Building a Resilient Foundation: Brainstorming Skills for Startup Manufacturing Teams

Posted: February 21, 2024
Category: Manufacturing

Building a Resilient Foundation: Brainstorming Skills for Startup Manufacturing Teams

In the fast-paced and resource-constrained landscape of startup manufacturing, the ability to navigate challenges and innovate on the fly is essential for success. As someone who has been intricately involved in a groundbreaking startup manufacturing project for the world’s largest soft drinks manufacturer on their largest production site, I’ve personally witnessed the transformative power of effective and rapid brainstorming. From the initial stages of pre-commissioning to the dynamic environments of commissioning, ramp-up, and full production, the importance of brainstorming has been a constant thread weaving through the fabric of success. Surprisingly, in other startups where fundamental skills like brainstorming are overlooked, chaos ensues, frustration builds, and repetitive meetings struggle to resolve persistent issues. Drawing from my experiences, I’ve been driven to share insights on the pivotal role of brainstorming in startup manufacturing. This blog serves as a comprehensive guide for teams to harness the collective intelligence, creativity, and resilience needed to thrive in the challenges and uncertainties of the manufacturing startup journey.

Table of Contents

What is Brainstorming?

The concept of brainstorming was first introduced by advertising executive Alex Osborn in the late 1930s. Initially coined as a group problem-solving technique, Osborn’s brainstorming aimed to foster creativity by encouraging the free flow of ideas without judgment. Over the years, this methodology gained traction and evolved into a structured approach widely adopted across various industries, including manufacturing.

The essence of brainstorming lies in its structured approach to idea generation, aimed at maximizing the quantity and diversity of ideas while deferring judgment. In a manufacturing start-up setting, where ingenuity and adaptability are paramount, the principles of brainstorming offer a systematic framework for addressing challenges and capitalizing on opportunities.

The science behind brainstorming is rooted in cognitive psychology and group dynamics. Research has shown that traditional brainstorming sessions, characterized by uninhibited idea generation and non-critical evaluation, can lead to greater creativity and novel solutions. However, more recent studies have also highlighted the importance of factors such as group composition, facilitation techniques, and the framing of problems in optimizing brainstorming outcomes.

By understanding the underlying mechanisms of brainstorming and applying evidence-based practices, manufacturing start-ups can harness the full potential of collective creativity to drive innovation and competitive advantage in their industry.

Learn more about how do in-person or virtual brainstorming by taking our e-Learning course  – Effective Virtual or In-Person Brainstorming Online Training Course

Why Brainstorming Matters in Startup Manufacturing

Startup manufacturing environments are dynamic and multifaceted, characterized by their fast-paced nature, limited resources, and high-stakes scenarios. Each stage of a manufacturing startup, from pre-commissioning to initial production runs and beyond, presents unique challenges that demand innovative solutions. Brainstorming becomes not just a valuable tool but an essential mindset woven into the fabric of each distinct phase.

In the pre-commissioning phase, where the blueprint meets reality, a myriad of challenges emerges. Brainstorming becomes a crucial vehicle for anticipating and addressing potential issues. Teams brainstorm to devise contingency plans, troubleshoot potential bottlenecks, and streamline processes. As individuals frequently find themselves working long hours, multitasking, and making rapid decisions, brainstorming sessions offer a structured approach to problem-solving, ensuring that the startup is well-prepared for the commissioning phase.

Female engineers doing commissioning activities.

Commissioning, the bridge between construction and full-scale operation, presents its own set of hurdles. Brainstorming during this phase is instrumental in tackling unforeseen technical glitches, optimizing systems, and refining processes. As teams work tirelessly, often with minimal staff and tight timelines, brainstorming sessions serve as a catalyst for creative problem-solving, fostering adaptability in the face of unexpected challenges.

