Beyond Brainstorming – Ideawriting

28, February 2014

BRAINSTORMING. I want to introduce here, a technique of brainstorming which is much more effective than the conventional brainstorming that most of us are familiar with. In conventional approach. Here are the basic steps of conventional Brainstorming.

(Step 1)  Write down the topic to brainstorm (To find a solution to the frequent breakdown of ABC Machine)
(Step 2)  Remind team members of the basic rules (one by one, ‘pass’, speed, time limit for the session (which is usually <10 minutes)
(Step 3)  Start the contribution of ideas from the team (Leader/recorder to jot down ideas)
(Step 4)  Grade the ideas (Grade A, B, C, and D) together
(Step 5)  Pick out the Grade A ideas to develop further, discard the grade D ideas. When time permits, move onto Grade B and Grade C ideas.

IDEA WRITING. Idea Writing is a more liberal approach compared to conventional Brainstorming, and it is less likely to lose ideas.

1)  Set everyone in a circle around a ‘2 x 2 feet’ empty space

2)  The leader writes the subject on a white-board for all to see.

3)  Allow clarification before starting, then all members are given an A4 piece of white paper.

4)  Each member copies the title on the top of the page. The next steps can be divided into three phases (A) Compilation   (B) Consolidation  (C) Refinement.

A.  Compilation. (i)  Each member enters one idea on the top of his paper and return it to the empty centre space (ii)  He then exchange a random with another member’s returned paper (iii)  Continue to enter ideas and exchange until he is exhausted. He is allowed to read others’ ideas and build on them (iv)  Leader stops the exercise after 10 to 15 minutes

Brainwriting 1 B.   Consolidation.
(i)  At random, each member will pick one paper.
(ii) The member to the right of the leader will start reading the idea, one at a time.   At the same time, all the other members check the ideas on their own list to see if there are duplicates.  Duplicated ideas are eliminated.  This is how ideas are eliminated – if the member suspects that there is a duplicated idea on his list, the member reads out and check with the originator.  If the originator agrees it is the same idea, then the idea is cancelled. The originator can object and assert that it is not a duplication and offer a clarification on how his idea differs.  When the list is completed, the next member will start reading his list. Brainwriting 2 C.   Refinement.
(i)  Once the discussion is completed, the leader will collect all the papers and consolidate the ideas which are not cancelled.  These are unique ideas.  The team can choose to discuss, expand, combine, or even create new ideas from here.
(ii)  A list of good ideas will emerge. Brainwriting 3 Brainwriting 4

You will notice that by this phase, everyone is talking and expressing their ideas freely…a sharp contrast to the serious Traditional Brainstorming.

Try it.

IETEX 2012 Results.

14, July 2012


IETEX 2012  (International Exposition on Team Excellence)


  • Rectifiers (MINDEF),
  • ECHO (KK Hosp)


  • Thinkers (HDB),
  • QCP Coker (Indonesia),
  • REACH (Malaysia) 


  • TOICA (Kep FELS)


  •  QCP Bintang (Indonesia)
  • Lestari (Malaysia) 
  • Shenzhou 1 (Hongkong)
  • ICE (SPF)
  • ANT27 (NP)
  • Angel Wing (MINDEF)


IQC Assessment Scores (Star, Gold, Silver, or Bronze?) – What do they mean?

22, April 2012

As an Assessor for SPA, I had given my endorsements for Golds, Silvers, Bronzes and of course, some Stars for several years now.  I use to assess for the Singapore Productivity and Standards Board since those days in the 1990s.  I have seen many inspiring projects and many more impressive ones.

However, I must also say that I had come across several good projects, especially those with very impressive results (big savings); or projects which benefited many people in the company, as well as projects that add great economic value.  BUT the team of Assessors decided that they couldn’t give them anything more than a Silver award.  Needless to say,  for some of these cases, the teams’ managment submitted their ‘appeal’ for a reviewed of the results.

It is always disheartening to see the reaction of their management when those impressive projects were not awarded a Gold Award.  Worse. those impressive ones reveived Silver and sometimes, the less-impressive ones, Gold!

To understand the real meaning of the Award system, one must understand two basic qualifying requirements.

