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Tools to Generate Ideas

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In the book Thinkertoys, author Michael Michalko says: "To get original ideas, you need to be able to look at the same information everyone else does and organize it into a new and different pattern. This is active thinking."

What can a project manager do when he or she needs to generate new problem-solving--or any really--ideas? Try SCAMPER, which Mr. Michalko calls "a checklist of idea-spurring questions":

•    Substitute some part, activity, or operation.
•    Combine the product/process/service with something else.
•    Adapt something to it.
•    Modify or Magnify it.
•    Put in to some other use.
•    Eliminate something.
•    Reverse or Rearrange it.

Consider a meeting I had with customers who posed the challenge: "How can we improve the existing document release process?" First, we went through and identified all of the sub-processes (request change, review request, create/modify document, verify/validate document, upload document to asset library and publish document.)

Using the "create/modify document" sub-process as an example, let's use SCAMPER to ask the following:

•    What activities can we substitute within the existing sub-process?
•    How can we combine "create/modify document" with some other sub-process to improve efficiency and accuracy?
•    What can we adapt or reuse from another "create/modify document" sub-process used by other business units?
•    How can we modify the way "create/modify document" sub-process is conducted?
•    What can we magnify or add to the "create/modify document" sub-process?
•    How can we put "create/modify document" process to other uses?
•    What can we eliminate from the way we "create/modify document?"
•    What is the reverse of "create/modify document" sub-process?

With more ideas generated, a project manager has more options to explore. That is why I am always looking for tools. How do you generate your ideas?


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I love it! In my home life, the word "scamper" is a fun joke amongst our family members. So I'm certain to remember it at work and plan to give this new definition a try. My current organization is rather "staid" and new ideas are few and far between. We recently have started to work on process flows with the next steps focusing on streamlining improvements. Getting through the flows is a chore -- team engagement is a struggle and I've been dreading the next step until reading your post. Thank you! I hope to have energetic discussions using SCAMPER to spur on those new ideas!

A very interesting idea. Haven't come across this before. I go through some of the steps when looking at problems ( both personal and professional) but not all of them. Thanks for this information.

This reminds me of a similar approach developed by six sigma expert - ESCAP - that can be used in non-value adding steps in any process to be improved. E for eliminate, S for simplify , C for combine, A for automate, and P for parallel.

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