The initial production run stages amplify the need for effective brainstorming. With the pressure to meet quality standards and efficiency targets, teams engage in collaborative idea generation to fine-tune manufacturing processes. Brainstorming not only aids in identifying opportunities for improvement but also instills a culture where every team member feels empowered to contribute solutions, despite the demanding working conditions.

During the ramp-up of production phases, where scaling becomes the focal point, brainstorming remains a constant companion. With teams stretched thin, working around the clock to meet production demands, creative problem-solving is essential. Decisions need to be made swiftly, and brainstorming provides a structured framework for evaluating options and driving innovation, even when facing tight timelines and potential overnight shifts.

In this dynamic manufacturing landscape, brainstorming is more than just a meeting—it is a strategic necessity. It allows startup teams to leverage the collective intelligence, adaptability, and creativity required to overcome challenges at every stage, fostering a culture that thrives on innovation and collaboration in the face of the unique demands of the manufacturing startup journey.

Integrating Brainstorming into Onboarding

A robust onboarding process is fundamental for every startup, laying the groundwork for success from the outset. It’s not just about familiarizing new hires with the company’s policies and procedures; it’s about instilling core values and essential skills. Effective brainstorming shouldn’t be an afterthought—it should be ingrained in the fabric of startup culture from the very beginning.

As part of this comprehensive onboarding process, startup manufacturing companies should prioritize training on brainstorming techniques. This ensures that every member of the team is equipped with the skills and mindset needed to contribute meaningfully to problem-solving efforts. From day one, employees should understand the value of brainstorming, feel empowered to share ideas, and actively participate in collaborative sessions.

From day one, employees should understand the value of brainstorming, feel empowered to share ideas, and actively participate in collaborative sessions.

By incorporating brainstorming training into the onboarding curriculum, startups not only cultivate a culture of innovation but also establish a solid foundation for teamwork and creativity. This deliberate approach to skill development ensures that new hires not only understand the company’s mission and objectives but also possess the tools to contribute effectively to its growth and success.

Read about incorporating Good Manufacturing Practices into your start-up from the beginning by reading our blog post Starting Strong: cGMP Training as a Key Onboarding Component.

Structured vs. Unstructured Brainstorming

Structured brainstorming involves following a specific set of guidelines or techniques to guide the ideation process. This may include techniques such as mind mapping, SWOT analysis, or the nominal group technique. Structured brainstorming sessions typically have a clear agenda, defined objectives, and specific timeframes.

On the other hand, unstructured brainstorming allows for more flexibility and spontaneity in idea generation. Participants are encouraged to freely share ideas without constraints or guidelines. Unstructured brainstorming sessions may lack a defined agenda or specific techniques, allowing for a more organic flow of ideas.

When to Use Structured vs. Unstructured Brainstorming in Startup Manufacturing:

The choice between structured and unstructured brainstorming depends on the specific needs and objectives of the startup manufacturing team. In the early stages of a startup, when creativity and innovation are paramount, unstructured brainstorming sessions can be beneficial. These sessions allow team members to freely explore ideas and generate novel solutions without feeling constrained by rigid guidelines.

As the startup matures and specific challenges or goals emerge, structured brainstorming techniques can provide a more focused approach to problem-solving. Structured sessions help streamline the ideation process, ensuring that discussions are aligned with the organization’s objectives and that ideas are evaluated systematically.

Integrating Brainstorming into Operations or Commissioning Meetings

In startup manufacturing environments, operations or commissioning meetings play a crucial role in coordinating activities, addressing challenges, and ensuring smooth project execution. By integrating brainstorming into these meetings, teams can leverage collective expertise and creativity to overcome obstacles and drive continuous improvement.

During operations or commissioning meetings, allocate dedicated time for brainstorming sessions focused on specific challenges, opportunities, or improvement initiatives. Encourage active participation from all team members and create a supportive environment where ideas are freely shared and explored.

Structured brainstorming techniques, such as SWOT analysis or the nominal group technique, can be particularly effective in operations or commissioning meetings. These techniques provide a framework for systematically evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and generating actionable insights.