First, the team must understand that they have to provide appropriate and sufficient evidences for each and every criteria mentioned in the evaluation sheet.   My simple advice : What Assessors do not see, Assessors cannot award points.

Secondly, each section or step of the project must be clearly explained and logical.  The project report is drafted to provide a clear explanation on the project.  It should start from the time the team identified the problem, carry out the experiment and compile the results.

But it is equally important that the report be an interesting read for the Assessors.  Why must it be interesting? Imagine you are in the position of the Assessor, who had to read 6 projects or more for each session that they signed up for.  If your project is easy to read, and interesting, surely it will attract more reward points, otherwise, it attracts questions!

Remember, Assessors are busy people and they are not from your company.  They are not familiar with your company, department nor your team’s problem.  The onus is on the team to help the Assessors find opportunities to award points.

Thirdly, you need to understand that the assessment points are not scored as if it is a  ‘common Maths test’.   In a common Maths test, 100 points means each answer matches the expected answer.   In mathematics, there are very few questions with two answers.  However, for the IQC Assessment criteria, every project is unique and therefore to satisfy the criteria, it is possible to have more than one answers.

Points are awarded not because a project achieves the target it sets out to achieve, but what is equally important is how the team arrives at the solution.  The team must explained how the solution was designed and implemented to make it work, and continue to work even after the team ‘ended’ their experiment.  Being not just right once but the solution had continued to be effective.

Thus the project assessment is more like an essay test.  Your ‘project essay’ is being asessed to see if it covers sufficient scope (concept), whether there are sufficient illustrations (facts/evidences).  Your assay must also have a sound argument.  The flow of your argument must be logical, your project must be meaningful, and your solution, interesting.

It must also show a reasonable level of maturity of the candidates participating in the experiment.  In the same way, the assessment of an IQC project during the TES (Team Excellence Symposium) assessors are looking for coverage of the assessment items and how the team argues their case.

IETEX Criteria (2012)

4, April 2012

Back in the early 2000s, SPA had the far sight to initiate the IETEX Assessment framework.  Today, I was told that there is a fair amount of interest in this accorlade.  For the benefit of my clients, I would like to share some of my observations and suggestions on how to interpret the IETEX assessment template.

The IETEX is held against a set of criteria which is slightly different from the TES (Team Excellence Symposium) criteria.  The IETEX criteria was originally based on the established assessment framework of the American Society of Quality assessment items.  Between the TES Assessment Criteria and the IETEX Criteria, there are some items which are different, but most of them are similiar.   This is really good news for those teams who would like to collect both these awards, as one only need to make minor enhancements to their IQC reports in order to meet the IETEX requirements.

You can make a comparision between the set of slides I posted in the earlier blog on the Enhanced IQC Assessment Criteria and you will be able to see the differences..Here goes :

IQC Enhanced Assessment Criteria (Feb 2012)

26, February 2012

Another upgrading of the WITs Assessment Criteria by Singapore Productivity Association was released in early Feb or late Jan 2012.

By studying the criteria carefully, team members, facilitators and  managers will do well to know how points are allocated. 

In my years of consulting, WITs and IQC teams wants to know whether they measure up to other teams.  They want to be assessed on how effective their teams’ problem solving methodology compares with the outstanding teams.  Agood place to start – the Assessment Criteria.

There are several valuable ideas ‘hidden’ in the criteria.  Over the years, teams who regularly participated in the Team Excellence Symposium (or convention, as it used to be known as) actually discover for themselves a whole deeper understanding of the problem solving process.  

For instance, one team, I coached begin to appreciate the importance of target setting, and that the target is the anchor for the problem definition.  They begin to see that without a ‘firm target’. the problem cannot be defined clearly.

Analysis is really the final stage of the data (evidence) collecting process.  Those in the healthcare industry will know that doctors who are good, pay a lot of attention to gathering the historical progression of a disease.  For instance, to understand Diabetes better, and to be able to advise the patient on the best treatments available, the doctor will do well to examine a complete history of the patient’s background, type of physical activities he is involved in, his normal diet composition, sugar intake, carbohydrate intake. is important.  Similarly, decisions must be based on sufficient (not complete) and relevant data.  

