how might we note taking – digitool

Hi all, Tom here,

Last week we were approached by IT continuous improvement engineer Neale Mclaughlin to help resolve a problem which had arose around data storage.

When I have tried to tackle this size and type of problem in the past we have pulled a few colleagues in a room with a preconception of a solution and worked to justify that solution.

As we have learnt here at think:digital understanding the problem fully informs a better and more rounded solution and one which is often much different to a solution which is conjured from jumping ahead straight to a solution.

To understand the problem in depth we hosted an event here at BCU, we invited colleagues from across IT and end users to contribute as subject matter experts. We decided to use a tool from the design sprint book called “How might we note taking

Our Experience of using how might we note taking

We began by handing each colleague a pad of post-it notes and a marker and asked them to write HMW in the top left hand corner. These post-it notes would act as a way of getting colleagues to listen engage and create meaningful notes in a unified way. The “How might we” idea was originally developed by Proctor and Gamble in the 1970’s and is a way of inducing a creative way to approach a problem, more information on HMW in the video below:

As part of the design sprint process we use this method to find opportunities for action in a subject matter expert’s statement.

For the next step we asked the group in turn for their view on the problem. As the each participant described their understanding of the problem we asked the other group members to identify any challenges which came to light in what the participant was saying and write HMW’s on individual post-it notes. Once the participant had finished giving their view of the problem we encouraged the other colleagues to ask any questions, all the while continuing to take their HMW notes. This gave all the participants’s a chance to voice there opinion openly, there were no arguments or disagreements and I was pleasantly surprised to find that by the time we reached the last colleague there were no further questions and the discussion had only taken 20 minutes, also each member of the group had neat (or┬ánot so neat) piles of post-it notes in front of them and smiles on their faces.

So we had listened to each subject matter experts take on the problem, understood everyone’s perspective and had a pile of notes to prove it, on to the next step..

We asked the group to stick all their HMW notes on the wall. As the notes were generated from the same conversations we were able to group the majority of them into categories. We then gave the team 4 minutes to read through the notes and 3 sticky dots each to vote on what they thought was the best idea. At this point we also nominated Neale the problem leader which gave him a casting vote as well as an extra 3 sticky dots.

After all the group voted we pulled out all the notes which had a vote and created a shortlist. We then asked the authors to explain their note(s) and Neale chose what he felt was the most useful “how might we” to pursue in a design sprint.

Key Findings

– The note taking session took a bit of getting used to as it felt a little unnatural writing in that way. But after a few notes it got better and actually forced you to actively listen to each person instead of waiting for your chance to speak.
– Taking it in turns to talk really got some great insights and understandings and the pace made it easy to keep engaged.
– There was a tendency in the asking questions part to start going to solutions particularly when we got to the last few people in the group. As the facilitator I felt the need on a couple of occasions to bring the conversation back to the point. Due to the fact this had been explained before the start of the exercise it was easy to do.
– Having a decision maker really helped move things forward and the team were all happy to follow his lead (great team).

Cheat sheet – What you need to get started


– Pens
– Post-it notes
– Sticky dots (can be substituted with a marker pen if not available)
– A problem
– Subject matter experts consisting of end users and problem solvers (Don’t go overboard the ideal number is 5-7 tops!!)


– Identify a problem before the meeting
– Explain what the session is going to entail: understanding the problem and the people involved
– Give each participant a pen and a pile of post-it notes
– Ask each participant to explain their view of the problem. Encourage questions after they have spoken. Whilst they are explaining their view the other participants are to write there notes (one per Post-it) in the form of a question “how might we…”.

For example a participant might say “customers don’t want to buy Swiss rolls” to which the note taker would write “how might we make Swiss rolls a better prospect for customers to buy”.

– Once each participant has spoken and all questions have been asked take the HMW post-it notes and stick them on a wall
– Group the post-its into categories of similar HMW’s
– Nominate a decision maker
– Vote on the most relevant question (everyone apart from the decision maker gets 3 votes, decision maker gets 6 votes)

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