How to create a good problem statement

Do you know where you are?

One important way to identify your true problem as well as your real goal, is by knowing where you currently are. If you do not know where you are or where you are going, how do you know when you have gotten there?

By understanding what your process metrics are, you should be able to draw the things you want to improve, which will be the focus of your problem statement.

Write your Problem Statement

Let's talk about writing your problem statement. There are things you should and should not include when creating your problem statement. It's not as simple as mentioning what went wrong. We don't want our problem statement to appear like ranting or trying to pin down someone who you think have caused the issue. We want our problem statement to be effectively written for the team to easily draw an objective. Emotion should be set aside when determining the problem and everyone on the project team should stay focused.

Should NOT include:

  1. Causes of deficiency - remember, you're only stating the problem and should focus on that alone. The causes can be discussed deeper in the process.
  2. Actions and solutions - these items should be discussed when you're drawing your action plans.
  3. Other details - we want our problem statement to be concise and specific. The wide details can be brought up while trying to drill down on the project.

Should include:

  1. Current performance - you need to state your current performance in a measurable context. I suggest expressing it in percentage form.
  2. What metric - state the specific area that was affected by the said performance.
  3. Where did it happen - provide the specific department, company, etc. where the problem was observed.
  4. When did it occurred - note the specific date (month, day, year; or quarter of what year, etc.) when the problem happened.
  5. Source - provide your source of data to establish its reliability.

Example:

10% of the employees resigned in the quality department during the 4th quarter of 2013 as per HR's annual report.

Problem Statement Format

It is advisable to use a certain format when writing your problem. This should serve as a checklist when you started to draw a statement to ensure completeness and effectiveness.

A good problem statement has the following format:

WHAT is the problem… What is Wrong?

WHERE it happened... Where Did it Happen?

WHEN it occurred... When Was it Observed?

HOW MUCH and... How Big is the Problem?

HOW DO I KNOW… Where did the information came from?

Ask the right Questions

What are your thoughts?

Think outside the box
Think outside the box

Tips

Be concise

Be clear

Be specific

Use measurable parameters

Focus

Be realistic

Have an achievable timeline

What is your objective?

After knowing what the problem is and if you did a good job writing it, finding out what your objective is should be a piece of cake. Your objective should not fall far from your problem and should also follow a certain format to prevent losing your focus.

It is important to know your objective in any given situation but most of the time, we tend to deviate from the real path due to several reasons. The following should guide you to the right path so you could meet your goal. Stating your objective should include a specific parameter that you could use as a target. Here's a list of things an objective should contain.

  • Know the type of change desired in the parameter
  • Know what the actual local performance parameter that is being targeted
  • What is your current process baseline?
  • What is the target of your project goal?
  • Know the timeline for the project.

You can write your objective in this format.

"To (increase, decrease, etc.) the (target) from (actual performance) to (goal) by (timeline)."

Take note that the timeline should be specific by stating the target month, day, and year. You can also include the target time if it is a significant measure of your goal.


Self-Assessment

Do you think you can now write a good problem statement?

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More examples

Project Objective:

To decrease the daily average cookie production of a cookie factory operator from 10 minutes to 8 minutes per pack by 2nd quarter of this year.

Problem Statement:

An average cookie factory operator produced a pack of cookies in 10 minutes during the 4th quarter of last year as per time in motion test result.

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