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Effectively Using Starbursting in the Project Initiation Phase

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 8/14/2011

Starbursting is a form of brainstorming. Using startbusting as an idea generation technique requires asking questions in a systematic, comprehensive way to delve into the core issues and understand all aspects of the idea.

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    The Concept

    Starbursting Idea Generation Any new is initially a vague possibility. Converting the idea into a concrete and viable proposal requires the concerned people to apply their mind, dwelling on the various possibilities, the connected issues, side effects, pros, cons, and all other matters connected with the idea. For instance, an idea to launch a new service may meet with the following questions

    • What is the idea?
    • What the key features of the proposed service
    • How does the service work?
    • Who will this service benefit, and how
    • Is the product commercially viable, or is there a market for the service
    • What are the resources or investment required for implementation?
    • Will marketing the idea require the cooperation or approval of any third-party… and so on.

    Each question would have further sub-questions. For instance, the question “will marketing this idea require the cooperation or approval of any third-party" would have further questions for any answer. For example, if a key third-party opposes the idea, questions could be “will the party rescind if offered more favorable terms," “how will offering such favorable terms affect our profitability, and the returns for other stakeholders" and so on.

    Starbursting involves brainstorming by asking such probing questions, very often by playing the devils advocate is a good way to understand a new idea and cover all bases when translating the idea to a concrete plan. It allows considering all aspects to an issue, and everything that can possibly go wrong.

    Successful implementation however depends on ensuring that the:

    • flow of questions is systematic, and follows an order
    • range of questions covered is comprehensive
    • the questions remain relevant to the issue
    • the questions have answers

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    The Methodology

    Starbursting Idea Generation The best way to conduct startbursting is through a step by step approach:

    1. Take a large sheet of paper, and draw a six point star
    2. Write down the idea in the middle of the star
    3. At each point or tip of the star, write down “who," “what" “when" “where" “why" and “how"
    4. For each tip, brainstorm possible questions. For instance, under “who" list out
    5. Who does the product benefit, who will manufacture the product, who will market the product, and so on. At this stage, do not answer the questions, but concentrate on raking up as many questions as possible
    6. After compiling a comprehensive set of questions, find answers for the questions
    7. Draw a separate star and conduct a similar exercise for each question that requires further probing

    The exercise may be either conducted independently, with one person brainstorming the questions, or as a group exercise, with several team members working on a single star.

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    Starbursting lends structure to the brainstorming exercise, and guides the person doing the brainstorming exercise to cover all bases. It also allows involving the entire team in the brainstorming exercise. Each team member can initiate a separate starburst to reconcile at the end, or one team member may challenge the assumptions of another team member to generate further questions.

    Starbursting finds application for a variety of purposes, including initiating projects. Using starbursting as an idea generation tool during the project initiation phase allows for in-depth probing of the proposal, to prepare a detailed groundwork for the project including the project scope, structure, and project execution plan.

    A review of the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the project allows drawing up the project requirements in detailed terms. The project manager can use this exercise to fix the scope and cost of the project with the project owners, fix the resources required, draw up work breakdown schedule and deliverable timelines, and even draw a critical path.

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    Starbursting retains much of the drawbacks of brainstorming, especially it subjective nature. The success of the exercise depends solely on the experience and competence of the person undertaking the exercise. The methodology, which providing a structure and a method still does little to ensure that all relevant factors or questions find inclusion. Individual bias and perceptions may skew or distort the questions, or may result in probing certain areas in-depth, leaving other areas vague.

    Starbursting also suffers from an additional disadvantage of focusing on questions. Starbursting focuses on asking questions but does not guide seeking answers for the questions. The entire plan may become erroneous owing to false answers, hypothetical questions, and proceeding on such assumptions. Moreover, the questions itself may be irrelevant or not applicable to the specific project

    Considering the pros and cons or starbursting facilitates brainstorming in structured way, but serves only a limited purpose. This facilitate tool simplifies the work and makes the process easy, but does not help in improving the nature of the decisions in any way.


  • "Starbursting." Retrieved August 07, 2011.
  • Image Credit:

    2. N Nayab (author)


  • Nancy R. Tague (2004). "The Quality Toolbox." ASQ Quality Press. ISBN 0873896394, 9780873896399