Archive for September, 2015

Online Brainstorming Technique

September 17th, 2015 No comments

A couple of years ago I did a blog post on a Simple brainstorming technique. This blog post is an updated version that leverages tooling while still maintaining all of the benefits of the old manual technique; now enables simple and easy access for remote folks and simple record keeping.

If you are anything like me, you will have attended many brainstorming sessions that have gone horribly wrong where:

  • the person with the most senior title rules
  • people position themselves before the brainstorming in an effort to establish some credibility ( in my experience the largest time consumer)
  • someone has dominated the session with their diatribe(s)
  • people who won’t stop talking about their ideas
  • it has deteriorated into a session of I am right and you are wrong and it turned out that they were saying the same thing, just a little differently
  • people were so intimidated that they did not contribute
  • people belittle the ideas thrown up
  • it becomes more about who’s idea it is rather than what the suggestion is
  • remote employees are not able to participate fully
  • the documentation is always after the fact and late….

The purpose of a Brainstorming session is to capture as many ideas as possible. The term, think outside the box is often used when it comes to brainstorming. It is very common to have a totally unrealistic statement stimulate an idea with someone else that was just brilliant. In an effort to get ideas out quickly and without most of the preamble, here is a mechanism that is quick, fair, enables remote participants, and is personality sensitive.


Pre requisites

  • Online agile planning tool, I will use Trello for this blog post. I am currently biased towards Trello because I have successfully used  for audiences in excess of 100 people.
  • Create a board on your tool of choice so that people can capture their ideas
  • Depending on the tool that you use, you might need to adjust the visibility of the board. If you are using Trello and not have Business Class, you will need to create the Team first and then create the board under the Team.
  • Depending on your tool, you might need to create a group and invite people to board that you created
  • Enable the ability to vote on the cards
  • If you are doing this session with remote folks, I do suggest some form of screen sharing mechanism so that everyone can be focused on the same screen.
  • Using the board, create some existing groups/lists such as the following to streamline the brainstorming session.
    • Issues
    • Suggestions
    • Do Not Do
    • Vent
    • Duplicates
    • Parking List
    • Collect Input
    • Action Items



Participant Guidelines

  1. one idea per card (ideally 8 or less words) You can use the card description for more data or explanation.
  2. do not discuss what you write down
  3. have fun
  4. respect all ideas
  5. do not judge (especially your own ideas), just put them on a card
  6. think outside the box
  7. ideas can be added at any time time during the session (especially during the discussion)

Instructions for the Brainstorming session

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the participant guidelines. How do you know this? Ask.
  2. Everyone needs to capture their issues as a card in the Issues list. One idea per card and if your idea needs data or explanation, you can include that in the card description.
  3. Prioritize the issues by moving the higher priority cards to the top of the list. Feel free to add more to the list as people understand other cards. Merge duplicate cards and move the old cards to the Duplicates list.
  4. Brainstorm – review the cards in the Issues list and add ideas on how put ideas on cards. One idea per card and if your idea needs data or explanation, you can include that in the card description.
  5. Read what others have put up remembering it is about the idea and not who created the card
  6. Put more ideas up, especially if they were stimulated by what you read.
  7. Now group the similar themed suggestions together. It sometimes helps to create additional list/groups in order to collate the similar themed ideas together. I have also color coded ideas with similar themes.
  8. Move the the duplicate cards to the Duplicates List, leaving one card on the list. It might be necessary to change the title.
  9. Have everyone vote on their top five items.
  10. Arrange the cards with the highest number of votes to be at the top of the lists.
  11. Variations
    1. Option 1: Now discuss all of the ideas; as an active participant, it is your responsibility not to belittle any idea or person. I put this step in as a transitionary step. As people get more comfortable with this approach, this step should be eliminated because it favors the talkers and over shadows the introverts. That being said, it also enables the talkers to think and do as a team, you will need to time box this step or it will never end. Create cards with Action Items for the next steps or actions to bring the ideas to fruition.
    2. Option 2: This is the more effective method. Have the team create create cards with Action Items for the next steps or actions to bring the ideas to fruition.
  12. Some suggestions will require additional input to be collected and they can be moved to the Collect Input list.
  13. To help with the flow from idea to Action Item, word tag the idea or color code it



