How to Craft the Perfect Problem Statement

Posted by TJ on 28 July 2023
A mock up of a form to create a good quality problem statement.

Writing a well-structured problem statement is mission-critical for efficient and creative problem solving. It brings clarity to the issue, provides a focused approach (mitigating scope creep!), ensures shared understanding in teams, guides solution generation, enhances creativity, and helps in the evaluation of potential solutions.

Even though Voyce is great at shaping up the problem statement for you, it does still require some practice to master. Once you've honed this skill, it will aid everyone in your team not only to properly understand the problem but generate truly out-of-the-box ideas & solutions.

Before we jump into the examples, let's briefly break down each part of the problem statement and discuss what makes it effective:

  • When I am: This is the context or situation. It's important to be specific here. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to understand the problem and come up with a targeted solution. It's not just about the physical location, but also what you're doing, what your goals are, and any relevant factors that are impacting your situation.
  • I want to: This is the goal or desired outcome. Again, specificity is key. What exactly do you want to achieve? The clearer you can be about your ideal outcome, the easier it will be to evaluate potential solutions and decide whether they would actually solve your problem.
  • So I can: This is the benefit or value that achieving your goal will bring. It's your motivation for wanting to achieve the goal. Why is your goal important? What will you be able to do if you achieve it? Understanding the "why" behind your goal can help to keep you motivated and make your problem statement more compelling.
  • But I can't because: This is the barrier or obstacle that's preventing you from achieving your goal. Be clear and honest about what's standing in your way. The better you understand your obstacles, the better you can plan how to overcome them.

Ok! Let's look at 8 examples of bad, and good problem statements!

Example 1

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am at home,
  • I want to relax,
  • So I can rest,
  • But I can't because I'm tired.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am coming home after a long day at work,
  • I want to have an easy, stress-free way to unwind and disconnect,
  • So I can rejuvenate and be productive the next day,
  • But I can't because I lack a dedicated relaxing space and tools such as a massage chair or noise-canceling headphones.

Example 2

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am on my computer,
  • I want to avoid losing files,
  • So I can keep everything,
  • But I can’t because it's hard.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am using my computer for work,
  • I want to ensure that all my files are backed up automatically,
  • So I can restore them quickly in case of hardware failure or accidental deletion,
  • But I can’t because the existing software solutions are too complex to configure and I don't have the technical know-how.

Example 3

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am booking a flight,
  • I want to find what I need,
  • So I can book it,
  • But I can't because the app is hard to use.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am using a travel booking app,
  • I want the search filters to be easy to adjust and understand,
  • So I can find the best flights suited to my needs,
  • But I can't because the app's filter options are confusing and difficult to manipulate.

Example 4

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am working,
  • I want to finish my work,
  • So I can go home,
  • But I can't because I have too much work.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am dealing with multiple projects at work,
  • I want to effectively prioritize and manage my tasks,
  • So I can complete my work within the expected time and maintain a good work-life balance,
  • But I can't because the existing project management tools I have do not provide intuitive ways to visualize and organize my workload.

Example 5

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am in the kitchen,
  • I want to make a meal,
  • So I can eat,
  • But I can't because I don't know how to cook.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am preparing a meal in the kitchen,
  • I want to have easy access to step-by-step cooking instructions and recipes,
  • So I can improve my cooking skills and prepare a variety of meals,
  • But I can't because I lack an interactive cooking guide or app that tailors recipes to my skill level and available ingredients.

Example 6

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am studying,
  • I want to learn things,
  • So I can pass my exams,
  • But I can't because I'm not good at studying.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am studying complex subjects for my exams,
  • I want to have a more engaging and effective learning tool,
  • So I can retain information better and excel in my exams,
  • But I can't because the resources I currently have are text-heavy and lack interactivity, which doesn't suit my learning style.

Example 7

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am shopping online,
  • I want it to be easy,
  • So I can buy stuff,
  • But I can't because it's complicated.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am browsing an e-commerce website,
  • I want to have a clear and streamlined checkout process,
  • So I can quickly and easily complete my purchase,
  • But I can't because the site requires too many steps and the process isn't intuitive.

Example 8

👎 Bad Problem Statement:

  • When I am coding,
  • I want to see changes faster,
  • So I can code faster,
  • But I can't because the server is slow.

👍 Good Problem Statement:

  • When I am developing a web application,
  • I want to be able to quickly see the changes I've made in real-time,
  • So I can ensure the changes are accurate and speed up my development time,
  • But I can't because the current development server takes a long time to refresh.

As you can see, the key difference between the good and bad examples is the level of specificity and clarity. The "bad" examples are vague, lacking depth or detail, and don't give a clear sense of the specific problem. In contrast, the "good" examples are specific, detailed, and clearly outline the issue at hand, making it easier to conceptualize solutions.

Here are some additional tips to make your problem statements effective:

  • Avoid ambiguity: The clearer you are about your situation, goal, benefit, and obstacles, the better. If someone else were to read your problem statement, they should be able to understand exactly what you're dealing with.
  • Focus on needs, not solutions: The purpose of a problem statement is to clearly articulate a problem, not to prescribe a specific solution. You want to be open to all potential solutions, and focusing too early on a specific solution can limit your thinking.
  • Be realistic: Your problem statement should reflect a problem that is actually solvable. If you set a goal that's impossible to achieve or define obstacles that can't be overcome, you'll just end up frustrated and demotivated.
  • Test your problem statement: A good way to test your problem statement is to ask someone else to read it and then tell you what they think your problem is. If their understanding matches yours, you've written a clear problem statement. If not, you may need to clarify or provide more detail.

Remember, a well-crafted problem statement promotes efficient, innovative problem-solving, ensuring effort is directed toward viable, impactful solutions. So keep writing those problem statements - it will pay dividends!

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