Problem Statement: What It Is And Examples

By Caitlin Mazur - Jul. 19, 2020
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When working on a project or task at work, you likely need to use problem-solving skills. When things get tough, you want to show your employer that you can face challenging or complex circumstances that may arise in your job. That’s why effective problem-solving is such a sought-after skill for many employers.

Honing these skills ensures you can provide your organization with the ability to assess problems efficiently and propose realistic solutions. One of the most essential things in a company is continuously improving the processes that are used day-in and day-out.

The first step to being an effective problem solver is understanding what a problem statement is and how to write one. Writing down a problem statement can help individuals within a business make improvements in how they operate.

Every project you work on should begin with identifying and writing down the problem you hope to solve. When you write it down, you set yourself up for success and ensure that your team is on the same page.

There’s nothing worse than having individuals or even entire teams that are either brainstorming towards a different goal or duplicating efforts because they don’t understand what they’re actually trying to solve. A problem statement can eliminate these challenges by articulating the problem concisely and simply.

What Is a Problem Statement?

A problem statement is an evaluation of an issue expected to be addressed or a specific condition that can be improved upon in a timely manner. The problem statement briefly explains the issue at hand. It should address the current state, the desired future state of the problem, and any gaps identified between the two.

Articulating a problem statement is an important tool to help communicate to your team what they’re trying to solve on any given project. Ensuring everyone on your team understands the problem at hand ensures everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal. It also ensures everyone understands the importance of the project and what, specifically, they’re working towards.

This statement should be entirely objective, free of subjective opinions. This might be difficult, especially if you are living with this problem and have been for a while.

An easy way to approach this is to ask who, what, when, where, and why, and create the structure of your problem statement from there. This will create a logical and sensible problem statement that you can share across your team. By ensuring it’s easy to comprehend, you ensure it’s a feasible solution.

Why Is a Problem Statement Important?

A problem statement is a significant piece of the process for a project that’s reaching for improvement because it will clearly identify goals and outline a clear path for a solution. It will help guide the activities and decisions of people working on the project.

Additionally, if you require funding or buy-in on your project, a problem statement can help a business or organization gain support. This allows stakeholders to verify the problem and goals as accurate and valuable before they provide their support.

A problem statement is a guiding light for any project. It can establish focus and ensure the team stays on task. At the end of the project, a team can look back on the problem statement and any associated metrics and ensure what they’ve accomplished truly solves the problem identified at the start of the project.

It’s important to understand that the problem statement doesn’t define all the details of a solution or tasks necessary to reach that solution. It’s simply the declaration of the problem and the gap between it and the goal you’re looking to achieve.

How to Write a Problem Statement

As one of the most fundamental things necessary to begin a project, you should write the problem statement as accurately and clearly as possible. To that end, there are a few essential elements to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to write your problem statement:

  1. Describe your ideal process. Context is necessary to ensure everyone understands the problem at hand. The best way to articulate this is to describe how the process should actually work if the current issue didn’t exist. Keep the end-user in mind when you’re going through this process.

    Always keep in mind who, what, when, where, and why to keep yourself on track and avoid falling into the trap of including biased opinions rather than facts.

  2. Explain the problem and why it matters. The problem statement should not just include the “what” of the problem, but “why” it’s a problem and why it’s so vital that you develop a solution. Ask yourself, why should we fix the problem?

    This section will address what the problem is, who is affected, and why it needs to be solved. Consider including previous attempts of creative problem solving the issue at hand and why they may not have offered the solution necessary to fix the issue.

  3. Include financial costs. The stakeholders (such as designers, partners, or rate analysts) who analyze your problem statement want to understand the financial implications of the effort. To that end, you’ll want to avoid talking about all the money that needs to be poured into it. Instead, explain how costly it may be if the problem is not fixed.

    Seeing this financial issue will hook some businesspeople, as their efforts are centered around being as cost-efficient as possible. Most likely, the problem at hand is adding more cost to any given project, and it could even damage the company brand or public image.

    So make sure you explain this by putting potential losses front and center. The more specific you can get, the better.

  4. Come with proof. If you’re claiming that the problem is costing the company more money, you need to come up with evidence. You should be prepared for difficult questions and knowing specifics to back up your claims. Do not neglect this step.

