How to Make Good Post-Brainstorm Decisions

All organizations have a perpetual problem. Not enough time or money to do all of the projects everyone can dream up.

When people brainstorm or put together a project wish list, there may be ideas for projects that are important to only one or two people. But those projects aren’t necessarily going to help the organization meet its mission and goals. What do you do?

Because you know this is inevitable when brainstorming, you need a way to prioritize and create buy-in for the ideas that will move your mission forward. It can help to create a 4-quadrant model, similar to the one we used in How to Make Change Stick.

In this model, the y-axis is Impact (high and low) and the x-axis is Effort (high and low). You’re going to place each of the project ideas into one of these quadrants.

Because you’re looking for high impact ideas and projects, all projects and ideas in the low impact quadrants, regardless of effort level, can be removed as options. Most people will be quick to agree that they don’t want to spend their time, money and energy on projects that are low impact. Usually you’ll experience a group “aha” moment when these options are taken off the table. Even if someone is emotionally attached to a project, they usually understand the logic behind the collective decision to not do their project.

Now you can ask the group: “Which of these super cool high impact ideas can be done with a low level of effort (e.g. time, money and energy)?”

Let’s say you end up with five projects in the high impact, low effort quadrant. You can then ask:

  • What would happen over the next year, if we implemented these five projects?
  • Do they all match our mission and goals?
  • Is there a relationship between the projects?
  • Do we have the time and resources to do all of them?
  • Is there a risk if we don’t do the projects?

Usually the group will have some tweaks and suggestions, but now you are collectively in the right conversation. Instead of thinking about fifty projects, you’re talking about the five projects with high impact.

Once you all agree that these five ideas are worth pursuing (I’ll talk more about consensus-building in a future post), you can assign someone to map out how much time and money it will take to complete them. You can validate whether or not the group’s gut feeling was right. If an idea turns out to be too costly, it can be moved into the high effort, high impact quadrant, for now.

If there are still some people at the table who are grumbling that their high impact, high effort idea was not chosen, you can respond, “Let’s find out how much time and money these would take.”

Once the group has that data, it will either confirm that those projects would in fact take too much effort, or you may find that one of them is lower effort than was suspected. It can be moved into the high impact, low effort quadrant and be considered for implementation.

Now you have a manageable list of high impact, low effort projects, and group buy-in (backed by data).

You’re ready to create a game plan!

Onward and keep tapping your talent.


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