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Problem statements: A simple way to improve productivity

The Problem Statement is a simple and powerful tool that can be used to boost productivity. It helps you identify the problem, find solutions, and make progress. This article will discuss what it means to have a problem statement, how to create one for your project or business, and why it is so important.

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Table of Content

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a way of defining the problems facing your project or business in clear and concise language. This helps you identify what has gone wrong, find solutions to the problem, and make progress.

Why are they important?

Problem statements define your goals for projects so that team members can work together more efficiently towards those objectives. They help identify issues before they spiral out of control into something more significant than anticipated. They also allow you to focus on creating manageable tasks rather than solving everything at once, which leads to poor decision-making and wasted time resources (both money and human resources).

How to define a good problem statement

A good problem statement is human-centered, focusing on the user's or customer’s needs. It does not address how a project is completed but should instead focus on why it was created in the first place and what goal(s) need to be achieved for success. For example: "we want people who are leaving our website unhappy with their experience" as opposed to "this page loading time of this web page will decrease from 500ms down to 350ms".

The problem statements also allow you to identify any assumptions that have been made about your product during the development and work towards eliminating them before they become faulty products or processes that cause issues later.

There are numerous ways to approach a problem and defining a problem statement. Here are some examples that can help you to get started.

The 5 W's - Who, What, Where, When, and Why

An excellent way to start could be by asking yourself the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

  • Who? Who is experiencing the problem? Who is your target audience/user, who will be the focus of your problem statement?
  • What is the problem? What is the ultimate goal/impact? What background information do we need?
  • Where? Where is the issue occurring? In which context, situation, or space is the user when they are confronted with this problem?
  • When? When does it need to be fixed?
  • Why does it matter? What value would it bring to the user and the business by solving this problem? Why is it essential to solve this problem right now?

The Five Whys

The five whys method can help you to get deeper information about your problem. By repeating the question "Why" at least five times, you can get a deeper insight into the root cause of your problem. Once you've got a deep enough understanding of the root of your problem, you have something specific to use your problem-solving efforts on.

Here is an example that Toyota offers:

"Why did the robot stop?"

The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

"Why is the circuit overloaded?"

There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

"Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?"

The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

"Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?"

Because there is no filter on the pump

In the example above, you have a problem statement that is very clear and specific. It can be used as a guide to help understand what caused the robot to stop working in the first place. Problem statements are particularly helpful because they prevent us from making assumptions about our problems or getting stuck on tangents while we work through them.

The five whys method can also be used to understand why a solution is working or not. By asking "Why" multiple times, you can understand what causes it to work and when conditions have been fulfilled for the solution to produce results.


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A good problem statement often includes what is known, what is unknown and what is sought.

The importance of keeping your problem statement simple

The importance of keeping your problem statement simply cannot be understated. Your solution needs to solve the problem, not introduce new problems you didn't consider along with it!

One of the most common mistakes I see is people trying to solve too many issues, making their product or business model far more complex than needed - which usually produces an inferior end-product that doesn’t meet customer expectations entirely.

Example of a bad and a good problem statement:

Bad problem statement:

Problem Statement: I have a hard time finding my car keys.

This is a lousy problem statement because it does not give any background information about the context, what is causing this issue, and how often will this occur? Who are they for? What's their motivation to solve them? How would solving these problems help your business or product forward?

Good problem statement:

Problem Statement: The user finds it hard to find their car keys when rushing out of the house. Because of this, he is late for appointments or even missed them entirely.

This problem statement shows what's causing this issue and why is it essential that it gets solved right now, for example, because they might miss an appointment or forget where they parked? Who are experiencing these problems? What type of people would have these issues with forgetting their keys in the morning rush hour - perhaps older people who already experience memory loss or younger students on a tight schedule between lectures? By solving this problem, you could potentially increase customer satisfaction by helping them not missing appointments etc. It can also be beneficial from both a marketing point-of-view and increased word of mouth through social media due to happier customers.


Tips for writing a better problem statement

There are a few key elements that should help you with writing a clear problem statement.

  1. Describe how things should work
  2. Explain the problem and why it matters
  3. Explain your problem's costs
  4. Substantiate your claims
  5. Propose a solution.
  6. Explain the possible benefits of your solution(s)
  7. Conclusion by summarising the problem and solution(s)


Describe how things should work.

The best way to start is by providing some context to make it easier to understand the problem. You can do this by describing how your process should work before having the knowledge of having a problem. For example, if your problem is that you cannot send out email reminders, describe how the process should look like constantly, keeping in mind the 'who, what, when, where, and why’.

Explain the problem and why it matters.

Now that you have described how things should work, find out what is not working in your process or product by defining the problem statement. A problem statement shouldn't just address the problem but also WHY it's a problem and why it has to be solved.

For example:

Psychologists spend 70% of their time on administrative work, which could also be spent better on helping more patients.

Why should we fix this problem? Because psychologists spend 70% of their time on administrative work, fewer patients are getting help, and there is work overload, employees are unsatisfied with their work. This addresses what the problem is, who is affected and why the problem should be fixed.

Explain your problem's costs.

When you want to state and convince decision-makers, it can be beneficial to explain the costs of not fixing it. This can be on a financial or experience/emotional level.

In the example above, it would be a combination of the financial costs, patients’ health, and employees’ happiness. But the easiest way to frame and state a problem in most business cases is focusing on the actively unnecessary costs. By precisely making that point to decision-makers, they are more likely to fix this problem. Try to make it exactly clear how much unnecessary money is being lost to this specific problem.

Substantiate your claims

When it's clear your claims, you must be ready to provide and show enough evidence to support your claims. This is a vital step to be taken seriously. Make sure you do the research required and state the facts that prove your claim.

Propose a solution

Making a suggestion or multiple suggestions on how to solve the problem provides more opportunities for your business, product, or users. It's important you clarify what the best solution is and why it will help fix this specific problem. At this stage, you aren't going to find a single solution, but the root of the problem should be clear; with this information, you can focus on finding more practical solutions and approaches.

Explain the benefits of your solution(s)

By now, you have made a good claim about the problem, what the drawback is if the problem wouldn't be fixed, and which approaches would lead to the best solution(s). The next step would be giving a good insight into how the solution(s) would work, focusing on the impact of the costs and efficiency. Give a good insight on how much the cost will decrease, how much the client satisfaction would increase, and/or other intangible benefits.

Conclusion by summarising the problem and solution(s)

In this final step, it's important to summarize the problem, why it needs to be fixed and why your solution(s) is the best answer to the problem. Summarise how your service/product will have a positive impact on the problem and its users.

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