How to write a problem statement (with 3 examples) (2023)

How to write a problem statement (with 3 examples) (1)

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    We've all had problems at work. After all, that's what a lot of work is about. Solve significant problems to help improve something.

    Developing a problem statement that provides a brief description of a problem you want to solve is an important first step inProblem solving.

    It sounds deceptively simple. But creating an effective problem statement is not that easy, even for a genius likeAlbert Einstein.Given an hour to work on a problem, you would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes finding solutions. (Or so the story goes.)

    Einstein was probably exaggerating to make an observation. But given his success in solving complex problems, we think he was right.

    As humans, we are hardwired to get past the problem and go straight to the solution stage. In emergencies, this behavior can save lives, such as jumping out of the way of a speeding car. But when it comes to bigger issues in the workplace, it can lead to poor decisions or half-baked solutions.

    This is where problem statements come in handy. They help to meaningfully outline the objectives to come up with effective solutions. Knowing how to develop a big problem statement is also a valuable tool for refining yourmanagement skills.

    But what exactly is a problem statement, when should you use it, and how should you write it? In this article, we'll answer those questions and give you some tips for writing effective problem statements. Then you'll be ready to take on more challenges, big and small.

    What is a problem statement?

    First, let's start by defining a problem statement.

    What is a problem statement?

    A problem statement is a short, clear explanation of a problem or challenge that summarizes what you want to change. It helps you, team members, and other stakeholders focus on the issue, why it matters, and who it affects.

    A good problem statement should raise awareness and encouragecreative thinking. You must not identify a solution or create a bias towards a specific strategy.

    Taking the time to work on a problem statement is a great way to avoid the tendency to rush to solutions. This helps ensure that you are targeting the right issue and have a well-informed understanding of the root causes. The process can also help you make aproactive rather than reactive approach to problem solving. This can help you and your team avoid getting stuck in a constant firefighting mode. That way, you can take advantage of more growth opportunities.

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    When to use a problem statement

    The best time to create a problem statement is before you start thinking about solutions. If you or your team are rushing to the solution stage when you're first discussing a problem, hit the brakes. Go back and review the problem statement to make sure everyone understands and agrees on what the real problem is.

    Here are some common situations where writing problem statements can be helpful:

    • type Aexecutive summaryfor a project proposal or research project
    • collaboratingon a cross-functional project with multiple team members
    • Define the customer problem that a proposed product or service is intended to solve
    • Using design thinking to improve the user experience
    • Resolve an issue that the previous actions could not resolve

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    How to identify a problem statement

    Like the invisible body of an iceberg, the root cause of a specific problem is not always obvious. So when you develop a problem statement, how do you identify the real underlying problem?

    That's it two steps will help you to find out the root cause of a problem:

    1. Gather information from previous research and experience with the problem.
    2. Talk to various stakeholders who are affected by the issue

    People often perceive problems differently. Interviewing stakeholders will help you understand the issue from multiple points of view. It might also help you to develop some case studies to illustrate the problem.

    Combining this insight with research data will help you more accurately identify root causes. In turn, this methodology will help you create a problem statement that will lead to more workable solutions.

    What are problem statements used for?

    You can use problem statements for a variety of purposes. For an organization, it might be solving customer and employee problems. For the government, it may be to improve public health. For individuals, it can mean improving their ownpersonal well-being. In general, problem statements can be used to:

    • Identify opportunities for improvement
    • Focus on the right issues or issues to launch more successful initiatives: aleadership challenge
    • Help you communicate a problem to others who need to be involved in finding a solution.
    • Serve as a basis fordevelopment of an action planor goals that need to be achieved to help solve the problem
    • Encouragethink beyondand other types of creativitybrainstorming techniques

    3 examples of problem statements

    When you want to make sure you understand a concept or tool, it's helpful to see an example. There may also be some differences of opinion about what a problem statement should look like. For example, some frameworks include a proposed solution as part of the problem statement. But if the objective is to stimulate new ideas, it is better not to suggest a solution within the problem statement.

    In our experience, an effective problem statement is short, preferably one sentence. It is also specific and descriptive without being prescriptive.

    While these examples represent three types of problems or goals, remember that there can be many other types of problem statements.

    Problem statement #1: Status quo problem statement

    Example: The average wait time for customer service at XYZ Company exceeds five minutes during peak and off-peak seasons.

    This can be used to describe a current pain point within an organization that may need to be addressed. Note that the statement specifies that the problem occurs during slow business hours as well as peak seasons. This is useful for performing root cause analysis and determining how this issue can be resolved.

