A How Might We Wall — Pix by Harshadewa

“How Might We” Notes

Lessons learned from running GV style Design Sprints — part 2: How to stay engaged during meetings

“How Might We” notes is a generic tool used in Design Sprints (Design Sprint, a 5-day process invented and masters in Google and GV enables to teams build and test ideas. Each day revolves around a theme that resembles Stanford Design Thinking principles. Read more about the design sprint.)

On Day 1 afternoon, Design Sprint participants are supposed to interview experts to understand various different viewpoints about the design challenge. Even though these interviews are short, even as 15 minutes, the inflow of information could be overwhelming. Therefore taking notes is a must. Instead of traditional note taking, the Design Sprint Authors suggests the use of “How Might We” Notes.

How Might We

How Might We (HMW) is said to be a technique invented by Procter and Gamble and mastered for design domain by IDEO (Read more about the history of HMW).

An explanation from the Authors

Practicing HMW is very simple and straightforward. Each design sprint participant is given a “3 X 5 Sticky Notes” pack before the start of interviews. And Instead of writing down traditional, often negative or open-ended notes, participants are asked to take notes in “How Might We” format.

For an example, Instead of writing “Introduction of Micro-interactions will undermine the seriousness of the application” participants writes “How Might We introduce Micro-interactions without losing seriousness”

HMW Wall

Organizing HMW notes

HMW Notes are organised by sticking on the HMW Wall, then categorized into different themes by the participants, during this excise entire design sprint collaboratively creates fairly organised wall during a short period of time.

Then the participant votes to select their favorite HMW notes which will be used in future stages of the design sprint.

Based on our experience in running multiple design sprints at Cambio, HMW Notes is one of the key success factors for any successful meeting.

Here are some of the learning we made using HMW Notes,

1. It helps to stay engaged during meetings

Not all subject matters experts are toastmasters or expert public speakers. Therefore chances of you ending up in a relatively boring interview are really high.

With sticky notepad and marker pens on their hands, plus already written HMW title on the top most free note, makes participant to eagerly listen to the speaker with an active mind to convert whatever the point speaker talks about into an HMW. So far we are have zero sleep rate during expert interviews and lighting talks with very active participation.

2. “3 X 5” Sticky Notes and Thick Marker Pens are Musts

The Sprint Book recommends the use of “3 X 5” sticky notes and thick whiteboard marker pens for taking HMW notes. We did experiments with smaller sticky notes and smaller-tipped pens.

When you use smaller pen and “3 X 5” notes participants tends to write longer notes increasing the reading time of each note thus organizing notes task a nightmare.

Smaller sticky notes and medium tip pen could appear as a formidable option as it is merely a scale down of the original recommendation. We were positive about this idea, especially when we were running a larger team size sprint in a smaller war room, assuming it would give us a smaller wall, saving valuable wall space. However, at the HMW notes organization stage we were presented a new problem, since the notes are smaller in size, participants needed to get more closer to the wall to read them, this made huge congestion near the wall costing us valuable time as well as really good HMW notes (since the notes were smaller some good HMW notes were ignored by the readers and ended up in the dustbin with no votes)

3. It Promotes Positive Mindset

Keeping the high energy and motivation throughout the design sprint is very important, after all, it is a 5-day process and you don’t want to end up with a low moral team on the first day itself.

In HMW, instead of focusing on obstacles or barriers during an interview, participants are forced rephrase them as challenges. This simple changed helped us to keep energy and motivation levels high even during the severe criticism towards the design challenge. Participants simply rephrased the criticism into tough design challenge to be tested and validated during the sprint.

If HMW wasn’t used, we would have ended up arguing about the topic, given up the idea, or even a demoralized design sprint team.

4. Super Easy to Organize Notes

HMW Notes are written in the same format reducing the reading time as well as increasing the chances of identifying similar notes.

Occasionally, we have seen some participants write notes in different formats. Since the majority of notes are in HMW format, these out-layers were highlighted easily.


How Might We Notes, definitely transforms the note-taking experience, with the right gear, it works like magic.

Director of Design & Lead Principal Business Analyst at Cambio Healthcare Systems AB; views are my own.

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