    If you come unprepared with this information, your stakeholders or team members might not take your urgency seriously, and you may not be able to solve the problem the way you’d like to. Ensure you do plenty of research, cite all sources, and ensure they are credible.

  5. Propose a solution. Your problem statement should also include your initial proposed solution to the problem. You shouldn’t focus on finding a single executable solution, but you should have a good idea of what is causing the problem and how you imagine solving it will look practically. State the objectives of your solution to really hook your stakeholders.

  6. Give solution benefits. After you’ve pointed out the problem, explained the cost concerns of not solving it, and proposed some solutions, you should demonstrate why your solutions will work.

    Focus on the solution’s efficiency and financial impact and always tie it back to how it will help the organization. Go into details here to explain how the solution will directly benefit the team or company. You should aim to fix this into a single, short paragraph.

  7. Conclude with a summary. The final piece of your problem statement is to conclude by summarizing what you’ve already stated. Summarize the problem, why it needs to be fixed, and a summarized argument of why your solution is the fix.

    This will help ensure the readers that they’ve accurately understood what you’re trying to solve. It will also help you to know when the problem is solved.

Example Problem Statement

Problem statements typically follow a formulaic process. Depending on the complexity of the issue at hand, they can vary widely in length. Here’s an example problem statement to help you draft your own:

Remote workers across the organization should have the tools and means to communicate with their team members and colleagues efficiently and seamlessly, without getting inundated with unnecessary messages.

Currently, messages are overwhelming many of our employees by getting lost through multiple email strings. This hinders productivity across teams and also disables effective communication. We estimate that without relevant and effective communication, employees, on average, are wasting 4 hours of their week trying to prioritize and clean out their inboxes.

We propose that all employees use Google Hangouts for the majority of in-company communication, especially in customer-facing roles. Conversations can be organized by channels and searched for. It allows colleagues to problem-solve in real-time without relying on a cluttered email box. This tool also allows colleagues to call each other quickly for short phone conversations during the workday without needing to schedule calendar time, ensuring communication is more efficient.

In terms of the issue of crowded and cluttered email boxes, we propose the use of Slack for all internal messaging for ease of use and overall efficiency. More formal messaging can be sent via email.

A Second Way to Write a Problem Statement

If that first strategy for writing a problem statement isn’t to your taste, there are other formatting options out there. Some fields and industries prefer to use a problem statement that breaks into four sections:

  1. Ideal. This part’s pretty similar to the method we described above. Start by considering exactly what you want the end result to be in an ideal world. This can also be described as your vision. It’s important to be descriptive but brief, as it should be simple to answer whether the problem has been solved or not at the end.

  2. Reality. Next, describe how things currently stand. Pay special attention to the issues that are standing in the way of your idealized version of the process.

  3. Consequences. Describe what’s at stake. You can go into current losses that the organization is facing due to this unresolved issue or project and predict the future consequences of inaction.

  4. Proposal. Finally, propose a solution. You can also briefly touch on how you’ll check in to ensure progresis being made. Note that you can propose a variety of solutions, as long as you also describe (or have a plan for) how you’ll actually carry each solution out.

Example Problem Statement #2

Ideal: Ideally, our offer for a 1-month free subscription would translate into more long-term subcribers or would lead users to another stage in the sales funnel.
Reality: Currently, only 22% of users who try our 1-month free subscription continue their subscription after the first month. The most common feedback that we receive from users is that our paid service only offers features that they can find for free elsewhere. The second most common response we hear from users is that our interface is unintuitive to use, which plays out in the reality of engagement statistics as well. In particular, users commonly close the app after entering our budgeting page, which has been noted for its clunky design and usability.
Consequences: Subscribers will continue to drop off and it’s likely that long-term subscriptions will continue to be rare if we don’t address the lack of value and usability in our current paid service. If we continue to only hold onto fewer than 40% of users for our subscription service after a 1-month free trial, this project will be a net loss and will likely have to be discontinued in the next 6 months.
Proposal: The product team needs to develop a new budgeting tool that comes with a larger suite of features. At the same time, it needs to be easier to navigate and use, with an interface that feels pleasant and intuitive to use. Customer service managers should also focus on speaking directly to customers on the app store to let them know that we hear their complaints and are working on the improvements they’ve suggested.

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Caitlin Mazur

Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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