope of the brainstorming session and adapting the session for risk identification can also help avoid some of the drawbacks associated with brainstorming, such as participants being unaware of the purpose of the session or focusing on issues that are unrelated to the risk.


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Using Reviews, Analysis, and the Delphi Technique

When choosing risk identification techniques, you must consider the setup of your organization and the kind of projects you work on.

Documentation review

A documentation review can be used for any project type. This involves a detailed analysis of project documents to determine any potential risks to project requirements.

It’s a good way to identify inconsistencies between proposed actions and best practices, and to uncover missing information that may point to hidden risk.

Say your project requires specific skills — you could check that employees have the training necessary to carry out their tasks. If employees don’t have the required skills, this will flag a potential risk to your project.

Your documentation review can also incorporate an assumption analysis. Projects are usually based on a set of assumptions, such as using the right hardware or the project budget being calculated correctly.

Get your team to document all of the assumptions being made during the project planning process. Then get them to identify any risks that may exist as a result of each assumption being based on inaccurate or incomplete data.