Helpful Hints

  • To help the folks in the group that need time to think and process, it is advisable to include the brainstorming topic in the meeting invitations.
  • Provide a link to the topic and these instructions as part of the advanced notification.
  • Do not shoot the messenger!  Brainstorming is all about getting the most hair brained ideas out.  Remember that your crazy idea can stimulate someone else’s thinking that results in that killer idea.
  • Do not be afraid to screwup. Please refer to the point above.
  • The ideas can now be evaluated on the merits of the idea and not who’s idea it is.
  • If you have written it down, you do not need to talk about it too. It might make you feel better but it is also taking up time. This is especially difficult for first-timers.
  • For the discussion phase: Some folks need to talk in order to think. It helps to have these folks remote as they can mute themselves while they talk.  don’t worry, because you’re on a conference call it comes naturally. I would also suggest time boxing the discussion; you will see there is a rhythm and when folks start to repeat themselves, it is time to cut it off and move on.
  • It is pretty common to have similar ideas, so just merge them and move the duplicates to the Duplicates list.
  • Some folks will not be able to move off their points and will attempt to convince others that they are right. remind them that they are not respecting the ideas of others and are assuming that they are right. All ideas need to be able to stand. If explanation is needed, then add the collateral to the card.
  • For folks that are used to discussions, they might feel that this method is impersonal or that their voice is not being heard. For these folks, explain to them the purpose of this technique is to capture everyones input as efficiently as possible and they should not focus on the busy exercise of them being able to talk.


When time is a factor, I have had the participants complete steps 1 to 3 before the meeting. Alternatively, I have also split into two meetings by completing steps 1 to 4 at one meeting, sorted the ideas out off line and then conducted the discussion at a followup meeting.



What is important to you?

September 10th, 2015 No comments

“Gavin, these guys are late again!  I am really tired of them not delivering as they said they would!  I really want to give them a piece of my mind and explain to them the concept of accountability.” Joe said explosively.

I am sure that we have all found ourselves in a similar situation where we would like to blow off some steam, send a flame mail, and/or even give the person a piece of our mind.

For those of us that are aggressive results driven people, we tend to find this lack of accountability painful and frustrating.  Here is a suggestion that was shared with me years back and I am sharing on a technique to handle this type of situation:

What is more important?

We need to be conscious about what is more important to us.  The results that we are trying to achieve or being able to vent at them?  By asking this question, it forces me to think about the situation, what the business needs and what what the costs are of an emotional outburst are from me.  Sometimes I am more successful and other times not so much…..

September 9th, 2015 No comments


The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

–Mahatma Gandi —


Categories: Quotes Tags:

Looking for a new job?

September 8th, 2015 No comments

I have spoken with a number of people that are either unhappy in the their current positions or are feeling an extremely strong desire to move onto the next chapter in their careers.  For the folks that are extremely unhappy or frustrated, I know that this is going to be difficult but in order to move forward, you need to have a clear head.  So take a couple of deep breaths and get those frustrations under control.  Frustration is just a form of anger, get it under control or the anger will be visible to those that you speak with and is that the message that you want to send to prospective employers?

Now that you have decided to find greener pastures, you have decided haven’t you?  Remember, no decision is a decision.  If are not deciding, then you are either choosing to stay or allowing others to control your career and dictate to you.

If you have decided to move to greener pastures, the first is to take a look at what’s out there right?  Actually not!  The first step is to identify what it is that you are looking for and then to do a targeted search in the organizations that meet your criteria.

It’s all about youSparkPilot.com_What_makes_you_happy

So let’s look take a quick look at what you want or what makes you happy.  What we are trying to achieve here is to get to know what it is that we want.  The concept is quite simple.  We play this game with ourselves all the time, where we are looking to be happy but we never really take a look at ourselves to determine what will make us happy.  So what areas do I suggest looking at to ensure that we understand what will make us happy at work?  Why do this?  Simple, if you know what will conditions, environment etc make you happy, you can go and look for that instead of arriving at a place or role and finding out that you are not happy.

Still reading?  Good, now let’s take a look at the criteria that I suggest you look at to determine where or what your next opportunity should be.  There are two key elements for this approach to work and it is important for you to know yourself before evaluating the new opportunity.

Your Passion

What is your passion?  This is core to your job being fulfilling for you.  Are you doing something that you really enjoy doing?  When you wake up in the morning, are bushy tailed and rearing to go?  If not, you job does not align with your passion.  I have seen people go through life listless about what they are doing and after doing this for years, they think it is normal.  Folks, find what you really care about and what makes you happy.  And it is possible that your passions may change as you mature.  It is OK for your passions to be outside work.  I have had the pleasure of working with two guys where their passions where their kids.  Their job was just a way to provide for their kids.  I know that some management/executives do not like this answer because they expect to be #1, but this is their shortcoming, not yours.

