The 6 Steps of Effective Brainstorming


Your Role Is To Get To The Bottom of Things

When trying to get to the bottom of an issue with a client, persistence pays off. This is critical when trying to help your client achieve a key outcome through the development of effective strategies using brainstorming techniques.

In the first instance, your job is to get what is inside your client’s head out into the open so that clear strategies or actions can then be developed. You can do this using a number of brainstorming techniques:  in the form of a mindmap (mud map) on a whiteboard, or a mind mapping tool on a shared tablet, or even through using good old fashioned pen and paper.

Secondly, the Brainstorming Cycle is a simple, but effective strategy you can use to make this happen. With the Brainstorming Cycle, you use a series of focussed actions to lead your client through the identification and development of the necessary level of key information required to achieve the desired outcome. 

Plan the Plan

Before you get your brainstorming session underway, have you:

  • Conducted preliminary research on the topic at hand?
  • Decided on how you are going to conduct the brainstorming session e.g.  butchers’ paper, whiteboard, an electronic whiteboard, software on a laptop or desktop, or virtual meeting or mindmapping software, or an app that allows you to share across numerous devices including a tablet, or smart phone.

How the Brainstorming Cycle Works

The Brainstorming Cycle works as follows:

  1. Confirm the client’s desired outcome by asking what their end game is. If, at this point the client cannot articulate this for you, brainstorm the outcome with the client using such tools as a SWOT analysis and explain the importance of working backwards from the end point. 
  2. Once the outcome is identified, work backwards by filling in the gaps as outlined in the points that follow (stages 3-5).
  3. Identify the key steps and map them.
  4. This stage involves confirming the key steps and putting them in order by mapping out a possible timeline in the form of a matrix or using a project tool similar to a Gantt Chart. This is so that you can allocate the hours, or days, or weeks, or months, or years for each element. Also tease out any costs, roadblocks (e.g. resource issues, opposition to the project, or time constraints) and who is responsible for each step.
  5. Once the steps are confirmed, allocate the time and confirm the preliminary costs required for each step. This should be as realistic as possible. This stage may also highlight further roadblocks or bottlenecks.
  6. Print out the outcome. This can be done in a range of ways: 
  • If the mindmap was done on butchers’ paper, or a whiteboard (even a blackboard), then take a photo and print it out;
  • Depending on the type of electronic whiteboard you have, the outcomes can be printed in hardcopy form or emailed electronically. So, you may have used software such as Vimeo, Microsoft Project or an App such as SG Project Pro;
  • On-line, you may have used real time collaboration tools such as Padlet (allows you to upload from anywhere), or Mindmeister (which is completely web based) – so the end result is there for the users to see;
  • Apps such as iThoughts will even convert the mindmap you have developed into a Word document or Powerpoint presentation for you. 

    An example For You

    The first three stages involves developing a mud map or mind map. In this example I have used increasing the housing stocks provided to workers at a remote local government. The outcome is mapped first at the heart of the mud map (the oval shape). Then you put in each of the key elements (the large circles). Finally, you list the sub-elements for each key element (the small circles):

    The following matrix gives you an idea of how to, during stages four and five, convert the mud map to a usable tool:


    Of course, you may wish to use a Gantt Chart instead which will give you more of a project management look or feel. 

    Then with the last stage, it’s time to “print” out the end product using your preferred method of choice. Ultimately, this is based on how you conducted the brainstorming session(s) to start with. Did you use butchers’ paper, a whiteboard, an electronic whiteboard, software on a laptop or desktop, or an app that allowed you to share across numerous devices including a tablet or smart phone?

    The Final Word

    By using the brainstorming cycle, you will quickly cut through the distractions that can occur in a client meeting and keep things focussed!


    Client – for the purposes of this article, means both internal and external clients.

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