How to evaluate brainstorm ideas like a professional
There are several ways to judge ideas after a brainstorm session. What the right evaluation method is in your situation depends entirely on the type of session, your brainstorm topic and, of course, the outcome you’re looking for. However, making use of a list of predetermined criteria is often the best way to judge your ideas efficiently and objectively.
PREPARATION (BEFORE THE BRAINSTORM)
Apply the following steps before you hold your brainstorm session.
1. Brainstorm a long list of criteria
Sit together with the key players of the project (for example the problem owner, project manager and decision maker) and generate a list of criteria that you can use after the brainstorm to rank the ideas with.
2. Pick the 5 most important criteria
Discuss all criteria, and pick the most important ones. Select a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 criteria. (Be critical, only choose the criteria that really matter.)
3. Define each criterion
Give a short description of each criterion. Describe each criterion in one clear sentence.
Criterion: ‘TIME TO MARKET’
Definition: ‘It should be possible to execute the idea within 6 months’
Definition: ‘The idea should have the potential to generate 1 million dollars, within 1 year after introduction.’
4. Score each criterion
Give each criterion a score between 1 and 5. (1=unimportant and 5=very important).
5. Final check
Discuss the chosen criteria, the descriptions and the scores per criterion, and make sure that everybody agrees on the final list of criteria. Make changes if necessary to reach a mutual agreement.
THE CREATIVE PHASE (DURING THE BRAINSTORM)
During the brainstorm session, you can ignore the criteria. The divergent phase is all about blue sky thinking. Generate as many ideas as possible and delay judgment. You will only need the criteria in the next phase.
THE EVALUATION PHASE (AFTER THE BRAINSTORM)
Apply the following steps after the brainstorm session, during the evaluation process. Make sure that you create a transitional phase between the divergent phase (generating ideas) and the convergent phase (judging ideas). People have to make the switch from creative thinking to critical thinking, and for this, you will need a completely different mindset. So, make sure that you give participants some time to adjust to their new role. You can do this by introducing a short break, or by evaluating the ideas the next day. Added benefits of this approach are that it will create some space for incubation and that it will make people more objective towards their ideas.
1. Create a shortlist
Ask participants to read all the ideas, and to individually (without consultation) write down their top 5 favourite ideas on a slip of paper.
2. Note the shortlist on a flip chart
Collect all shortlists, shuffle the lists and write down everybody’s favourite ideas on a flip chart. Explain that the order of the ideas is still random, to prevent miscommunication.
3. Hand out the criteria
Hand out the criteria to all participants, together with a criteria scorecard. Ask participants to write all criteria in a single column on the left of the criteria card, and to write down all the ideas from the flip chart horizontally, at the top of the paper.
4. Rate the ideas on each of the criteria
Ask the participants to rate every idea on each of the criteria, and to give it a score between 1 and 5. (1=very bad, 5=very good). Keep the criteria’s individual weight behind, to prevent people from influencing the outcome.
5. Collect all scorecards
Collect all scorecards. Multiply the points, and rank the ideas based on their score.
6. Call out a winner
Share the best-ranking ideas and call out the winner(s). Afterwards, discuss (with the problem owner) whether the winning idea feels right. If not, the scoring of the criteria may not be right. Adjust the scoring of the criteria if necessary.
Depending on the topic of your brainstorm session, it can also happen that you have one criterion that is a ‘dealbreaker’; a criterion that is an absolute must-have (e.g. ‘safety’ in case of a nuclear plant).
In that case, you can do two things:
1. Remove all ideas that don’t fit the criterion from the shortlist. For example by putting a ‘checkbox’ next to the criterion (an idea either checks the box or it doesn’t).
2. By looking at the best ideas and see if they meet the ‘dealbreaker’ criterion. If not, apply some creative thinking to see if you can make the ideas work. (‘How can we make this idea meet this criterion?’, ‘How can we make this idea safer?’, ‘How can we reduce the risk of this idea?’ etc.) If you still can’t ‘fix’ the idea, discard it and continue with the next one.
Evaluating creative ideas is but one of many steps in the innovation process. Would you like to turn your team into an unstoppable innovation machine? Check out our Innovation Course. A group of 5 to 16 participants go through all phases of the innovation process and learn how to generate value for clients and the own organisation.