I've heard it said, "To learn a new truth read an old book." Today I want to tell you about an essential conversational skill that I learned from an out-of-print book that I absorbed many years ago. What I learned positively impacts my design leadership work to this day.
The skill described in this book is a proven game-changer for me as I face the predictable challenges that occur in leading groups of people on the journey of product and solution design. It also measurably improves my ability to connect with people in my personal life.
Anyone can learn this skill. Mastering it is a lifelong and worthy pursuit. It provides a clearer understanding of issues and what to do about them. As a result, design conversations stay on track when issues occur. They get identified with greater understanding...and they get resolved.
If you want more confidence in how to handle issues when they occur, the life skill taught in an out-of-print book, and that I introduce in this video, will absolutely help you in your work and throughout your life.
The big takeaways
Why a Problem Statement Is Important
A problem involves a person in the context of a specific predicament. The problem is the target, the raison d'être, for any solution and, by extension, solution designer/marketer.
A person experiencing a problem expresses it through an emotion. Describing the circumstances that are causing that emotion, in words a user would use however strong or subtle, provides a foundation of empathy through which to envision an ideal solution. It is important to not overlook the emotion because it creates personal resonance with the problem and with the solution being marketed.
From a marketing perspective, borrowing a concept from Pragmatic Marketing, a “market” is a group of people who share the same problem. Therefore, understanding and clearly defining the problem is the cornerstone of any solution to be created and/or marketed. This makes a highly refined problem statement all the more valuable.
Who needs a solution statement? Solution designers need to understand the context under which a problem occurs. The more empathy the designer has for the person experiencing the problem the better. Product managers need to know out of all the problem statements that exist, which ones are urgent and pervasive. That set represents the high potency candidate problems for which to design and market solutions.
How To Create a Problem Statement
Here is an effective way to create a statement that expresses an understanding of the context and the problem so that it informs and influences solution designers and architects.
A problem statement is a sentence or two that contains these descriptive elements:
Mad-Lib Style Templates
To help demonstrate what this might look like in the abstract, her are some templates:
Here are two examples of problems statements based on conversations I've or observations I've had in just the past day:
Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid
Problems Lead to Solutions
Not all problems have solutions. But every problem has a resolution that can be framed, conversationally speaking, in an ideal solution statement, Any marketing conversation naturally goes towards the solution.
Ideal Solution Statement
An ideal solution statement is an aspirational statement expressed in the language of the person experiencing the problem. It provides a target to aim for in terms of value delivered by a solution.
This typically describes an improvement in the quality of life of the person experiencing the problem who employs the solution. It describes the affect of the solution (what it does) without describing the solution (how it does it).
Who needs an ideal solution statement? This description is very useful target for a solutions designer. It influences product design as they develop candidate solutions that aspire to the expressed value. It provides a marketer with clarity of context and guidance to influence product positioning, persona development, user stories, messaging and other product management deliverables.
How To Create an Ideal Solution Statement
An ideal solution statement is a sentence or two that:
Here are ideal solution statements based on the aforementioned problem statements:
Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid
An ideal solution statement can easily feed into agile development practices in the form of a user story. User stories are used in agile application development solutions to as a means of creating backlog for product development.
The canonical form of a user story is: As a _____ I want ____ so that ____.
Here is how our example statements can be transformed into a user story that can be used by an agile development team:
In addition to user stories, the problem statement described herein offers a richer contextual insight for solution designers to understand how the problem is experienced by an envisioned solution user. The combination of a problem statement and an ideal solution statement creates the potential of designers really connecting with the problem and with an understanding of how to design a solution that resonates with the intended user.
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When asked authentically, this three-syllable question creates connectedness, trust and understanding with anyone, even a person you have just met.
This matters because empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is an essential ingredient in the process of designing solutions for people.
How can we understand how others are feeling unless we ask? Asking the question unlocks the potential to observe problems that would otherwise go unobserved. This is a gold mine of understanding for solutions designers.
"How's Your Day?"
So, I routinely ask this question of people because:
So often, our daily existence and interactions are framed by disconnectedness and distrust. Asking this question to someone else is so counter-cultural. Consequently, it produces a measurable shift in the environment and it creates a sense of trust and connectedness.
One of my favorite contexts to ask the question is while getting things done on the phone, standing in line or chatting online.
Try It and See
Understanding how people in the world are feeling is easy. Just ask them. They'll tell you. Listen to them and learn what problems they are experiencing. It will inform your design decisions.
When the woman you are talking with senses that you care enough about her to ask how her day is going, it breathes fresh life into the conversation, even if she is having a bad day. Somehow when you care enough to ask, it reaffirms her humanity and causes her to reflect on how she's feeling.
If we, as solutions designers, practice this kind of authentic caring, listening and learning on an ongoing basis, we tap into a limitless supply of priceless insight for free by simply exercising a common courtesy towards another person.
Your empathy for people and willingness to be vulnerable enough to go there immensely affect your solution design.
Subscribe to my free blog updateseepurl.com/bHSiMX to receive content that vividly describes the techniques and leadership skills that embody the practice of agile design methods. The blog contains not only my ideas on the topic, but the insight of others who actively work and thrive wholeheartedly in the realms of collaborative creativity.
I hope you'll get a lot of benefit from it.
Learn the Art of
Successful Agile Design
(boo'-dro) - I help people design solutions collaboratively using agile design methods. I have 30+ years of experience in designing software solutions and business processes, leading cross-functional process improvement teams as a business analyst, and helping product managers define and position products using Pragmatic Marketing. I am passionate about user experience design, dog training, beating drums in musical ensembles and collaboratively creating with a variety of people.