As a solution designer or marketer, tuning into the context and experience of a person in a predicament is fundamental. There is no side-stepping these questions:
A cogent, well-crafted problem statement answers these questions and provides clarity of context to solution designers and product marketers.
Why a Problem Statement Is Important
A problem involves a person in the context of a specific predicament. The problem is the raison d'être for any solution under consideration, and by extension, the gold for which the solution designer is mining.
A person experiencing a problem expresses it through 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. A problem statement depicts the moment of opportunity when a transformational solution would make all the difference in a person's quality of life.
Problems Lead to Solutions
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 or set of statements all the more valuable.
Who needs or uses problem statements?
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 a small set of sentences that includes these descriptive elements:
Actual Statements and Mad-Lib Styled Templates
You may be fortunate and have the ability to describe the problem statement by simply transcribing what you have actually observed people say in the context of experiencing a problem. That's a preferable way in which to produce a problem statement.
But, if you don't have that form of recall handy, or if you need some help constructing a statement that can be easily understood, then some fill-in-the-blank templates might prove helpful to help demonstrate what this looks like.
To that end, here are some Mad-Lib styled templates:
Here are two examples of problems statements based on conversations I've had and observations I've had in just the past day:
Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid
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 to Use 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 as a means of creating a backlog for product development.
The user story that is widely practiced in agile communities reads like this:
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 increases the potential for designers and architects to empathize with the problem. This insight improves their ability to design a solution that resonates with the intended user. It also improves the ability for a product manager to strategically position the solution in the market, communicating with resonance through marketing channels and sales efforts.
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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.
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Nestled in each of these statements is a description of the motivation for the envisioned change or needed solution. The envisioned end result exists to bring about some desired future state.
Captain Obvious stuff, for sure. However, my guidance is directed at the more fledgling officers who so easily and routinely fall into the following easily avoidable pitfall.
Beware: The Pitfall of Using Solution Language
Now, consider the following cross-checking questions as it pertains to these statements:
Now, imagine you are a solutions designer trying to solve for one statement or the other.
A designer's choices are severely limited by statement #1 whereas statement #2 leads to further exploration in discovering important notions that drive design clarity:
Understanding "Why" Matters More Than Describing "How"
Users want solutions that cater to them. If you bring them a solution that does not respect who they are, it will not resonate with them and will ultimately not be a viable solution to their problem.
Solution designers want a clear description regarding the problem, who it affects and what the envisioned benefits of the ideal solution entail. Thy need this so that they can define a solution with respect for who it is for and how it affects them. If you bring them a solution statement, you have disrespected their opinion.
Don't disrespect users and solution designers by leading them by the nose to your envisioned solutions.
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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 solutions with people.