Finally when it comes to implementation, managers of large companies are interested in getting buy-in of the internal stakeholders during the implementation of a nw procedure.  If people are not supportive of the solution, whatever change that is being implemented will not be sustainable.  How and how much was the buy-in is crucial.

Together with the write-up on the Assessment Criteria (2012),  I have also extracted the key focus of each of the ‘items’.  While the criteria write-up is a view from the Assessors’ perspective, my objective here is to provide a perspective to help the team members and facilitators view the criteria from their angle.  

Another milestone for another company

27, August 2011

Team Excellence Symposium (2011)

Having completed their project, the teams registered themselves for the annual symposium on problem solving.  My partner and I took on the task of coaching the teams in their final presentation and drafting of their report.  The assessment of the project reports, together with a stage presentation, covered the areas of problem selection and definition, analysis and solution design as well as results and achievements.

Two teams competed and the recognition came in the form of : Certificate of attendance, Bronze, Silver, and Gold.  The exceptionally outstanding team were given Star (hardly 5% of the cohort will be given Stars).

Results:  1 Star and 1 Gold!

We are what our strengths are.

3, February 2010

Donald T is looking for contributors more than learners in his show the apprentice.

Marcus Buckingham wrote a self-improvement book, Go Put Your Strength To Work.  In it, he mentioned three myths, which I find it useful to support my personal theme of Team-based Problem Solving.

Myth 1.  As you grow, your personality changes.
Truth.   As you grow, you become more of who you really are

Myth 2.  You grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness.
Truth.  You will grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.

Myth 3.  A good team member does what it takes to help the team.
Truth.  A good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths
to the team most of the time.

Funny, when I read these, they sound very familiar to me.  Surely there are lots of truth in everyone of those Truth statements.  These statements come across as one of those ‘Why Didn’t Think Of It’ ideas.  We knew these all along; but it still take someone with a strong perception to put these things in perspective.  

He provided plenty of examples and experiences in his book.  I must say, they confirmed many of my personal observations as well.  My own experiences can support those truths too. 

Although similar, we are all like jigsaw pieces, have extras in some areas, and weaknesses in others.

I have seen how good team players had not benefitted the team because they simply give themselves to the team in whatever they think the team needs.   Selfless and sacrifising? Yes, but not really effective though!

If those contributions are their natural strengths, then great; but if those contributions are not areas of their strengths, then the whole team really suffers from such their over-generous gesture. 

I can recall many cases where people accuse the givers as ‘trying to be smart’ .   Many dispised the givers eventually, and some givers are reduced to outcasts although his intentions were sincere and were aimed to be helpful.  

I have also come across managers who are totally oblivious to this myth.  I remember clearly a case of one manager who insist that ‘good training and coaching’ can develop their anybody into ‘whatever’.    He argued that “since people are moldable,  as he himseslf had came up from the rank and files; through sheer hard work, discipline and persistence, ‘anyone can climb the corporate ladder’, and he is the living example.  Being in a team gives us more opportunities to learn and of course, strengthen our respective weakness”. 

This view seriously contradicts the actual nature of team dynamics!

While it is true that there are plenty of opportunities to learn for people taking up a role in a team, but the reality is that this approach is doomed right from the start.  

Say you allow everyone an opportunity to strengthen their respective weaknesses, then what you are essentially saying is that, everyone should be assigned tasks which they are semi-competent.  This has to be the case because the aim is to allow the less competent a chance to learn. 

Therefore the team as a whole is the sum of the ‘less or average’ competence.  And we all know that in any given population, the average is always lower than the peak.  This view does not harness on the strongest or most competent individuals. 

Now, on the contrary, if each member pitches in their best skills (i.e whatever they do better than others); then every other person will learn from the best available.  The result is the lifting of those people with lesser capability, except the team’s best who is the leader of that skill. 

The person who is best in, say, product knowledge should be leading in product knowledge; the one who is best in distribution should be leading in allocation of despatching; and the one who had the best experience in stock take, leads the year-end stocking. 

This is beautiful pair of tango dancers. To do their trick well, each must depends on the other for the strength the other has. The man, gives his physical strength literally, and the woman, gives her grace. Both need not be physically strong and swift, or we have a 'hard and mechanical' dance. We do not need both to be graceful and flowing, then the poor lady will suffer surely suffer many falls before the end of the dance!


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