The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science. – Albert Einstein
In this article, we will discuss how to use brainstorming to enhance FMEA effectiveness, and when (and when not) to use brainstorming.
What is “brainstorming”?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “brainstorm” as, “a spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems.”
Brainstorming is a technique for getting a flow of ideas on the table before making decisions. This technique is most useful when a decision or solution is not easily forthcoming. The purpose of brainstorming is to allow people to “put ideas on the table without fear of being corrected or challenged. It separates the creation of ideas from the evaluation activity.” The outcome of brainstorming is a list of creative ideas involving the entire team.
What are the “rules” of brainstorming?
The rules of brainstorming include:
- Let ideas flow freely
- Defer evaluation of ideas until later
- Build on ideas of others
- Nurture creativity
- Defer debates
- Everyone participates
- Think “out of the box”
- Keep discussions moving
How should brainstorming be used in FMEA applications?
Brainstorming is best used when there is a specific question that needs answering, and the facilitator would like to open up the flow of ideas. For example, if the team is working on identifying “Recommended Actions” for a difficult issue, it may be helpful to use brainstorming to open up the flow of ideas before working towards consensus on the specific recommendations.
When the FMEA facilitator observes the need for brainstorming to support the FMEA, he or she should let the team know that they will begin a brainstorming session and inform them of the rules. Ideas generated are recorded temporarily. The brainstorming session ends when the ideas are no longer forthcoming, and the facilitator lets the team know that the brainstorming session has ended. The ideas are then critiqued, and appropriate entries are made to the FMEA.
There are many variations of brainstorming. A number of useful variations are covered in chapter 10 of Effective FMEAs.
Why does brainstorming work?
People sometimes hold back on ideas for fear of criticism. This is a form of self-censoring. If you ask a team if they have ideas on how to solve a problem, they may hold back ideas that are open to criticism.
When a team is allowed to generate ideas without criticism, some of the ideas are silly or not useful. However, once the flow of ideas begins, there are times when a real gem of an idea is brought forward. That is the purpose of brainstorming.
It is natural and healthy for engineers to critique ideas. That is important in an FMEA. For this reason, brainstorming sessions have a beginning and an end. Always say to the FMEA team, “start of brainstorming” (to highlight the lack of critique) and “end of brainstorming” (to resume normal critiquing).
There are many times in an FMEA project when it becomes essential to foster the creative forces of FMEA team members and apply them to the task at hand. In the next article, we’ll explore what is creativity and how an FMEA facilitator can harness the power of creativity to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.