Earlier this week I gave you the low-down on my favourite idea generating tools – Brainstorming, Mind Mapping and Imagineering.

For a lot of people, the idea generation phase of a project is never a problem though.  If you’re one of those people, you probably had ideas just reading about the tools and then quickly applied the tools to your new ideas to give you even more ideas. Am I right?

But what do you do once you have all those ideas?  Do you gather all your sticky notes, your pads of paper, your whiteboard printouts and put them aside to deal with another day?  Yes?

You’ll love what I have for you today – some tools for organising and prioritising.  We may even start some real planning.

Have you heard of the Affinity Diagram?

No?  I don’t blame you.  Even if you had, you probably moved on to the next, more interesting topic, as soon as you could.

It’s not really that complicated.  It’s business (actually math) speak for grouping like things together.  A Mind Map would have already done that for you, because your ideas are naturally organised in their “branches”.

When you do brainstorming, you end up with masses of paper, with your ideas jotted down any which way.  If you did your brainstorming on sticky notes, the next part will be easier.  If you didn’t, go back to your notes and transfer them all your ideas to sticky notes.  One idea per note.

Now that you have your sticky notes, find a large flat surface – a table or a wall – and stick them all up.   Start organising your sticky notes into groups that make sense to you.  Aim for 5 to 10 groups.

This is a fun technique to use with groups, because it is most effective when done in silence. Group members can’t discuss their reasons for placing an idea in a specific set, they just do it.  If an idea keeps being moved from set to set, simply write out another copy of it and place it in both.

You can use this technique with Imagineering results, too.

Once you’re happy with the overall groups of ideas, give them names.  This can be tricky sometimes, but will give you a really clear focus for what you are trying to achieve with each set of ideas.  Make sure the headings are quite descriptive and avoid single word  headings.  If you’re doing this in a group, now is the time for discussion and clarification of ideas.

When you’re finished, you’ve created an Affinity Diagram!  Or, as I prefer to call it, the beginnings of a plan.

Planning starts in earnest when you prioritise your ideas.

So you’ve narrowed down your ideas to somewhere between 5 and 10 main idea sets or groups. It’s time to figure out where to start.

Good old voting is a very easy way to prioritise.

First, decide what critieria you will use to prioritise – will it be importance? Or ease of completion? Time of completion? Maybe cost?  You could even use more than one criterion and come up with a fancy grid.

Now, assign each of your ideas a rank of 1 to 10, with 10 being most important, or easiest, or cheapest and 1 being the other end of your chosen scale.

The trick is to use each number only once.  So, only one idea can have an importance of 10, one of 5, one of 1, etc.   In a group, each person gets to assign one rank to each idea and then you add up all the numbers for each idea.

You will end up with a list of prioritised ideas,  whether it’s according to importance, ease of completion, timing or cost.

Through this process, you will have given some thought to each of your key idea groups and assessed them against one or more implementation criteria.

As you do this, some things will immediately jump out at you as easy and quick to complete.  Do those first.

Some may be very important, but expensive and complicated, requiring a lot of detailed planning just to get off the ground.  Start developing a plan for those.

How?  I’m glad you asked – find out next time, right here on the blog!