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 around 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 causing their feelings in their words, however strong or subtle, provides a foundation of empathy to design an ideal solution. It is essential to recognize the emotion because it produces the personal resonance of the problem context, effectively influencing the thinking about the solution design.
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 Institute, a “market” is a group of people who share the same problem. Therefore, observing, understanding, and clearly describing a problem with resonance is the cornerstone of any solution, making 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 can describe the problem statement by simply transcribing what you have observed people say in the context of experiencing an issue. That's a preferable way in which to produce a problem statement.
But, if you don't have that form of recall handy or need some help constructing a statement, then some fill-in-the-blank templates 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
A common pitfall when designing a solution is rushing too quickly into describing how providers should implement the solution. A way to avoid that pitfall is to describe the solution's effect on the person instead of explaining how to solve the problem.
An ideal solution statement avoids this pitfall by informing and influencing solution designers and architects on what is needed while respecting their role in designing how to solve the solution.
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. Developers use user stories in agile solution development to create a backlog for product development.
The user story that is widely practiced in agile communities reads like this:
Here is how our example ideal solution 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 their envisioned solution user experiences the problem.
Combining a problem statement with the 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 enhances the ability of a product manager to strategically position the solution in the market, communicating with resonance through marketing channels and sales efforts.
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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.
Subscribe to my free blog updates 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.
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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.