Use a PMI Analysis to Encourage Critical Thinking

A participant in a critical thinking class I taught recently suggested a solution to a problem I’d posed to the group. “Let’s do a PMI analysis,” I suggested, expecting the class to be familiar with the tool. None were. The tool can be a very productive way to frame a discussion.
critical thinking

What is a PMI Analysis?

“PMI” stands for “Plus, Minus, Interesting”. The concept is to discuss those three aspects of topic or idea: “Plus” for positive ones, “Minus” for negative ones, and “Interesting” for those aspects that are neither positive or negative but may represent opportunities or warrant further discussion. Facilitators can do this in one of two ways. The first is to allocate just a couple of minutes to each aspect. So for the first two minutes, the group would look for positive characteristics of the idea. Then they’d switch to looking at negative aspects for two minutes, and finally at interesting characteristics for two minutes.

For some groups, you could use a different approach. I have set a timer and asked participants to comment on each of the three aspects of the idea, identifying whether their comments are plusses, minuses, or interesting. This approach seems to work well with groups accustomed to free thinking.

It is necessary to capture these comments so they are not lost. A participant or the facilitator can copy them to a flip chart or a file projected on a screen. An alternative is to use three flowchart pages attached to the wall (or a single page divided into three sections) and to let the participants write the ideas on the sheets. You can use this when you want to get the group up and moving.

After capturing the comments, the facilitator can review them, start discussions on one or more, or allow participants to add to the lists. From start to finish, a facilitator can run this activity in around 10 minutes.

PMI analysis can be used in a training classroom, as I have, for brainstorming sessions, or in any case where an idea needs to be creatively evaluated.

Benefits of PMI Analysis

There are at least three specific benefits to using the PMI analysis technique:

  1. Encourages the members of the group to look at a proposed idea from multiple viewpoints. Each person is encouraged to contribute to all three aspects, rather than taking a side and holding their ground.
  2. Urges participation from all members of the group. Since the process is not argumentative or divisive – as a for/against discussion might be – participation is a safe process for all.
  3. Provides a broader view of the group’s views on the topic. Characteristics that a group may not address in a for/against discussion are often revealed in the “Interesting” category.

Let’s look at an example:

While discussing ways to increase revenue from the sale of widgets, a team member suggests raising the price significantly. After some sneers from other group members, the facilitator asks the group to do a PMI analysis. After a few minutes, their chart looks something like below:P M I Example

Raising the price may or may not be a good idea, but the goal of the PMI analysis was to look at the plus, minus, and interesting aspects, not to come to the final decision, per se.  Hopefully, with the data, the appropriate person or people can come to a more-informed decision.

Check out Learning Tree’s critical thinking course to discover more analysis tools and techniques.

To your great meetings,
John McDermott

image sources

  • PMI table: John McDermott

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