Additionally, consider appointing a facilitator to guide brainstorming sessions and ensure that discussions remain focused and productive. The facilitator can help stimulate creativity, manage time effectively, and capture key takeaways for follow-up action. By integrating brainstorming into operations or commissioning meetings, startup manufacturing teams can tap into the collective wisdom of their members, identify innovative solutions, and drive continuous improvement across all aspects of the business.

Common Tool Used in Brainstorming Sessions: Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a powerful brainstorming technique that involves visually organizing thoughts and ideas around a central topic or concept. It typically begins with a central idea or keyword placed in the center of a blank page or digital canvas, with related ideas branching out in a radial fashion. These branches can then further subdivide into subtopics or related concepts, creating a hierarchical and interconnected visual representation of information.

Photo of a mind map.

For visual learners, such as individuals with dyslexia, mind mapping can be an invaluable tool for several reasons:

Visual Representation: Mind maps provide a visually engaging way to organize information, making it easier for visual learners to grasp complex concepts and relationships. The use of colors, shapes, and images in mind maps can enhance comprehension and retention of information.

Non-Linear Structure: Unlike traditional linear note-taking methods, mind maps allow for non-linear thinking and exploration of ideas. This flexible structure accommodates the diverse thought processes of visual learners, allowing them to capture ideas as they naturally occur and make connections between related concepts.

Spatial Organization: The spatial layout of a mind map facilitates spatial learning, which is beneficial for individuals with dyslexia who may struggle with sequential processing of information. By spatially arranging ideas and relationships, mind maps provide a more intuitive and accessible way to navigate complex information.

Multisensory Approach: Mind mapping often incorporates multiple senses, including visual, spatial, and tactile modalities. This multisensory approach can help individuals with dyslexia engage more fully with the material, reinforcing learning through different sensory channels.

Personalization and Creativity: Mind maps allow for a high degree of personalization and creativity, empowering visual learners to customize their maps with colors, images, and symbols that resonate with them. This creative freedom encourages active participation and ownership of the learning process.

In the context of startup manufacturing teams, incorporating mind mapping into brainstorming sessions can enhance collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving. Visual learners, including those with dyslexia, can benefit from the structured yet flexible nature of mind maps, leveraging their visual strengths to contribute meaningfully to the ideation process. By harnessing the power of mind mapping, startup manufacturing teams can unlock new insights, explore innovative solutions, and drive continuous improvement in their operations.

Visual learners, including those with dyslexia, can benefit from the structured yet flexible nature of mind maps, leveraging their visual strengths to contribute meaningfully to the ideation process.

Common Tool Used in Brainstorming Sessions: Affinity Analysis

Affinity analysis, also known as affinity diagramming or the KJ Method (named after its creator, Jiro Kawakita), is a qualitative technique used to organize and analyze large amounts of unstructured data or ideas into meaningful categories. It’s a powerful tool for brainstorming and problem-solving in various contexts, including startup manufacturing situations.

Image of affinity analysis technique

Here’s how affinity analysis can be applied in relation to brainstorming in a startup manufacturing situation:

Gathering Ideas:

In a brainstorming session, participants generate a wide range of ideas, insights, challenges, or observations related to a specific topic or problem. These ideas may be written on sticky notes or index cards to facilitate the affinity analysis process.

Grouping Similar Ideas:

Once the brainstorming session is complete, the next step is to group similar ideas or themes together. Participants collaboratively sort and organize the ideas based on their commonalities, patterns, or relationships.

Affinity analysis encourages participants to think holistically and consider the broader context in which ideas arise. This helps uncover underlying themes or trends that may not be immediately apparent during the brainstorming session.

Creating Affinity Diagram:

The grouped ideas are then transferred to a larger surface, such as a whiteboard or a digital collaboration tool, to create an affinity diagram. This diagram visually represents the clusters of related ideas, with each group forming a distinct category or theme.

