Every great company exists to solve problems. The solution may be a product or service that makes other people’s lives better to the point that they are willing to exchange their money for the benefit and value you offer them. Therefore, you need a problem statement for every product and service you provide. The more accurately you articulate the problem, the more valuable the solution will be.
In addition to guidance, a problem statement also provides several concrete benefits to your team, from gaining access to resources to building executive support. A problem statement allows you to lobby for resources around a single idea and build company buy-in with peers and stakeholders, writes Eshna Verma at Simplilearn. While your company may have multiple issues that need to be addressed, the problem statement identifies the primary one that you will focus on. Additionally, if multiple teams are working on various problems, each problem should have its own statement.
“How a problem is framed or described can determine the kinds of options considered to address the problem, stakeholders’ perceptions of its importance and the achievement of the desired solution,” says Paloma Cantero-Gomez, CEO at YouthProAktiv. “Answering the right problem in the right way thus depends 95% on the correct framing of it.”
This applies to internal-facing teams trying to improve processes and customer-facing teams trying to create the right products for their markets.
An effective problem statement is an invaluable tool for communication, especially with long, technical, or detailed projects. A problem statement originates both a boundary and path for your project team–-it becomes the basis for developing your scope and guiding your approach. It provides context and focus for the project, resulting in improved alignment, collaboration, and solidarity among team members.
From a good problem statement, you understand at a minimum:
- The Subject: the specific object or population of interest
- The Gap or Expectation: the difference between the current state and the ideal state
- The Impact: why it is important
What is Your Problem Worth to Me? (Value in the Problem Statement)
When it comes to creating a problem statement, including the “subject” and the “gap” is usually intuitive, but the “impact” component is sometimes missed. Isn’t it essential to put a value to your problem? After all, while companies typically revere employing structured scientific methods, they do not always want to invest in a project just for “science’s sake.” Your problem statement should be compelling and identify some type of payback for your company and your customer.
The impact of the gap between the current and ideal situations has some value to the stakeholders. That value could be financial, health, product longevity, etc.
As part of your problem statement, you should address questions like:
- What are the costs if we cannot find a permanent corrective action and cease paying for containment?
- How will our industry rating be affected if this warranty issue is not solved?
- What will we get in return for this investment?
Treat your problem statement as a proposal you are trying to sell. You need to convince yourself and your stakeholders that it is worth the investment. Since there is no shortage of issues or projects to work on, make sure the one you are exploring is worthwhile and a priority. Quantify the value of solving your problem.
Planning is an essential part of any journey. The problem statement guides your actions. It sets your goals for work and ties all the operations within the organization together.
In many ways, the problem statement is the heart of your concept. It is what intrigues people about the rest of your business and ultimately becomes the focal point for everything you build. Building an excellent case for your problem is not just about stating the problem; it is about creating an engaging story around that problem that people can empathize with personally.
An exceptional problem statement has a lot more character to it. It tells more of a story and provides an emotional connection to the solution. Building a better story takes more effort, but the payoff is real because you can draw your audience into your world and get them excited about your journey.
Here is how you can start:
Pick the biggest problem. There is a good chance that your product solves multiple problems, and that is wonderful. However, right now, it is time to lead with just one of them–-the most significant problem you solve.
Pump up the pain. Not all problems are created equal. The pain of the problem is proportional to the value of the solution. The more painful the problem, the more influential the solution. It is not necessary to be addressing a life-threatening issue to make it powerful. You need to focus on the detail of the pain in your problem. Even “convenience” can be presented very differently if it is not given enough character.
Make your story relatable. As humans we are emotional, so we connect with things we relate to. The vision for your product should be no different. The more your audience can relate to your story, the better they will understand it and want to connect to it.
Constructing the Problem Statement
Now that you have a sense for how to pick your problem, focus the pain, and build a story around it, we can deliberately construct our problem statement:
Step 1: Biggest Problem
Determine the most prominent problem or pain point your product can relieve. While doing this, it is essential to know who your ideal customer is.
Step 2: Pump up the Pain
Dig deep into all the ways that this problem causes pain for your customers.
Step 3: Tell a Story
We then build a story around who feels that pain and how it was something our audience can relate to.
Even though you know the elements of a good problem statement, it is still possible to articulate this poorly. Just assume the first 20 times you pitch this problem (maybe a lot more!), you are going to refine it. Do not try to get the definitive version right out of the gates–it is nearly impossible.
If you really want to get creative, you could try to build a story behind who is frustrated by using a character or a relatable scenario. This is helpful but not a requirement. If it does not feel like adding a character tells the story better, leave it out. Less is always more if it gets the job done.
The goal of the problem statement is not only to garner the attention of your audience, but it also serves to make the solution look amazing. Next, we will dig into the solution; but mind you, we will be tweaking each element – problem, solution, and market size – as we go. Iteration is our friend here!
Once you have articulated the problem, your next step is to discuss how your solution fixes that problem beautifully. Doing this requires just as much effort to keep the answer short and punchy as the problem statement. Many leaders presume their audiences already understand why a product is essential. They want to rush into their demo. Take a moment to make sure your audience recognizes your solution’s value before you crack open your laptop and start your demo! Sell the trick, then perform it!
Connect Directly to the Problem
Your problem statement should set the stage for your solution to shine. We want our solution statement to connect directly to that problem before we get into any other part of the solution. Make the correlation for your customer; do not let them guess. A problem statement communicates the value of what you are doing and delivers value by promoting efficiency.
Why Are Problem Statements Important?
A clear problem statement can help you build a team of engaged employees and invested stakeholders to solve the issue.
What Does Your Problem Statement Need?
Even managers who believe in the power of problem statements have a hard time drafting them. While the process seems simple at face value, creating a problem statement requires insight and research to be effective.
Problem statements are typically made up of three parts: a user, a need, and a goal, describes Sarah Gibbons, chief designer at Nielsen Norman Group.
The basic form is: “[A user] needs [need] in order to accomplish [goal].”
Your problem statement can be extremely clear and straightforward, starting as one or two sentences, but should be backed with data, research, and insights into the problem. A vague problem statement will not let you get to the root of the issue, and clear facts will not win people over to make a change.
Shona McCombes at Scribbr says problem statements also need to address why something must be solved. What is the purpose of putting time and energy into finding a solution? Identifying this will be valuable in driving stakeholder buy-in. If you can tie facts into the benefits of solving the problem to prove an ROI, you will be able to win your management team.
Most stakeholders and team members will not read anything beyond the basic problem statement, but you will need insights into how the statement was developed to lobby for your cause.
In identifying the problem, you may want to use the “5 Whys” method. You ask why something is a problem. You then ask why about the answer to the previous problem. You repeat this until you have asked five questions, generally getting you to the root cause of the problem
By the time you drill down to the last five questions, you can direct the design and branding teams to create signage for individual locations to help customers. The problem statement becomes much more concrete and valuable.
Find your problem, the gap it causes, and the impact. Create your solution for your customers–and thrive.