Using “How Might We” questions.
August 2, 2021
Revealing the technique of the HMW questions.
You’re here it’s because you already have a decent understanding of what we do in Byld, so I won’t discuss that now. What I do want to start with is by giving you a simple definition of what Design Thinking is applied to our sector; this is corporate innovation.
The one I like the most is that it is a framework based on cognitive flexibility that adapts to the challenges we face together with our partners and clients. Cognitive flexibility is understood as the ability to adapt our behavior and thinking to changing or unexpected situations.
In all projects, there is always a moment when someone says “Trust the process”.
In this article, I will try to teach you how to deal with any problem you may encounter in your company by using a technique called How Might We.
Origin of the How Might We Questions (HMW)
The first thing that strikes me is why haven’t we translated into Spanish, and maybe that’s because we already live in such a connected world that it simply makes no sense.
I also can’t help but think how much content Pantomima Full (a Spanish comedy duo very prominent in Social Media) would have to make yet another video about anglicisms but this time focused on the ghetto of strategic design and corporate innovation to which we belong.
Its origin dates back to the 1970s and is quite curious. Min Basadur, a Canadian industrial engineer working in product development at P&G, noticed that all brainstorming techniques started with questions like “How can we” or “How should we” or “Let’s brainstorm about”.
Then he decided that replacing “can” with “might” would be a good idea because it sounded more “polite” (I am not close enough to any Canadians but apparently they are known for their special kindness as human beings).
Min introduced this small change to the ideation process on how to bring a better personal grooming soap product to market, which at the time was absolutely dominated by Colgate’s Irish Spring, which was green and had stripes.
The P&G team was starting to get discouraged after testing 6 different types of soaps with consumers in multiple blind tests over 6 months, with Irish Spring beating Colgate’s samples every single time.
Min then asked the team to describe what their goal was, to which they responded: “To create a green striped soap that is better”.
Faced with the challenge “HMW create a better green striped soap” Min, thinking strategically, asked the team again “Why?” and out came answers such as “to have a better product”, “to beat Colgate” and especially one they had not paid much attention to; “to create a more refreshing soap”.
Delving into the challenge “HMW create a more refreshing soap” Min now asked a more tactical question, “What is blocking us?” to which the team responded that they just hadn’t really thought about it because they had focused on green soaps with stripes. Therein lay the problem.
So they decided to come up with a list of refreshing things. With specific answers to the HMW questions, the brainstorming process could begin.
From that exercise things like a soft drink, menthol cigarettes, a roller coaster or a swim at the beach emerged. In a few hours, simply by rephrasing the question, they came up with the concept for their Coast soap, which allowed P&G to compete in the market with Colgate.
A real case in Byld
If you do your own research, you will find many articles and downloads on how to use them. I am going to tell you how we do it here at Byld.
Within our methodology and set of tools, HMW questions are used as enablers between the Problem Discovery and Solution Discovery phase. They are not an indispensable tool in every project, but we do use them frequently.
A logical sequence would be as follows:
- Start a project by delving into the challenge within the company.
- Take a look outside by exploring the market to identify trends and territories.
- Finding problems and drivers for specific targets to then seek solutions through a process that starts diverging and then converging.
- Prioritizing and validating those solutions to start prototyping and iterating.
- Launching to then scale the solution.
So let’s see a real case with a Byld partner.
Zooming in between the Problem and Solution phase and disclosing information within the allowed limits, I am going to tell you how we use the HMW, which simply starts by asking questions that encourage the search for solutions to a specific problem.
The investment arm of a multinational construction company was interested in penetrating the offsite construction sector, which significantly reduces costs, risks and time.
The problems identified
Lack of public incentives for its adoption, market fragmentation that makes collaboration very difficult, stigmatization and lack of awareness of the benefits of offsite construction (same quality at a lower price, better working conditions for the workforce and faster delivery times), the environmental impact of traditional buildings and urban population growth, technical challenges and lack of skilled labor.
How we used HMW questions
In a live session where leaders from different departments were invited, we formed mixed teams and chose to attack 2-3 of the following HMWs each:
- HMW increases governments’ and municipalities’ appetite to promote OC projects?
- HMW integrates technology and new methodologies efficiently around the process to encourage a more collaborative and integrated workflow?
- HMW leverages the benefits of OC into attracting more and better workforce to assure a competitive cost of labor?
- HMW uses OC to create versatile spaces, adapting it to people’s needs and increasing livability?
- HMW make offsite logistics more sustainable and scalable in consideration to the crucial locations: raw materials, factory and the construction site?
- HMW build optimal and sustainable cities to face rapid population growth?
- HMW combines the freedom of renting with the security of owning a property by using OC?
The objective was to find solutions that would solve one or more HMW questions, with a clear business model and that would benefit, if possible, from the corporation’s resources and experience. To present them, we used an elevator pitch competition format.
36 ideas that converged in 8 business concepts like the one in the image, 2 of which were prioritized by the corporation.
How to apply HMW in your team or corporation?
Like any new process or technique, it requires patience and an environment of predisposition and collaboration for an effective implementation.
Having that, my advice is to use this technique first with very minor or almost stupid problems, such as for example:
Why are cups and plates piling up in the office kitchen sink?
At Byld, despite having cleaning service, the kitchen is used very often and with the flexibility to telecommute or go to the office that we have, people relax and forget about the rules.
Let’s transform it to HMW:
HMW incentivizes employees to keep the kitchen clean?
- Assign people each day of the week in a “cleaning squad” mode.
- Put a common piggy bank and throw in 1€ for every time someone forgets to pick up their cup or plate.
- Hang up posters on the kitchen wall that say “you are destroying the planet and should burn in hell”.
- Let everyone bring their own cup from home.
Make reminders via Slack that it’s okay to occasionally tell those who forget off.
- From all of these solutions, you will come up with the optimal and long-lasting formula to keep your kitchen as clean as possible.
From all of these solutions, you will come up with the optimal and long-lasting formula to keep your kitchen as clean as possible.
If you have innovation challenges, future business opportunities, questions about how to make use of tools like the HMW questions or just have a coffee, don’t hesitate to get in touch.