How we approach problem solving at Dootrix
We wanted to take a step back and share our insights on one of the most crucial parts of our design process. When we’re asked to build a new product for a client or to improve on an existing app, our first port of call is to get close to the client to understand and interpret the context and to identify any challenges in order to focus on creating the right solution.
We do this, by running an Innovation Sprint, our take on the infamous 5-day process originally created by Jake Knapp from Google Ventures, aimed at solving business problems and testing new ideas with customers to validate your product.
After choosing to use our variation on the sprint, we have found success after success and happy clients in every direction. Each sprint has been extremely well received and has allowed us to solve some critical business questions for organisations of all shapes and sizes, so we wanted to share how we doo it.
Mapping out the problem
Our goal at this stage is to develop a common understanding of the product, business, customer and value proposition as early as possible. If we were to begin problem-solving without first aligning ourselves as a team we would quickly come to realise that there are significant gaps in our knowledge, which will inevitably lead to wasting huge amounts of valuable time!
So how, I hear you ask, do we effectively align as a team in such a short space of time? Well. It all starts with expert interviews.
Interviewing the experts
The timer has been set — 30 minutes. In this 30 minutes, we’re going to find out as much as we can about the product, the business, the customer and the value proposition. There are no stupid questions. If there are gaps in our knowledge, we’ll look to fill them. There will still be times during the sprint where we’ll ask questions, but we want to start off with a solid foundation of knowledge.
So… What do we ask? How should we frame our questions?
Each person in the sprint has their own valuable bank of knowledge on the four key areas mentioned above. We try to structure our questions so as to draw out information in an area that we feel the expert is most knowledgeable in, but also to find out where they feel there are weaknesses in the product.
Are you interviewing the person responsible for marketing? They probably know a lot about the customer base.
“How do customers find out about the product? Do you feel there are areas in which users drop off?”
It’s important to remember that what matters most here is not so much the questions that are asked, but the conversation that comes from sparking off a thought process for the expert.
Recording the information
We’re asking the right questions, and the expert is providing us with heaps of important information — What do we do with it?!
There are two parts to this exercise — the interviews themselves and the ‘How Might We’ questions. The interviews help us to draw out the information, and the How Might We questions help us frame problems into opportunity statements.
While the facilitator is interviewing the expert, the rest of the group should be trying to turn the important information into how might we questions.
Say we hear the expert say something along the lines of: “The app doesn’t feel like our brand”. We can reframe this statement into this How Might We question: “How might we create a consistent style across all of our products?”… Easy!
This simple reframe allows for an easier format to ideate on.
Focusing on the right problems
Now that the expert interviews are over and stacks of How Might We questions have been created, it’s time for us to choose the right problems to focus on solving. This is done by carrying out a quick and simple vote using sticky dots. Why do we use dots? Well, let me tell you… A dotmocracy, that’s why!
When we create a dotmocracy we are giving the room a fair, weighted voice. This allows those who may not be confident in sharing their opinions aloud to be heard without the pressure of fighting their case in front of louder voices.
Each person is given two dots, and is asked to vote (in silence!) on the How Might We statement that they feel has the most impact on the product. Why in silence? Because we’re looking for everybody’s honest, gut feeling on what they feel is going to benefit the product when worked on.
After voting, the How Might We questions are sorted by most voted and we’re ready to move on.
Focusing on the right area
This is the part of the design sprint where we choose an area to focus our efforts on improving. This is done by drawing a high-level map of the journey taken to get to an end goal for all users involved in the product. The map can be a bit of a challenge at first, but gets easier the more it’s done.
We start by listing out all parties involved, in this exercise we call them actors, down the left-hand side. This includes customers and anyone else involved in helping us get to the end goal. We then write appropriate headers horizontally across the top. For this example, we’ll write the following: Discover, learn, wait and goal, but you may find you’re headers to be different depending on the target product/service.
The aim is to fill out the steps that each actor takes under the appropriate header, for example:
When the map is completed and everyone’s happy, we look to place the highest voted how might we statements onto the area of the map where we feel they fit in the most. Let’s take an example from the How Might We’s above: “How might we lessen support calls?” If we were to place this on the map, it would fit somewhere in between the customer handing over their clothes and receiving clean clothes back. This is because (theoretically) it’s at a point in the journey where the user gets no further information from the app until their clothes have arrived safely back home.