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    Problem statement #2: Target problem statement

    Example: The leaders of XYZ Company want to increase the net income of their premium product line by 5% in the next fiscal year.

    This approach can be used to describe where an organization wants to be in the future. This type of problem statement is useful for launching initiatives that help an organization reach a desired state.

    I like to createmetas SMART, you want to be as specific as possible. Note that the statement specifies "net income" rather than "gross income". This will help keep options open for possible actions. It also makes clear that simply increasing sales is not an acceptable solution if higher marketing costs outweigh net profits.

    Problem Statement #3 Stakeholder Problem Statement

    Example: In the last three quartersemployee engagement surveys, less than 30% of XYZ company employees say they feel valued by the company. This represents a drop of 20% compared to the same period of the previous year.

    This strategy can be used to describe how a specific stakeholder group views the organization. It can be useful to explore problems and possible solutions that affect specific groups of people.

    Note that the statement makes it clear that the problem has been present in multiple surveys and is significantly worse than the previous year. When investigating root causes, the HR team should focus on factors that have changed from the previous year.

    What are the 5 components of a problem statement?

    When developing a problem statement, it helps to think like a journalist, focusing on the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why or how. Note that each declaration may not explicitly include each component. But asking these questions is a good way to ensure you're covering the key elements:

    • Who: Who are the stakeholders affected by the issue?
    • What: What is the current state, desired state, or unmet need?
    • When: When is the problem occurring or what is the time period involved?
    • Where: Where is the problem occurring? For example, are you in a specific department, location or region?
    • Why: Why is this important or worth addressing? How is the issue impacting your customers, employees, other stakeholders, or the organization? What is the magnitude of the problem? How big is the gap between the current and desired state?

    How do you write a problem statement?

    There are many frameworks designed to help people write a problem statement. An example is described in the book,The Conclusion Trap: Four Steps to Making Better Decisionsby Daniel Markovitz. A faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, the author uses many case studies from his work as a business consultant.

    To simplify the process, we divided it into three steps:

    1. Gather data and observe

    Use data from surveys and reports, as well as facts from direct observation, to answer the five W's: who, what, when, where and why.

    Whenever possible, go out into the field and speak directly with stakeholders affected by the issue. Get to know the environment and the work team closely. This could mean spending time on the shop floor asking employees questions about their work and its challenges. Or take customer service calls to learn more about customer pain points and issues your employees may be dealing with.

    2. State the problem correctly

    A well-framed problem will help you avoidcognitive biasand open avenues for debate. It will also encourage exploration of more options.

    A good way to test a problem statement for bias is to ask questions like these:



    Does the problem seem to have only one possible solution?

    Look for ways to reframe it to open up more possibilities.

    Does the statement describe a symptom rather than the problem?

    Dig deeper to the root cause.

    Does the statement suggest that the problem is that you don't have enough time, money, or people?

    Find a way to present the problem that leads to more creative solutions.

    Does the problem statement lack an obvious solution?

    Big! You're probably ready to start exploring solutions.

    Does the statement encourage brainstorming and discussion?

    Good work! Continue the discussion by asking why.

    3. Keep Asking Why (and Check Progress)

    When it comes to troubleshooting, be curious. lean on yourgrowth mindsetto continue asking why and checking progress.

    Ask why until you are satisfied that you have discovered themain causeof the problem will help you avoid ineffective band-aid solutions.

    When solving any kind of problem, you are likely to have a number of questions. To comprehensively understand the root cause of the issue at hand, your workforce must remain curious.

    At BetterUp, this idea of ​​continuous improvement relies on curiosity. We know that organizations around the world face difficult and complex challenges. From economic uncertainty andfire employeesuntil the hiring freeze, change is constant.

    It's important to stay curious, listen carefully, and understand the root of the problem. By scratching the surface of a problem, you won't solve it effectively.

    An effective problem statement creates the space you and your team need to explore, gain input, and buy-in before taking action.

    If you've embarked on a proposed solution, it's also important to understand that solutions are malleable. There may not be a single best solution. Solutions can also change and adapt as external factors change. It is more important than ever thatorganizations stay agile. This means that interactive logs are essential for solving difficult problems. By keeping a good pulse on your course of action, you'll be better equipped to pivot when it's time to switch.

    BetterUp can help. with access tovirtual training, your people can get personalized support to help solve tomorrow's tough issues.

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    Posted on November 17, 2022

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