Your goals

What are your goals that you want to achieve and how will this new role help you achieve your goals?  If you do not have goals, then this is a great time to start defining some.  And please write them down because without them being documented, we tend to drift based on the situation.  When you document, it provides you with a great baseline and something that you can review over time.  I had an employee who thought he was great at executing.  To help him understand that this was an area of improvement, I had him document his goals for the month.  At the end of the month, we reviewed what he had completed and to his horror he had completed nothing that he had committed to complete.

Your Style

How do you prefer to operate?  While I do acknowledge that this is situational. we all have a preference for a particular style.  Do you know what yours is?  If not, ask a significant other and your colleagues and they will provide you with feedback very quickly on how they see your behaviors.  What we are trying to discover here is what is your natural style.  To help here, I had a situation where the organization culture had become very combative and confrontational, mainly because of a single person’s style and culture and the leadership did not want to run the risk of losing and therefore they chose not to put him on a behavior modification path.  I personally found this to be an unacceptable situation, not only the culture but the lack of leadership and therefore I chose to leave, as did 63% of the organization.  For me to be happy, I like people being happy and being able to share ideas in an open and collaborative manner.  What is your preferred style?

Your natural Pace

Do you naturally move at 110mph or 40 mph.  The pace of industry is getting faster and faster and I have seen this become more and more of an issue.  Ten years ago it was very seldom an issue but the pace of technology is frenetic and therefore if you do not like moving quickly, do not target a role where fast paced is a necessity.  But you need to know what your pace is before you start looking……..


 The new role / job

OK, so now this section of the post is all about the new position and some suggested areas to research before you sign on the dotted line.

Company / Team Culture

What is the culture at the new place?  Do they value cross group collaboration or is the culture very combative? Are they are a bunch of sports nuts that work out twice a day or a bunch of single people that socialize together a number of times together every week.  You will need to fit in with this culture, so make sure that it is who you are and that it is what you want.  A big red flag here is if the org is leaderless or recently underwent a leadership change because the culture is set from the top and influenced at the ground level.

I am putting this under culture but it can stand by itself – office hours.  What are the official office hours and then the unofficial work hours.  Do they start meetings at 7:30 AM and then expect people to be in the office until after 7PM in the evening?


What are their values?  I had a friend who took a position because they gave him a large salary bump only to find out that some of his office mates were members of a religious cult.  As a lifelong Catholic, he left within a month because he could not relate to people that had a vastly different value system to his own.

A note to the technical people that value a high level of technical prowess.  Think about others who do not share this value and do not have the skills that you do.


What is the management style.  I have come across a startup where the CEO does a daily war room meeting so that his 30+ employees can cover what they are going to do during the day.  He them checks in on them during the day to ensure that they are on track.  He was very confused when I asked him who was running the company while he was micro-managing the people.  Needless to say, he was experiencing a rather staff turnover and he kept on saying that it was because people did not have the work ethic for a startup……  Remember that your manager has control, or at least some influence in your career trajectory while your are employed with that company.

It is always a good idea to see how others in similar roles to you interact with the management and how management interacts with them.  And never overlook how they interact with each other.  That is so telling!

Senior Leadership

Do they believe that only senior leadership can drive initiatives or do they believe that anyone can lead an initiative?  If it takes the involvement of one of the anointed ones to have an initiative succeed, is that what you are looking for?    Alternatively, the lack of leadership will kill any idea / initiative extremely quickly and then the people will mill around and often bicker about often irrelevant things because there is no direction.

 Money / Benefits

Yeah, I have to bring up the piece that no one wants to talk about but the latest research is starting to highlight that higher reward does not equal more results.  In some situations, company’s are having to provide larger packages in order to compensate for other situations such as work environment or just because they are not able to find suitably skilled people that want to do the job. In addition, some companies are having to pay large packages in order to attract and retain talent.

 The role

If possible, I suggest speaking with the people that are currently performing similar roles to the one that you will be performing.  Is the role really what they documented in the job description?  Where there peers on the interview loop?

Their Expectations

This is a loaded one.  Are they expecting you to build a new product / technology / team without really understanding of what it will cost to deliver?  Yeah, this is a personal lesson that I learned where the company wanted the results but was not willing to invest what it took to deliver that caliber of results.  In their mind, they were paying me to deliver but did not understand that it takes a team to deliver a world-class product…..  Now I always ask what it is that they want to get from me and in what timeframe?  The shorter the time, the higher the investment needed.

You also need to remember is that the more that they pay you, the higher their expectations will be.



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