Effective Problem Solving with a Problem Statement

On an ongoing project or task, you will likely need to solve problems with some unique skillset and methodology. When things get tough, you may want to show your employer the complex challenge that might arise in your job. This is where effective problem-solving skills shine and makes it one of the most sought-after talents for many employers.

In general, a problem statement outlines negative points of the current situation and explains why it matters. It serves as a communication tool to help you get buying and build support from other business entities.

1. What is a Problem Statement?

As per Wikipedia, a Problem Statement is a concise description of issues that need to be addressed by problem-solving teams and should be presented to them (or created) before they try to solve the problem.

In simple words, it’s a thinking process that takes before carrying out a task to avoid any mishaps during the solution’s process.

A good problem statement should answer questions such as:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who has the problem?
  • Where does the problem occur?
  • When does the problem occur?
  • What does the problem impact?

“[A user] needs [need] in order to accomplish [goal].” 

With this basic formula, you can add information and arguments in favor of solving your problem.

Peter Peterka, a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, emphasizes the importance of facts and research within your problem statement. He focuses on, “Your problem statement can be very clear and simple, starting out as one or two sentences, but will be backed with data, research, and insights into the problem.”

2. What should a good problem statement look like?

A good problem statement should be:

  • Concise – The simpler your problem statement, the clearer the outcome. A reader of the project statement should be able to say, “YES, I UNDERSTAND IT!” on the first read.
  • Specific – The problem statement should be precise, to the point, and should convey directly to the reader.
  • Measurable – Problems should be regulated with frequencies or degrees. Using such which render easy clarifications of defining goals of the problem statement.
  • Impacted Audience – The problem statement should identify the affected population.

3. How to develop an effective Problem Statement?

Every team develops its own processes to create effective problem statements. The process is very flexible. You can arrange it according to your liking and your business methodology. But there’s one methodology that stands out the most — The 5 Whys.

4. What are the 5 whys?

The 5 Whys is one of the most effective techniques for Root Cause Analysis (learn more about RCA in our previous blog). Every team which faces hurdles in their task can utilize the 5 Whys approach to find the root cause of any problem and protect the process from recurring mistakes and failures.

5. How to Complete a Five Whys Root Cause Analysis?

  1. Begin with a specific problem. Find the issue you are facing. This will resolve your team to pinpoint the common root cause problem.
  2. Ask why the problem happened and write the solution down to the specific problem you listed.
  3. Keep asking WHY? to each of the succeeding problems and to its answers until you reach the root cause of the problem.
  4. Make sure the team manages to resolve all the Whys? To the problems and their solutions. This may take some time due to the detailed filtration of the entire flow.

6. The Five Whys Tools

The easiest approach to conduct the 5 Whys is to simply write down on a piece of paper. However, for a bigger project, you may require something more than a piece of paper. The Fishbone or the Ishikawa diagram can help during the initial process of identifying the problems. Learn more about the Ishikawa diagram in one of our many Six Sigma-related blogs. Gather all of the root-cause relationships and assess which of them had a greater impact on the original problem.

Closing Thought

With an entire walkthrough of the problem statement and its approaches, you should have a concise and well-balanced Problem Statement ready for your next brainstorming session. The process for it is unambiguous and assumptions are null. The process is an open field of opportunities to find problems to its core. It provides the foundation for the team to begin work towards solutions that truly fit.

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