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What is a Problem Statement?

If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”- Albert Einstein.  A Problem Statement is a description of what user issue you are trying to address. Although the word “problem” does normally does normally provoke a negative connotation, the problem statement does not have to be a pain point. It can also be a goal your user is trying to achieve through your product/site/service.

Why Create a Problem Statement?

You can’t solve a problem until you’re asking the right question. Imagine you are designing and building a custom house, but you don’t know the needs or desires of the buyer. Or maybe you are making a wedding cake, but you don’t know the amount of guests or even favorite flavor or allergies of the bride and groom. You wouldn’t get very far. In order to help your user meet their goals or solve their frustrations, you must first understand what the problem is. The problem statement provides you with a clear focus for your product, service or site and aligns your efforts to your user’s needs.

How to Create a Problem Statement

There are different ways that you can address a problem statement including using the “How Might We” method. However the key points to remember are that the problem statement should no address more than one problem, should not assign cause or blame and should not offer a solution. The purpose of this statement is to define the issue and based on the statement develop innovative solutions. One way to create your problem statement is to answer the following questions:

  • What would be the Model Situation?

    •  Inform your audience of the model situation. This gives context to the issue and frames the problem so that the audience can better understand what it is.

  • What is a Brief Summary of the Problem?

    • Compare the current state with the model situation. Pinpoint the condition that is keeping the current state from being ideal.

  • What are the Symptoms of the Problem?

    • Inform your audience of what is happening and where is it occurring.

  • What are the Parameters of the Problem?

    • Describe the size and scope of the issue.

  • What are the Consequences?

    • Detail who this is affecting. Quantify how the current state affects the users as well as the organization. Also detail the consequences if this state continues.

  • What about Other Research?

    • If you are still conducting research, elaborate on what you are doing. Provide the stipulation, that your understanding of the problem may change based on new information ascertained during said research.

Once you answer these questions. Compile the information to create your problem statement.


Developing Problem Statements

This clip is provided by Gregg Learning  |  Published on Apr 19, 2016

Problem Framing in Design Thinking

InFocus Podcast with Dr. Sara Beckman | UC Berkeley Executive Education,  Published on Apr 19, 2016