Problem Statements define the problem a Product is going to solve. They inform Ideation and help create alignment on the Value Proposition at the core of the product. Problem Statements connect information about a particular User or Customer and their situation, the problem they need solved, and why this solution is important to them.
- Concisely describe
- a particular user or customer in a specific situation
- a problem they need to overcome
- a deeper motivations they want to realise
- Clearly define the problem a product needs to solve
- Understand the deeper needs behind this problem
- Number of participants: 3–6
- Time needed: 20–60 mins
- Sticky notes in different colours
- Thick black markers
- Sentence template
Problem Statements help you get clarity and alignment about the problem your product is going to solve. They take information and insights you have generated using Empathy Maps, Personas and Customer Journey Maps, and combine them into concise statements.
You can generate Problem Statements on your own or in groups of 3–6 people using the following sentence template:
………………………… [User/customer in a specific situation] needs ………………………… [problem to be solved] in order to ………………………… [motivation to be realised].
For example, a concrete Problem Statement could look like this:
A father who arrives late at the train station with his kids, who have started crying due to the unfamiliar and busy surroundings, needs to get to the right platform in time in order to catch the next train that would bring him to his parents in time for their anniversary dinner, for which he doesn’t want to be late to not disappoint them.
You can take information about users or customers and their deeper motivations from Empathy Maps and Personas. Specific situations and problems to be solved are described in Customer Journey Maps and the low-points of their mood graphs. Less specific situation and problem descriptions can also be taken from Empathy Maps and Personas.
Concise problem statements are excellent input for ideation methods like “How Might We?” Questions and Design Studios.
- Be as concrete as possible when describing user or customer, situation, problem and motivation. The richer their description, the more material you will have to generate interesting and surprising solutions that don’t narrowly focus on the purely functional or surface aspects of the problem.
- Use sticky notes to capture insights and the components of a statement.
- If you work in a group, give every one time to come up with their own statements or components first before then converging. This opens up a much wider reservoir of descriptions as when starting out with writing collectively.
- Can process output of: Empathy Map, Persona, Customer Journey Map
- Can feed input to: Why-How Laddering, “How Might We?” Questions, Design Studio
In a business context, the use of this method can be implicitly consumerist – Customer-centric means consumerist most of the time. When using the method, it should always be transparent whether the business goal is ultimately about creating new consumer needs or about improving how existing problems are being solved.
Similarly, reducing people to the user or customer roles is a de facto ideological manoeuvre. When using the method, the personas explored should be accorded full humanity.
Problem Statements, also called “Points of View”, are a format from Design Thinking. In a Design Thinking process, they are used to frame a problem before going into ideation, to define the point of view from which solutions are being sought.
In the original format, the “motivation” part is called “insight”, highlighting the connection to user research, but also to older, marketing-driven processes. In the many available format descriptions, “insight” is sometimes interpreted as “the information we have”, sometimes as “the user’s goal”. Calling the third part “motivation” aims to capture that it is specifically about –sometimes surprising – insights into the deeper needs of the person(a) under consideration. To clearly delineate the second part from that, I call it “problem”, not “need” – it is about the specific task at hand or obstacle to overcome in order to realise their motivation.
Locating Problem Statements in a wider intellectual context, they can be seen as Thick Descriptions of a problematic situation.