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Can Parallel Thinking and JAD Save the US Congress?

This article proposes that the US Congress consider Parallel Thinking (Six Thinking Hats) and Joint Application Development (JAD) as methods for gaining agreements on various issues.  This year’s difficultly of gaining a compromise much less a consensus on the nation’s debt limit begs for a proven method for settling issues.  Due to partisan positions, simple negotiation methods have been ineffective.  Instead of deals being made via dialogues, congressional committees hold long drawn-out discussions that extend for months.  Parallel Thinking and JAD may be a solution for saving the US Congress from itself.  

Observation of the “AS-IS”

Little is getting done.  And it is hurting all of us.  Our elected representatives in Congress are diverse stakeholders.  Each have their own agenda with interests that in their view reflect what is best for our country.  It appears that everyone is talking and no one is listening.  Around the table of congressional committees are assertive individuals, each pushing their position and trying to dominate the discussion.  Essentially, their meetings are a series of discussions in which each person is attempting to win arguments while tearing-up the opposing views to pieces. 

What is needed is a process that provides a constructive and collaborative dialogue and an effective decision process. 

  • A discussion is an examination of ideas by argument or debate 
  • A dialogue is a conversation where there is an exchange of opinions

Proposal of the “TO-BE”

First and foremost, a neutral facilitator needs to be appointed by the committee chairperson for guiding the participants to hopefully a consensus or in the least case a compromise.  Note that the neutral facilitator provides process for meetings and does not participate in content.  The chairperson opens the meeting by stating the objective and then passes the floor to the facilitator.  After establishing meeting roles and rules, the facilitator introduces the parallel thinking technique called the “Six Thinking Hats” (1) to promote a dialogue on the meeting objective.   

Rules are vital to have a successful meeting.   The facilitator needs to gain an agreement that participants will treat each other with respect and most important focus on issues, not blame.

Below is a possible sequence of the hats:

  1. Blue Hat – the facilitator opens the meeting by establishing the objective, the six thinking hats process and the hat sequence that will be used.
  2. White Hat – each participant states only what is known (facts) and not known about the problem; like the character Detective Joe Friday, “Just the facts ma’am,” on the famous series “Dragnet” (2). Assumptions may be included, but they must be later confirmed as facts.
  3. Red Hat – each participant states only intuitive likes, dislikes, fears, hunches, and gut feelings on issues concerning the objective
  4. Black Hat – each participant states only the issues that are threats concerning the objective
  5. Yellow Hat – each participant states only the issues that are opportunities concerning the objective
  6. Green Hat – each participant states only how to address the threats and opportunities issues identified in the black and yellow hat dialogues
Parallel thinking forces each participant to consider all points of view and prevents one view from dominating the dialogue.

After conducting the parallel thinking dialogue, the facilitator then announces a follow-on technique for decision making.  Joint Application Development (JAD) is an effective technique for settling issues.  The facilitator explains this technique and how issues will be resolved (3).  During the technique explanation, the facilitator gains an agreement from the participants on additional meeting rules concerning a vital role – the decision maker. 

Essentially after the participants conduct a dialogue on the issues, the facilitator attempts to guide the participants through active listening and questioning – the end goal being a consensus or a compromise.  If an impasse develops, the issue(s) are resolved by a neutral person called a decision maker.  And per the meeting rules, the participants already agreed to accept the ruling(s) of the decision maker if needed.  This allows the meeting to progress and conclude with results that the committee can forward to the full Congress for an up or down vote.   

  • A consensus is when participants change their positions for the betterment of the group. 
  • A compromise is when participants make a deal, winning their view on some of the issues and losing on others.

So Who Is the Decision Maker?

As stated above, the decision maker is a neutral person that breaks through impasses. On a project, the role is typically performed by the project sponsor.  The guideline is that the person needs to be high enough in the organization to rise above the fray and decide on issues.  However, in this case there is no project sponsor and finding a neutral elected official is difficult.  Therefore, it is best to have a neutral arbitrator with no political affiliation.  One approach is for the chairperson to blindly select an arbitrator with assurances that the arbitrator’s identity be kept anonymous (Arbitrator Protection Program?).   


Unclear if Congress would consider any of the above methods even though they are proven facilitation techniques that are used in business analysis.  However, there is a sense of urgency that something is needed.  Just saying Congress is broken due to the participants is insufficient.  Process is needed. 

Writing this article has been somewhat therapeutic allowing me to put forth a constructive solution.  If you know of other proven facilitation techniques that would be useful in Congress, your comments are welcomed.  

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Mr. Monteleone holds a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in computing science from Texas A&M University.  He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) by the Scrum Alliance, and certified in BPMN by BPMessentials.  He holds an Advanced Master’s Certificate in Project Management (GWCPM®) and a Business Analyst Certification (GWCBA®) from George Washington University School of Business.  Mark is the President of Monteleone Consulting, LLC and can be contacted via e-mail – [email protected].


  1. de Bono, Edward (1999), Six Thinking Hats, Back Bay Books
  2. Webb, Jack (2005 release), Just The Facts Ma’am: The Warner Bros. Recordings
  3. Wood, Jane and Silver, Denise (1995), Joint Application Development, Wiley

(As seen in the International Association Facilitators 2011 October Global Flip Chart newsletter.)