Nobody likes problems. I know I don’t. But being able to define a problem and write a problem statement (and subsequently figure out how to solve it) is an important part of the design process. When you have a problem, it’s likely that other people are having this problem as well. After the problem is defined, then you can write a problem statement and solve your problem.
But what is a problem statement? If your problem is: the Starbucks line is always too long, your problem statement might look like this: The Starbucks like is always too long because people have complicated orders and the baristas are usually short staffed.
A lot of people have difficulty writing problem statements, I like the way that Prototypr describes the way they create problem statements,
“Cramming all the thoughts, stats, facts, and other info you’ve uncovered into a few sentences in the midst of brainstorming loads of ideas about possible solutions can be quite a task. I try to write the problem statement as if I were broadcasting it to my target audience in 140 characters or less.”
Basically think of writing your problem statement as if you were writing a tweet (pre-280 character limit). A good problem statement should be as follows: X is a challenge for Y because Z.
Let’s try writing problem statements with a real life example. In my previous post I talked about Undercover Boss, specifically the episode where Director of Merchandising Kriston goes undercover in the Purdy’s Chocolate Company.
For Kriston, she had to experience multiple different jobs throughout the week that tested various different skills. She was out of her depth and also trying to pay attention to the complaints of the employees while simultaneously taking note of who was doing a good or poor job. For her I’d create a problem statement that goes like this: Adjusting to new jobs is a challenge for Kriston because she is out of her depth and inexperienced.
Later in the episode you meet Kathy. Kathy works in the chocolate factory and wanted to retire but needed to stay in order to pay for her husband’s healthy bills as well as sending her grandson to college. She complains that working long hours without being able to sit is difficult and she has a lot of responsibility. Her problem statement would read as follows: Not being able to retire when she wants is a challenge for Kathy because she is older and has to provide for her whole family.
Next up in the episode you meet Elsa, who fled her home country in a difficult time and has been working in the Purdy’s factory her entire life. During her part we watch her explain that the machines in the factory frequently break down and work stops until they can get repaired. She also goes on to explain that she’s planning on going back to her home country soon to see family she hasn’t seen in a very long time. Her problem statement would sound like this: Being productive at work is a challenge for Elsa because her equipment frequently breaks down and brings work to a stand still.
Later you meet Jess and Alyesha. Both work in the store fronts in malls as salespeople, Jess in a relatively unpopular location and Alyesha in the most popular store location. Jess is extremely passionate and is looking to move up in the company. Alyesha is a “Purdy’s lifer” and plans on staying with the company for life, which makes it difficult to spend time with her father. Jess’ problem statement would read as follows: Moving up in the company is a challenge for Jess because she’s separated from the rest of the popular storefronts. As for Alyesha her problem statement would sound like this: Visiting her father is a challenge for Alyesha because she loves working at her job even though it’s far from him.
Problem statements might seem difficult at first but taking them step by step and considering the needs and wants of the user is a great place to get started. There’s always going to be problems, but this is the first step in solving them.