“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein

“A problem well stated is half solved” — Charles Kettering

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a clear description of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Why write problem statements?

  • Problem statements align efforts toward a common goal.

  • Problem statements clearly define what the goal is.

  • Problem statements increase the solutions potential and it’s possibilities.

  • Problem statements help validate or question untested assumptions.

How to write problem statements?

Here are a few ways to write problem statements.

  1. I am (persona/role) trying to (do X) but (barrier/problem) because (x), which makes me feel (emotion)

    1. I am a mom trying to book a flight ticket home for my daughter, but I don’t know her college schedule, so I am unsure which dates to book for her, which makes me feel frustrated.
  2. I am (a persona/in a situation) who needs a way to (user need) because (current problem)

    1. I am traveling with a group of friends and need a way to coordinate everyone’s schedules so that I can pick the best date/time for everyone
  3. A (user role) who feels (negative feeling) about (reason) needs to (step) but faces (obstacles)

    1. A parent of a young child who feels concerned about **helping with reading skills **needs to ask the kid questions about the book, but faces not sure what questions are age-appropriate.

Mental models for writing problem statements

Here are frameworks for coming up with a problem statement.

  • ‘How Might We’ (HMW) Statements

    • How might we…”, or “What can we do to…” type of questions to encourage thinking creatively during brainstorming all the way up to solution generation.
  • Investigative Stories

    • What… problem are we trying to solve?

    • Who… are our users? What are their goals and motivations?

    • Where… do they have this problem?

    • When… do they have this problem?

    • How… do we know this is a real problem? How will we know if we’ve solved the problem?

    • Why… is it important to solve?

  • Unpacking Assumptions

    • Users want X

    • Users are doing X

    • Users need X

  • The Six Thinking Hats Model

    • White hat: Facts

    • Green hat: Creativity

    • Yellow hat: Benefits

    • Black hat: Risk

    • Red hat: Feelings

    • Blue hat: Process