Crafting well-written problem statements that focus the idea of creation are critical. Albert Einstein said, “If I only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and five minutes finding the solution.” This week, we will discuss combining out of the box thinking with inside the box thinking, and how this can be used to create problem statements and solve your problems.
Well-defined problem statements are freeing because they allow a team to innovate within certain guardrails. The goal of a problem statement is to solve a problem, remove a barrier, or improve an experience. One key characteristic of a problem statement is that it has to be solvable. It's not just about solving the problem but being able to define it within the confines of your resources. Some problem validation questions need to be applied.
Firstly, do you think it is a problem or is it a problem? If you think it's a problem, chances are it might not be. You are not a proxy for your customers. You have to prove that it is a problem by getting feedback from your customers. Secondly, find out how often this problem occurs and how long it has been occurring.
The elements of a problem statement focus on three key areas: who the customer is, what the problem is, and why it is important.
- Who is the customer – Who is the target? Outline the broad or narrow customer segments. You need to define and describe the customer.
- What is the problem – Define the problem that is occurring.
- Why – Find out why it is crucial to solving the problem, and why you are spending time on it.
Let's look at an example of a first draft problem statement. Middletown Hospital's current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatments while substantially reducing the hospital's earning potential and resource efficiency.
Let's try to make this statement more concise. Middletown Hospitals' current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency, substantially reducing the hospital's earning potential and resource efficiency. This statement is better as effectiveness and efficiency stand out, but we can do better.
Middletown Hospitals' current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency, causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatment periods. I think this one is good because it defines the problem and why it is essential, but we're going to try to make it a little better. Up to 40% of critical care patients are experiencing painful extended treatment periods due to low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency of current diagnosis protocols and tools.
The one characteristic seen through these four examples is that they are getting shorter and more precise each time. Spending time thinking about the problem statement and making it efficient and crisp is critical. The example was an actual problem statement used to help an organization for ideation sessions they wanted to host.
Here is a template that I use when crafting my problem statements. The what (describe the problem) effects the who (describe the customer), resulting in (Describe why it's important/what the benefit is).
Box think is doing both inside the box thinking and out of the box thinking. Using this process, an organization can create a complete collection of ideas that lead to better innovations. The first step of box think is to define the problem statement. Secondly, you need to identify your industry/company constraints. What are the operational rules of your company and industry? For inside the box thinking, you want to operate within those constraints. For out of the box, you want to remove those constraints and modify the problem statement accordingly.
Now I am going to walk you through a real example from when I was at HP. Our laptops are highly personal items, therefore, need to be designed and marketed to target demographics to increase sales in next year's peak selling season. The first constraint here was a time constraint. The peak selling season for laptops is the Christmas holiday season. The second constraint was the demographic that was going to be targeted. The product that ended up coming from this problem statement was a digital clutch designed by Vivienne Tam.
It would be best if you took the time to understand the problem before you expect your team to be effective at generating ideas. If you aren't sure what problems to target, you need to ideate on the problems. People tend to seek solutions when they find problems, which can be difficult. You need to ideate problems and then rank them accordingly. Set aside an hour to identify the top one or two problems, which will turn into problem statements. Crank out as many problems that you can find without worrying about solutions. Rank your problems and then allow your team to vote. After you identify your problems, choose the goal and timeline that you will apply to move forward.
To know more about box think and crafting problem statements, listen to this week's show: Box Think – Crafting The Problem Statement.