How Might We technique, created at P&G in the 70’s. Integrated into Design Thinking and Design Sprints. HMWs shift mindsets from thinking about problems and challenges to exploring opportunities and possibilities.

What we appreciate about HMWs, is the simplicity and flexibility. They fit within processes or can function standalone. We use them for projects, interviews, goal setting and challenges. They enable us to take a problem statement and convert the problem into an exploratory possibility.

What’s an example of a HMW?

Well, let’s say you have the problem below, or you’ve heard about this during a customer interview.

Your problem statement is:
“There’s a growing number of obese students within our school… we want to focus on providing nutritious food… in order for them to thrive and grow healthy.”

Your HMWs could be:

– How Might We make healthy eating appealing to students?
– How Might We inspire students towards healthier eating options?
– How Might We make healthy eating something, which students aspire towards?
– How Might We make nutritious food more affordable?
– How Might We make healthier options more available to students?
– How Might We create an experience of fun around eating healthier options?

It’s as simple as that. Take time to think about the examples. You should find yourself thinking about ideas and possibilities of how you could solve this. You’ve moved from listing all the problems and thinking about the cause, to what can you do about it.

The technique has broken the focus on problems and challenges to thinking about opportunities and possibilities.

How can you integrate HMWs into day-to-day processes?

One of the many ways to incorporate is with Customer Interviews.

Ensure your interviews are an open and unbiased conversation. Encourage customers to discuss their challenges, desires and needs. During the interview, team members should actively listen. It’s their job to capture the insights that come from the conversation.

Try the following process during your next interview:

1. When a team member hears a problem, challenge or need, capture the insight on a post-it note. One post-it per insight.

2. After the interview everyone converts each insight into a HMW.
Write “HMW” in the top left hand corner of the post-it. Write the HMW question underneath.

3. Each team member reads out their HMW as they stick them on a wall. Place any duplicates on top of each other.

Reading the question out loud provides an optimistic tone and kick starts exploratory thinking.

4. Let’s decide where to focus. Look for HMWs that will provide the biggest impact. Provide each person 5 voting stickers. Place votes onto the HMWs.

Avoid group discussion, votes should be the view of each individual. Provide 8 mins to review and vote.

5. After voting, Re-organise your HMWs to show the top 5 most voted questions.

6. Give the team 5-10 mins writing one idea/solution for each of the top voted.

Once again, without discussion.

7. Place ideas under the relevant HMW.

Optionally, provide each person 1 min to explain the idea. Avoid a pitch session or debate.

8. Complete another round of voting. Provide 3 votes. This time the team is voting for the most promising ideas.

9. Select the top 3 voted ideas.

Now you have 3 possible ways to solve the most critical How Might We’s. Use these to inform the direction of your next research and development phases.

After gathering insights from multiple interviews, you might perform further research on the most common problem. Prototype a solution. Validate a solution with users. Add to a product or service backlog but that would cover a lot more than we can in this post

Going further with your HMW’s

For when you’re really trying to view the challenge from as many angles as possible. We suggest using the criteria below to narrow or expand your focus.

These were documented by the good folk at Stanford D.School and we’ve found them useful over the years.

These examples relate to a hurried mother and child at the airport.

Amp up the good: HMW use the kids’ energy to entertain fellow passenger?
Remove the bad: HMW separate the kids from fellow passengers?
Explore the opposite: HMW make the wait the most exciting part of the trip?
Question an assumption: HMW entirely remove the wait time at the airport?
Go after adjectives: HMW we make the rush refreshing instead of harrying?
ID unexpected resources: HMW leverage free time of fellow passengers to share the load?
Create an analogy from need or context: HMW make the airport like a spa? Like a playground?
Against the challenge: HMW make the airport a place that kids want to go?
Change a status quo: HMW make playful, loud kids less annoying?
Break POV into pieces: HMW entertain kids? HMW slow a mom down? HMW mollify delayed passengers?

Final Thoughts

‘How Might We’ has been around for years and has provided great benefit to the companies that use them.

One final benefit we haven’t discussed, is the ‘non-binding’ nature of HWMs. By this we mean they allow people to suggest ideas openly. They encourage people to produce ideas they’re unsure of, without fear they may need to defend or debate the suggestion.

After all, you may or may not follow through on the idea. No one puts their reputation or expertise on the line. As every idea is only a suggestion, not a stated directive.

We encourage you to try our technique above during your next customer interview, team meeting or project planning session. We’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Checkout the Monday Video on our Sprint Primer page to see how HMWs integrate into Design Sprints.