Once all the how might we statements are up on the map in their correct places, we need to identify the area in which we feel we should focus on fixing. Doing this is as simple as circling the place on the map where the most how might we statements lay.
Envisioning the future
With the problems identified and the target area defined, it’s time to ask the important questions of the team: What is the best possible place we can be in in the future, and what could stop us from getting there?
We get these answers by writing the following statements on sticky notes: “In 2 years time…” for our most optimistic idea of what life will look like in the long term future, and “Can we…” for our most pessimistic look on what could stop us from reaching our goal. This exercise is much like the How Might We exercise, in that everyone writes in the same format making it easier to digest and vote on later in the day.
Each person in the sprint should try to write one “In 2 years time” statement and a couple “Can we” statements. We then vote on the statements that we feel are the most important to the sprint using sticky dots. At the end of the group vote, we nominate a ‘decider’ to cast one final deciding vote on one “In 2 years time” and one “Can we”. The decider is the only person in the room who can make a final decision and is usually the person with the most knowledge on the product, like a product owner or manager.
Solving the problem
We’ve got our eye on the problem, it’s time to come up with solutions!
Before we let the team loose with the sharpies we like to share examples of products, features or workflows that we really like to draw inspiration from. This is the only part of the design sprint where we allow the use of devices, and we only allow them for the duration of 15 minutes.
Everyone spends the time looking for an example of a good product, feature or workflow that they’ve come into contact with and left a good impression. It doesn’t need to be related to the problems we’re trying to tackle during the sprint, as we often find the best ideas come from products that aren’t related in any way shape or form.
Once found, each person spends just a few minutes presenting the demo to the room, explaining why they like the product.
This simple exercise goes a very long way in inspiring the great ideas we’ll express later on when creating the 3 part concept.
4 part sketching
This is the part in the sprint where we allow each person in the team to flex their creative muscles. A very common thing we hear at this stage is that “I can’t draw!”, “I’m not a designer, isn’t that your job?”.
You see, we’re not looking for the next Van Gogh. We just want to see everybody’s ideas on paper. We don’t just jump straight into a 3-part concept — No. We start simply by taking notes.
Summarising the important stuff
We want to make the most of our time ideating, so in order to do this we note down all the important information gathered during the morning. This includes the most voted for how might we statements, the 2-year goal, the can we statements and any other pieces of information that we feel are important to remember. During the note-taking session, we like to suggest each person writes the important findings in their own words. We also suggest picking out any key phrases that they may want to explore further.
The stage on from note taking is doodling. Roughly sketch out potential ideas, situations or concepts to get the creative juices flowing. These doodles will help us narrow down our choices in the next few exercises.
Iterating on ideas
So we’ve got some good ideas flowing from our brains onto the paper. Now we’re going to iterate over our favourite solution in an exercise called ‘Crazy 8’s’.
Crazy 8’s can feel intimidating for even the most experienced of designers, because it’s aimed at forcing you out of your comfort zone. The idea is to take your favourite or best solution so far and, on a sheet of paper divided into 8 sections, draw it 8 different ways, spending one minute on each section. Crazy, right?!
The solutions drawn during this exercise don’t need to be perfect, sometimes they don’t even need to be drawings! The exercise is done to expand on our initial idea and open up the floor to inspiring solutions by allowing our creativity to flourish.
Putting it all together
We’ve got the important information jotted down and we’ve ideated over our favourite, most impactful ideas. It’s time to start the Three Part Concept.
The Three Part Concept takes all the information gathered and created, and pools together to aid the team in creating the first stages of a real prototype! This exercise is done on 3 pieces of A4 paper taped together with an A5 piece of paper in the middle of each A4 piece for drawing three stages of the user’s journey. Typically these stages are the entry, the action and the goal, but your 3 stages may differ. We use the ideas taken from the previous 3 exercises to create the best solution to our problem.
