The challenge with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost or lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution we’ve come up with is to replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process.
This activity can be used for anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to incorporate an LDJ activity with a broad topic, like the following:
- Internal design process
- Organizing events
- Keeping up with competitors
- Improving the sales flow
- Let trainees find solutions to their problems themselves.
- Rectangular sticky notes
- Square sticky notes
- Voting pins, 2 different colors
- Markers or something similar
- Countdown timer that clearly displays the remaining time
- A nice playlist of focus music
Step By Step Procedures
- Pick a facilitator/ moderator on the team to take this role. They can join in on the process but must focus on making sure no discussion breaks out and has to keep time. This role can be rotated.
- Start with problems – 7 mins. Everybody in the group sits at a table and without discussion, they spend 7 minutes writing all the challenges, annoyances, mistakes or concerns that happened during the week. These can really be anything from “I don’t feel like we’re making progress” to “I feel like project Y is getting more attention than my project”. Once the 7 minutes are up, each person will have a pile of problem sticky notes in front of them.
- Problem presentation – 4 mins per person. The moderator now picks one person at a time to stand up at a wall/whiteboard to very quickly explain each problem as they stick them to the surface. Nobody else in the team is allowed to speak here. The moderator should give no more than 4 minutes per person. Once every participant has spoken and added their problems then everyone in the group has shared their challenges.
- Pick the problems to solve – 6 mins. The moderator hands each member 2 voting pins. Everybody must now vote on the challenges they consider to be the most appropriate to solve, without discussion. Participants can vote on your own sticky notes and they are absolutely allowed to put both voting pins on one challenge if they feel strong enough about it. Once the 6 minutes is up, the moderator quickly takes the voted problems and arranges them in order of priority. What happens to the rest of the problems that were not voted on? Do they get lost? We will discuss that later.
- Restructure problems as standardized challenges — 6 mins i.e restructure problems to standardized How Might We’s. Now, only focussing on the voted and prioritized problems — the moderator is going to rewrite each one as a standardized challenge, this will help in creating an array of solutions and be a little bit broader at the start. Let’s look at an example: The top voted sticky note says “I have no clue as to what is happening on a certain project z”. Because many people have voted on it, we can see it’s clearly an issue many people are having. Rephrasing the sticky note in a “How Might We” format allows the group to make it solvable and standardize the way the challenges are written.
The moderator should quickly rewrite all the problems as quickly as possible, making sure they are still prioritized before moving on.
Provide solutions — 7 mins. Now the top voted HMW problem will be used to produce solutions. If there are two top-voted problems, or three just start with the one on the right first. Don’t worry about it and do not discuss it!
Now each team member is given in 7 minutes to write as many possible ways to tackle the How Might We challenge without any discussion. Removing discussion here also insures a variety of solutions. It’s important for the moderator to tell the team members that the aim is Quantity over Quality – Later we can curate.
Solutions don’t have to be written in any particular order but they must be understandable to people reading them. There are no individuals presenting solutions as this creates a bias towards the best presenters.
Once the 7 minutes is up— now everybody sticks their ideas on the surface (wall, whiteboard, whatever) as fast as possible, no need to be neat— just stick them anywhere – this should only require one-minute.
Vote on solutions – 10 mins. The moderator hands each team member six voting pins to vote on the solutions they think would best solve the HMW. Because the members will need to read each sticky note, a little more time is given for this voting process: 10 minutes.
Prioritize solutions -30 Seconds. Just as was done with the problems, the team now has 30 seconds to make a priority list of solutions — Ignore anything with less than two votes.
Decide what to execute on — 10 mins. It will be very visible that some solutions are more popular than others to test out, but it’s crucial to know how much effort is needed to execute the solutions – so here we use a simple effort/impact scale to determine which solutions to try as quick as we can, and which should be added to a to-do list, or however you store your backlog.
The moderator needs to be very proactive at this step, as they are the only one that has a tendency to open up discussion. The Moderator will now take each solution one by one and add them to the effort/impact scale. The effort, in this case, is how much effort the team thinks it will take to implement and impact is the degree to which the team thinks it would solve the problem at hand.
So here’s what the moderator needs to do: Take the top voted solution, hovers it over the center of the E/I scale and simply asks “higher or lower” — usually some small discussions break out here, so the moderator has to be diligent in finding a consensus and stopping any conversations extending past 20 seconds. Once the effort has been determined, the moderator uses the same drill for impact: “Higher or Lower.”
Now you have a clear overview of what which high-impact solutions could be executed on and tested very quickly (In the green sweet-spot on the top left), and which high-impact solutions will take more effort (top right). The moderator should now quickly mark all sticky notes in the sweet spot with a contrasting pin so we can identify them later.
Convert solutions into actionable tasks — 5 mins. The moderator now takes the “Sweet Spot” solutions off the E/I scale and asks the person who wrote the solution to give actionable steps toward implementing the solution. By saying actionable we mean something that could be executed on in the timeframe of 1–2 weeks. The rule of thumb is a 1-week experiment, but of course, this will depend on what the solution entails.
Once all these solutions are written up, the team now has actionable tasks that can be committed to (depending on how the team deals with task management, that’s for another day). All the high impact solutions are converted into actionable sticky notes and added to the backlog so they don’t get forgotten. What you might see happening is that the sweet spot actions actually end up solving problems in a way that the higher effort solutions become obsolete and you can later rip them apart!
That’s it! In a short amount of time, the team has managed to define important challenges, produce solutions and prioritize what to execute almost entirely without discussion! This principle of cutting out the open discussion can be implemented in almost anything. Give it the respect it deserves and cut out the wasteful, demoralizing, fatigue-inducing discussion.
- What happens to all the ideas we lose after the process, what if there are some great ideas that people didn’t vote on?
Good ideas don’t matter, executing and testing is what matters. Even if the not so good idea is voted to the top and then tested, you’re going to learn from it and it’s going to move you forward.
- Isn’t voting a flawed way to decide on the most important things to work on? Isn’t this like design by committee?
This is not a perfect system, but it’s 1000000000 times better than an open conversation where nothing gets done, and people just concede to the loudest, most persistent person at the table OR walk away with nothing being done. Give it a try.
- Is this sort of exercise limited to specific scenarios only?
You can use this exercise for so many different things . Examples are
- Planning a company outing
- Improving the office environment
- Marketing/Awareness challenges (How might we get in touch with “INFLUENCER”)
- Sales (How might we increase client acquisition)
Tips for running this activity online
- Pick an online whiteboard tool that allows the use of large, zoomable canvas.
- Set up each topic at a different area of the board, spread them out just like you would do it on the walls of a room.
- Invite participants to zoom in and visit each section and add their ideas as sticky notes once you reach that section of the exercise.
- We recommend using a collaboration tool such as Google Docs to collect the information for each step under a separate heading. Invite everyone into the document but be very clear in regards to the editing rights.
- You can also add comments inside Google Docs or ask participants to add a thumbs-up emoji to an idea in Slack to collect votes when using those tools.
- When facilitating group discussion, we’d recommend that participants use non-verbal means to indicate they’d like to speak. You can use tools like Zoom’s nonverbal feedback tools, a reaction emoji, or just have people put their hands up. The facilitator can then invite that person to talk.