Problem Statement

A problem statement is a clear, concise, and specific description of a problem that needs to be addressed through the design process. The problem statement serves as a guide for the project team and helps them to focus on the right problem and develop effective solutions.

A well-crafted problem statement helps the project team stay focused on the problem and ensure that the solutions developed are relevant and effective. It also helps ensure that the team understands the problem and its impact on users and the business.

Writing problem statements at the beginning of the discovery process can create alignment and buy-in around the problem to be solved and provide direction in subsequent discovery activities. To construct problem statements, focus on who the problem affects, how it does so, and why it’s important to solve it.

The background of a problem. Which organization or department has the problem, and what is the problem? Why has the problem arisen? Note that in some cases, you may not know the exact causes of the problem. This is what discoveries are for to uncover root causes. (In this case, you may add this aspect once you’ve done your research)

The people affected by the problem. Multiple user groups could be affected by a specific problem in different ways. In the problem statement, you should call out how the problem affects users. In some cases, internal employees (particularly customer-support staff) can be affected by a problem, as they often bear the brunt of poor user experiences—- for example, by handling disgruntled customers.

The impact of the problem on the organization. If the problem is not fixed, what will be the effect on the organization? Reputational damage? Paying unavoidable costs? Losing out-of-market share? Sometimes, you may want to quantify the impact to convince your organization to fix the problem. Your discovery could involve determining how much this problem costs the organization, and this information could end up in your problem statement.

To gather the relevant facts for your problem statement, you can use a simple framework called the 5w2h, which involves answering the questions below. This activity can be included in a discovery kick-off workshop with your team and stakeholders.

  1. Who is affected by the problem?
  2. What is the problem?
  3. Where does this problem occur?
  4. When does the problem occur?
  5. Why does the problem occur? Why is the issue important?

If you don’t have all the answers to the above, don’t panic! While you should know what the problem is, you may not know exactly why it came about. Your discovery should tackle this. Throughout the discovery process, you can return to your problem statement and add to it.

Problem statements must be written well to serve their purpose. A problem statement should:

It should not be a laundry list of unrelated problems. A discovery effort should have one problem statement, and the problem statement should be focused on one problem. Of course, a single problem could cause further problems, and those related problems can be added to your problem statement. But listing many unrelated problems is a sign that you’re tackling too much.

Do not include a solution. Leave solutions out of your problem statement. There are too many unknowns at the beginning of discovery, so the best solution is not obvious. At the end of your discovery, you’ll be in a good position to confidently present solution ideas that address the problem and consider what you’ve learned.

Be brief. Problem statements are effective when they are concise. If you can condense your problem statement into a few sentences, others will quickly understand what you focus on, why, and what’s out of scope. Spend some time drafting and redrafting the problem statement with your team.

Practical Example

Problem: Customers are abandoning the checkout process on an e-commerce website, decreasing sales and revenue.

Problem Statement: Our e-commerce website is experiencing a high cart abandonment rate during checkout, impacting our sales and revenue. User research shows users are frustrated with the long and complex checkout process, resulting in an unsatisfactory shopping experience. We aim to simplify the checkout process, reduce cart abandonment, and improve the shopping experience. Success criteria include a 20% increase in completed transactions and a 15% increase in customer satisfaction ratings.