When the concept is complete, we annotate the prototypes using sticky notes, picking out and describing in further detail our best ideas. The exercise following this is to vote on our favourite solutions and features, so it’s very important that each 3-part concept can stand alone without the need for any verbal explanation.
End of day 1
Once the exercise is complete, we end day 1! Day 1 is often found to be the most challenging, so we like to emphasise to the team that we’ve made an immense amount of progress and we should be proud of where we’ve come in such a short space of time. Day 2 consists of presenting and voting on the 3 part concepts, so to keep each concept anonymous to avoid any bias we wait until everyone but the facilitators have left the room to stick them up on the wall.
With the team back in the room, our first exercise of the day is to read each 3 part concept and create a heatmap using sticky dots.
Each person gets given a sheet of sticky dots and must cast as many votes as they like on a feature they within any concepts. We encourage everyone to try and use all of the sticky dots so clear areas are marked out. We also allow everyone the chance to clear up any uncertainties or confusion by writing any questions on a sticky note and placing it beneath the prototype. These questions will then be answered during the 3 part concept presentations later on.
Once voting is complete, we will have created a heatmap of the favourite features from each person. Doing this exercise before we vote on the favourite concept helps us to narrow down the concepts we like the best, and also gives us ideas on new features we may like to include on the final prototype.
Presenting the 3 part concepts
After creating a heatmap, we give each person a chance to briefly explain their concept, the features they’ve included and why they chose the direction they took. It’s also a really good time to answer any questions that may have been asked during the heatmap exercise.
While we want each prototype to be able to stand alone without any further explanation, we want to provide the opportunity for each person to truly understand the concept before they cast a vote on their favourite.
Voting on the favourite concept
Now it’s time to vote, but this time everyone is given a big green (in our case) sticker with their initial on. Everybody stands in front of the concepts and on the count of three votes at the same time on the concept that they think is the best. It’s very important to emphasise casting the vote at the same time, as it helps to protect the team against herd mentality, or voting on something because they can see it’s becoming a popular choice, not because they think it’s correct. The winning concept will be one that the whole team is aligned behind.
The decider vote
The decider ultimately gets the final say on what 3 part concept is the one to focus on for the rest of the sprint. The decider gets one sticky dot with a marker to represent the concept vote and two sticky dots with a marker to represent features from other concepts that we should include. We usually use a star to mark the concept decider, and two flames to mark the favourite features to bring in.
With that, we have come to the end of the concept votes. We’ve decided on the best concept to prototype, and two other favourite features that we should incorporate. Our next exercise will determine the right user flow.
The user story
Basing the next exercises on the chosen 3 part concept, our next step is to create and choose the right user journey for our prototype. We do this by getting each person to write 6–8 steps on what they believe the journey should be like, and voting as a team (dotmocracy!) on the best user flow.
On the board we put the headers “start” and “end”, and the name of each team member down the left-hand side. Once each person has written down each step on a sticky note, we arrange them against their name until everyone’s is on the board. Now we vote on what we believe to be the right user flow with sticky dots, using the highest voted user flow as the user flow for our prototype.
Our last exercise in the problem-solving portion of the design sprint is also the last exercise on day 2, and the final exercise we complete as a team. Using the highest voted 3 part concept, and the winning user flow, we’ll create a storyboard to aid the creation of the prototype over the next few days.
On a whiteboard (or magic whiteboard) we draw out each step of the user flow as a big rectangle. On each rectangle we stick the step from the user flow and draw the corresponding screen as a team, using the 3 part concept as a reference for the layout. We usually nominate one person as the scribe and have the rest of the team describe how the screen should look. At the end of this exercise, we will be left with 6/8 screens that are ready to be turned into a high fidelity prototype.
And with that, we come to the end of the bulk of our problem-solving journey! We have successfully condensed down what could easily be months of meetings, research, design and development time into just one week.
We have gained an enormous amount of insight, devised brilliant ideas and come away with valuable designs for our solution.
The next stage of the design sprint involves validating our ideas, by developing a high fidelity prototype from our winning concept and conducting thorough user tests with real users. Watch this space for more on this soon!
If you want to learn more about how we could help you unlock the power of design thinking to supercharge your product design, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.