The affinity diagram provides a structured overview of the brainstormed ideas, allowing participants to see the connections between different concepts and identify recurring patterns or issues.

Learn more about how to do Affinity Analysis by taking our e-Learning course  – Affinity Analysis Technique Online Training Course

Analyzing Relationships:

Once the affinity diagram is complete, participants analyze the relationships between the grouped ideas and explore potential cause-and-effect relationships, dependencies, or implications.

This analysis helps uncover insights and opportunities for further exploration, guiding the team in developing targeted strategies or solutions to address key challenges or capitalize on emerging trends.

Generating Actionable Insights:

The affinity analysis process culminates in the generation of actionable insights or recommendations based on the patterns identified in the grouped ideas. These insights inform decision-making and guide the team in prioritizing initiatives or allocating resources effectively.

By distilling the brainstormed ideas into coherent categories and themes, affinity analysis enables the team to focus on the most relevant and impactful areas for further exploration or action.

In the context of startup manufacturing, affinity analysis can be particularly valuable for:

  • Identifying common challenges or bottlenecks in the production process.
  • Organizing feedback from customers or stakeholders to identify recurring themes or preferences.
  • Analyzing market trends or competitor strategies to uncover opportunities for innovation or differentiation.
  • Prioritizing initiatives or allocating resources based on the relative importance of different categories or themes identified through the affinity analysis.

Overall, affinity analysis enhances the effectiveness of brainstorming in startup manufacturing situations by providing a structured framework for organizing and analyzing ideas. By leveraging the power of affinity analysis, startup teams can gain deeper insights into complex problems, uncover hidden opportunities, and develop targeted strategies to drive success in the competitive manufacturing landscape.

Common Tool Used in Brainstorming Sessions: SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool used to identify and evaluate the internal Strengths and Weaknesses of a business or project, as well as the external Opportunities and Threats it faces. In the context of a startup manufacturing situation, SWOT analysis can be a valuable tool for brainstorming and strategic decision-making.

SWOT Analysis

Here’s how SWOT analysis can be applied in relation to brainstorming in a startup manufacturing situation:

Identifying Strengths:

Brainstorming sessions can focus on identifying the unique strengths and advantages that the startup manufacturing company possesses. This could include factors such as proprietary technology, talented team members, unique product features, strong brand reputation, or efficient manufacturing processes.
By collectively brainstorming and listing the company’s strengths, the team can gain a comprehensive understanding of its competitive advantages and areas where it excels. This insight can inform strategic decisions and help the company leverage its strengths to gain a competitive edge in the market.

Evaluating Weaknesses:

Brainstorming sessions can also uncover potential weaknesses or areas for improvement within the organization. This might include factors such as limited financial resources, technical challenges, gaps in expertise, inefficient processes, or lack of brand recognition.

By openly discussing and brainstorming potential weaknesses, the team can identify areas that require attention or investment. This can help the company address its vulnerabilities and develop strategies to overcome challenges, ultimately strengthening its position in the market.

Exploring Opportunities:

Brainstorming sessions can generate ideas and insights into potential opportunities for growth and expansion in the market. This could include emerging trends, untapped customer segments, new market opportunities, strategic partnerships, or technological advancements.

By brainstorming and identifying opportunities, the team can explore new avenues for growth and innovation. This can help the company capitalize on market trends, expand its customer base, and diversify its product offerings, driving long-term success and sustainability.

Assessing Threats:

Brainstorming sessions can also uncover potential threats and challenges facing the startup manufacturing industry. This might include factors such as regulatory changes, competitive pressures, economic downturns, supply chain disruptions, or technological obsolescence. By brainstorming and discussing potential threats, the team can proactively identify risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. This might involve contingency planning, diversifying suppliers, strengthening partnerships, or investing in research and development to stay ahead of the competition.

