Writing a problem statement helps you define your goals, boundaries, constraints, and assumptions when faced with a challenging project.
One of my favorite critical thinking and problem solving tools is a good problem statement. You should never just take a problem and rush off in a general direction, thinking you’re going to come up with a solution that will satisfy the needs of your requester. If you don’t know the destination, you’re going to get lost. It’ll take you a long time to get there. The corollary here is with your problem solving and critical thinking. You need to know what that destination is. What is success for your problem solving?
Your problem statement defines that endpoint. Without a problem statement, you’re going to spend a lot of wasted hours, wasted work, and have excessive revisions because your recommendation won’t make sense. Nobody will know what you’re trying to solve for. When you put together a good problem statement, it becomes your charter for your critical thinking efforts. It’s going to spell out your goals. It will lay out boundaries on the problem solving space. It will define success criteria. Your problem statement should spell out the constraints you’re going to face. It should articulate your assumptions, who the stakeholders are, and any timelines that you’re going to face.
I have one client organization that didn’t spend the time laying out their problem statement. They ended up with major issues for their charter for a huge technology project. Because the team was trying to solve all different problems, they didn’t have clarity on what the ultimate goal was, what the metrics were, who the stakeholders needed to be, and what the boundaries were for the space they were trying to solve in. This led the team to write a lot of code, have multiple revisions, and multiple attempted roll-outs. They couldn’t solve the problem because they hadn’t defined what the problem was in the first place.
Take a look at a problem you’re trying to solve. Is it clear what the problem statement is? Do you know what the goals are? Do you know what the boundaries, constraints, and assumptions are? Do you know who the stakeholders are? The time you spend with this type of critical thought is going to help you be more effective in solving the problems that you face.
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