Defining the problem
It's critical that you deeply understand the problem you're solving. This means that once you understand the problem, you are comfortable exploring 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 do you 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
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 do you do with it?
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
Links to templates, examples, overview articles, training materials, detailed guidance/instructions, people/channels to reach out to for help, etc
- What is a problem statement: An overview of what is a problem statement, what makes one strong vs weak, and problem statements in the context of our work at 18F.
[Internal, Slide Deck]
- How to build a problem statement (1): A format / exercise for generating problem statements.
[External, web article]
- How to build a problem statement (2): Elements of a good problem statement, along with sample formats and examples.
- How to prioritize problem statements (1): KJ Method, a general prioritization method involving brainstorming, affinity grouping, and ranking (e.g., dot voting).
[External, web page]
- How to prioritize problem statements (2): 2x2 Prioritization Matrix, a method often used to prioritize tasks or backlog items but that can be used more generally to sort items based on factors such as Effort vs Value.
[External, web page]
- How to identify the root cause of a problem: Five Whys, an iterative process for uncovering the root cause underlying the observable problem.