Overall, SWOT analysis provides a structured framework for brainstorming and strategic planning in startup manufacturing situations. By collectively brainstorming and analyzing the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats, the team can gain valuable insights and develop informed strategies to drive success and mitigate risks in the dynamic manufacturing landscape.

Common Tool Used in Brainstorming Sessions: Brainstorming Software

Brainstorming software refers to digital tools and platforms designed to facilitate collaborative idea generation and brainstorming sessions. These software solutions offer features such as virtual whiteboards, mind mapping tools, real-time collaboration capabilities, and idea management functionalities. In the context of a startup manufacturing situation, brainstorming software can play a valuable role in enhancing creativity, improving collaboration, and driving innovation within the team. Here’s how brainstorming software can be used:

Virtual Brainstorming Sessions:

Brainstorming software enables team members to participate in virtual brainstorming sessions from anywhere, regardless of their geographical location. This is particularly beneficial for startup manufacturing teams that may be distributed across different locations or working remotely.

Through virtual whiteboards and interactive tools, team members can contribute ideas, add comments, and collaborate in real-time, fostering a dynamic and inclusive brainstorming environment.

Idea Generation and Organization:

Brainstorming software provides intuitive tools for generating and organizing ideas. Participants can create virtual sticky notes, draw mind maps, or use templates to structure their thoughts and insights.These software solutions often include features for categorizing and prioritizing ideas, making it easier for teams to identify key themes, trends, and opportunities emerging from the brainstorming session.

Collaboration and Communication:

Collaboration features in brainstorming software allow team members to communicate and collaborate seamlessly during brainstorming sessions. They can chat in real-time, share files and resources, and provide feedback on each other’s ideas. By fostering open communication and collaboration, brainstorming software encourages active participation and engagement from all team members, regardless of their role or seniority.

Remote and Asynchronous Collaboration:

In startup manufacturing situations where team members may have different schedules or work remotely, brainstorming software enables asynchronous collaboration. Participants can contribute ideas and feedback at their own pace, eliminating scheduling conflicts and ensuring that everyone’s input is considered. This flexibility in collaboration empowers teams to harness the collective creativity and expertise of all members, driving innovation and problem-solving in the startup manufacturing environment.

Idea Management and Follow-Up:

Brainstorming software often includes features for managing and tracking ideas throughout the ideation process. Teams can capture, evaluate, and prioritize ideas, assign tasks, and set deadlines for follow-up actions. This centralized approach to idea management ensures that valuable insights are not lost or overlooked, and that actionable ideas are implemented effectively to drive innovation and improvement in the startup manufacturing company.

Overall, brainstorming software serves as a valuable tool for startup manufacturing teams to foster creativity, collaboration, and innovation. By leveraging digital platforms and collaborative features, teams can overcome geographical barriers, streamline idea generation and organization, and drive continuous improvement in their operations and product development processes.


In conclusion, effective brainstorming is not merely a tool but a fundamental skill set that forms the bedrock of success for start-up manufacturing teams. By embracing structured brainstorming techniques and fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, these teams can navigate the complexities of the manufacturing journey with resilience and agility. From on boarding new team members to integrating brainstorming into daily operations and strategic decision-making processes, the benefits are undeniable. As we continue to innovate and evolve in the ever-changing landscape of manufacturing, let us not underestimate the power of brainstorming to drive progress, overcome challenges, and ultimately, build a resilient foundation for success.

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    Picture of Dr. Fiona Masterson

    Dr. Fiona Masterson

    With over 25 years’ experience in quality management, operations management,
    and higher education, Fiona combines technical expertise with highly engaging
    training. She has worked in fast-paced manufacturing environments including
    medical device companies, and lectures part-time in universities.

    She has Bachelor and Master of Science degrees, and a Doctorate in
    Mechanical Engineering. Fiona has published in peer reviewed journals on
    topics such as medical device and pharmaceutical regulatory affairs, on-the job
    training and innovative training technologies and strategies. .