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Define the problem

It’s critical that you deeply understand and articulate the problem you’re solving. With this deep understanding, you can be comfortable exploring, evaluating, and pivoting to different solutions.

Just as importantly, you need to bring everyone along with you. Your partners and teammates need to agree on the problem you’re tackling and the problems you are not tackling. A well-written problem statement helps align and motivate your team around a common goal, providing focus and keeping distractions at bay.

Considerations: A good problem statement…

  • Defines the overlying problem

  • Surfaces the major challenges, focusing on the pain points that are most frequent, urgent, or encumbering

  • Articulates the impact of the problem, including who the problem affects and how much it affects them

  • Informs decisions about solutions without prescribing a specific solution

  • Inspires key stakeholders to commit to solving the problem

Activities: How to get there

Problem statements can be written at different levels or granularities, and you will likely find yourself defining the problem multiple times over the course of an engagement.

  • Understand the initial problem statement that led to your engagement with the client, and work with the client to periodically revise and refine it based on research.

  • Ask probing questions to uncover symptoms or solutions masquerading as root causes.

  • Draw on user and/or market research to validate pain points.

  • Prioritize pain points and research themes based on frequency, urgency, or impact.

Incorporation: What to do next

  • Document the problem throughout implementation and keep it visible and central. Refer to it regularly to help the team stay focused.

  • Use the problem statement to create the vision.

  • Use the problem statement to surface and resolve possible disagreements among stakeholders.

  • As you absorb new information, regularly reconsider the problem and update as appropriate.

Resources

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18F Product Guide is a product of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, and is managed by 18F.

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