June 29, 2022 | Barb Carr

Brainstorming: 3 Ideas for Better Investigations


Brainstorming is an informal approach to solving problems. A good brainstorming session opens up new ideas and possibilities that may not have been considered. A brainstorming session may be conducted in a structured way where everyone at the brainstorming meeting gives an idea, one at a time, in rotation, or in an unstructured way where everyone in the room offers ideas as they come to mind. Here are 3 good ideas (and one very bad idea) for improving your investigations using the brainstorming technique.

3 Good Ideas for Brainstorming

There are a few good reasons to use the brainstorming technique in an investigation. It can be used in interviews with experts, for information collection, and for developing corrective actions.

Group Interviews with Experts

Brainstorming is a great method to use in a group interview with experts (Do not use the group interview method for witnesses – interview witnesses one at a time). For example, you could get a group of equipment experts together to talk about how a piece of equipment may have failed and use that information to investigate the failure further. A root cause analysis of the failure should still be performed, but brainstorming is a way to look at the equipment from an expert’s point of view, and help you determine what information you still need to complete your SnapCharT®. (Equifactor® Troubleshooting Tables are great to use during equipment troubleshooting brainstorming sessions.)

Information Collection

Brainstorming using the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® as an evidence collection tool is another way to collect more information to complete your SnapCharT®. Think about it – you need evidence to say “yes” or “no” to every root cause in every Basic Cause Category when you do an analysis. So, why not look at each Basic Category in advance and brainstorm what needs to be collected? That will make your root cause analysis so much easier if you have all of your information on your SnapCharT® ready to go through the analysis. The hardest part about brainstorming using the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® is taking off your analysis hat and putting on your evidence collection hat. Meaning … don’t try to come up with root causes when you are collecting evidence. A clear picture of what happened always comes before thinking about why it happened.

Developing Corrective Actions

Brainstorming may also be used to develop effective corrective actions. Think outside of the box – look at the ideas in your Corrective Action Helper®, and brainstorm ways to implement those ideas in the most effective way. Read through the “References” sections of the Corrective Action Helper® to find even more places to look for ideas. Talk to the team about what safeguards failed, need to be replaced, were missing, or need to be implemented. Brainstorm ideas to fix safeguards, create new safeguards, or layer safeguards where necessary.

One Very Bad Idea for Brainstorming

bad idea for brainstorming
If you are using brainstorming and other similar tools to find root causes, then it is time to change.

Even though the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System is an expertly guided system, sometimes investigators deviate from the guidance the system provides and try to brainstorm the root causes. We’ve heard many reasons for this. Maybe the investigator feels he has seen a minor incident occur over and over and doesn’t want to take a little extra time to use the guidance. If you are having repeat incidents, that’s an indicator that brainstorming is not working, and you are not saving time doing multiple investigations for the same issue. It doesn’t take long to develop a SnapCharT® and collect information for a minor incident, and the bonus is you will find all of the real root causes, not just the “assumed” root cause.

Brainstorming should not be used for determining root causes. In this scenario, those who do the work are often invited to participate in the session to generate ideas about what went wrong. It might look something like this:

“We are here today to talk about the XYZ incident. Write down your ideas on yellow stickies as to what you think the problems could be that led to the incident. We will assimilate these ideas, vote as a group on what the problem is, and put a team on it to fix it.”

Wait for a second! Voting on the most likely root cause is not a way to conduct a root cause analysis – not even for a minor incident. How can you solve a problem:

  • When you haven’t collected factual information?
  • When you don’t know the sequence of events that provides the full picture?
  • When you don’t have expert guidance built in the system because you have only selected the people who do the job to brainstorm (What about your experts in human engineering, procedure writers, QC experts, management team, and trainers? All of this expertise is built in the TapRooT® System.)

Even a minor incident can have more than one Causal Factor or Root Cause, and if they are not all fixed, next time it could be a major incident. If you are using brainstorming and other similar tools to find root causes, then it is time to change.

Brainstorming is making assumptions about why a problem exists. The TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System is an evidence-based investigation process that is proven to deliver reliable, consistent results. It can be used proactively or reactively for minor to major incidents.

Are you familiar with TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Fundamentals?

If you are not familiar with TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis, the best place to start is with an understanding of the fundamentals. Learn:

  • The definition of a root cause and root cause analysis,
  • The best way to find root causes,
  • Root cause analysis training,
  • Root cause analysis software,
  • Grading a root cause analysis, and
  • Trending root cause analysis data

We hope these three ideas for using the brainstorming technique, (and a reminder to never use it for root cause analysis), have been helpful to you in improving your investigations.

Interviewing & Evidence Collection, Investigations
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