Monday, January 4, 2016

Using a Fish to Generate a Rainbow at the end of a (Brain)Storm

Take the noise out of your brainstorming sessions

Have you ever finished a brainstorming session and thought, wow, that was fun, but what just happened? Chances are that brainstorming session wasn’t very structured or didn’t yield the results you were looking for.

One way of structuring these sessions and coming up with a clear course for action is to use a tool called the “fishbone diagram” or the “cause and effect diagram.”

Rather than thinking of ways to solving a problem, we put the problem as the primary focus and think of the various “micro-problems” or causes that contribute to the greater problem. This will give you the long view and help you identify the most impactful ways of addressing the situation.

The structure of this tool is that of a fishbone, hence it’s title. Think of the “macro-problem” as the head of the fish.  Then find the center of the left side of the box and draw a line outwards, like so:
That’s the spine. And from there you have the smaller bones. You’ll need about 6-8 of those. Draw 3-4 up top, and 3-4 at the bottom.

Each bone is its own category, and the categories are:

  1. People
  2. Method
  3. Machine
  4. Measure
  5. Mother nature
  6. Material
  7. Management (optional)
  8. Money (optional)

These categories serve to force us to take a look at all components feeding the problem.  From here we identify the causes that impact the macro-problem and sort each cause by category.

Let’s look at this from a marketing context.


We are generating a lot of leads in Q4 but they are slower to convert compared to Q3.

  1. Head – leads slow to convert during Q4
  2. People – sales people not closing, education
  3. Method – lead acquisition channels could be improved, nurture campaign not educating on benefits of solution or product differentiators, are the form fields the best to help sales close?, are there too many form fields?
  4. Machine – automated campaign – emails trigger during holidays
  5. Measure – Using Q3 data to benchmark Q4 data – might not be comparable
  6. Mother nature – inclimate weather – difficult traveling to work
  7. Material – campaign asset not appealing

Breaking it up in these buckets, often called the 5 M’s and 1 P, will allow us to look at the problem from all angles. The list generated should highlight process elements vs. people issues. If the people bucket is a bit full, take a look again and see how many of those are really process issues or break down the people issues using a 5Y analysis, which serves to chisel the problem to its root cause.

Once you have completed your diagram you can take a step back and analyze which is the best direction to go. Multi-voting with the team is a great way of narrowing the list and identifying the next best course of action.

But the idea here is to generate a good working list of micro-problems by taking a long view of the process and isolating the contributing factors. A good brainstorming session shouldn’t hit you like a whirlwind, but instead, help you generate, at minimum, a strong hypothesis you can bring back to your marketing lab for further analysis.


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