Why create a problem statement?

Do you need to focus a team or develop better understanding of an issue? Create a problem statement. Do you want to be known as a high-performing manager? Get very good at creating problem statements. (Note: This is different than the sometimes annoying practice of identifying problems and dropping them in someone else's lap.)

Most people are not very good at defining and communicating problems. More are better at vaguely describing an issue they expect someone else to solve. Ironically, the problem definition describes the reason to spend time or resources trying to correct something. And, it may be the thing that determines if the change you are trying to make is successful.

Most problem solving in business involves more than one person. Employees, staff, and suppliers are often all involved in a problem and its solution. And, most of us are 99% busy, 100% of the time.

You are competing for the attention of everyone all the time.

Some advertisements do a very good job at creating problem statements. (Note: Advertisers use pictures and words to make their cases...problem solvers can learn something from them.) Some advertising attempts are very compelling.

Most good advertising works because it reaches past reason and speaks to an emotion. It makes us laugh, cry, or get angry. In thirty seconds, the good ones get right to the point. And, they get past the filters in our brains that work to limit the information that gets in.

A good problem statement gets people's attention. It doesn't waste their time. And, it gets right to the point.

How to Write a Good Problem Statement

  1. Identify your audience. Your presenting problem could mean different things to different people. And, unless you live in a vacuum, you will need others to understand and care. Start by understanding the perspective of your audience.

  2. Know the problem very well. Go see what is actually happening. Talk to key people involved. Gather as much information as you can.

  3. In writing, answer these questions: What is happening? What is the effect? How do you know? When does it happen? Where does it happen? Why is it important?

  4. Go see again. Take your answers and go observe again. Confirm or modify your answers to the questions in #3.

  5. In two sentences or less, describe what you have learned. Describe only one problem. Use tone and language approriate for your identified audience. Do not suggest a solution.

  6. In a sentence or two, describe what you want. What should be happening? Let yourself answer the question: "Wouldn't it be great if __________?" Create a picture of the future condition that allows others to see, feel, and understand the situation when it is improved.

  7. Combine your answers to #5 and #6. Keep it clear and concise.

  8. Take your statement and share it with people who know about the problem. Also share it with people who have no idea what you're talking about. Ask them what they undestand after reading it.

  9. Revise it if you learn more.

A lot of evidence exists that a well-defined problem is easier to solve. A good problem statement can help others understand and cause better brainstorming.

As a manager or leader, your primary goal should be clear communication of purpose. Understanding what you want and why you want it is most important. The reality is that people are not used to simplicity and clear communication of issues and expectations. These steps guide you to both. Your approach will look and sound different- and the filters in people's brains are more likely to let what you are saying in.

What do you do with your problem statement now that it's written? Decide that you will solve the problem you described. Then, share it...a lot.

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