I find that most problem statements are not written very well. Some of them are blatantly circular.
Writing a good problem statement aligns the team on the mission. If you solve the wrong problem, you will have a poor business outcome.
Give me a bad problem, I will give you a great solution that won’t help anyone.Glen Lipka
Some flaws I have seen in problem statements:
- Too verbose
- Too vague
- Missing key information
- Contains solution in the problem
All of these problems stops the rest of the team from being creative and solving the problem in the right way. One framework I have given to PMs over the years is the problem comic strip. It runs as follows:
In addition to the comic strip they should include details like:
- Frequency: How often does this problem happen?
- Severity: How bad is the consequences to them or us?
- History: Have we tried to fix this problem before?
- Financials: How much money is at stake?
Sometimes the persona is internal. Such as an engineer who has to spend alot of time on escalations. The bad outcome would be a slowdown in new features. Or a customer success person who needs information and doesn’t have it. The point is that you describe succinctly what is going wrong.
PRD documents often focus their attention on requirements rather than describing the problem clearly. I wish that product managers would shift their attention more towards the problem. It allows me more freedom of design to solve the problem in an innovative, differentiated, and clever way.
Feel free to use these comics. Please credit me where appropriate.