Defining the right problem to solve is a crucial first step in any product development process. As product managers, having a well-framed problem statement grounds our teams in the core customer need and guides solution design. 

In this post, we’ll explore what makes an effective problem statement, common frameworks, examples, and key takeaways to put this vital skill into practice. 

Why sharp problem statements matter 

A good problem statement concisely defines the key user needs and obstacles to address, without assuming specific solutions upfront. This focuses the team on the right challenges to solve versus just pushing features. 

An effective statement helps to: 

  • Align stakeholders on the goal 
  • Direct design efforts on addressing root causes 
  • Benchmark progress as solutions are tested Set the stage for the entire product development process 

The anatomy of strong problem statements 

Specific - Clearly defines the target users and their struggles 

Measurable - Highlights concrete obstacles to quantify progress 

Achievable - Focuses on needs the product can reasonably address 

Relevant - Maps directly to customer goals and pain points 

Time-bound - Urges urgency by linking to business metrics 

Avoid presupposed solutions 

A common pitfall is stating the problem as a lack of a specific solution. For example: "Customers need a mobile app to pay bills with their camera." 

This assumes a smartphone app is the answer before identifying the actual user problem. Instead, focus on the customer's difficulty: "Customers find paying bills tedious as entering details is cumbersome and error-prone." 

Now, the product team can explore various solutions beyond just apps. 

Problem statement frameworks 

These templates help craft targeted problem statements and are the Five Ws - which answer: who, what, when, where, why, and how from the user's view. 

Example: 

Who: Commuters 

What: Difficulty finding parking 

When: During peak hours 

Where: At train stations 

Why: Leads to missed trains 

How: By reserving spots ahead of time 

Business Case - Quantifies market size, target segments, cost of problem. 

Example: Hospitals have high rates of infections costing $X annually. This results in complications, readmissions, and dissatisfaction. 

User Persona - Maps to specific user goals, behaviors, and pain points. 

Example: Fitness enthusiasts struggle to track progress, leading to discouragement and abandoning goals. 

SMART - Ensure it's specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

  • Example: Customers take too long to checkout, decreasing conversion rates by 15% each month. Streamlining checkout can increase conversions. 
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Let's look at a well-known company, for example, Spotify Music Discovery. What would their problem statement look like?

Who: Spotify app users 

What: Difficulty discovering new music 

When: During listening sessions 

Where: In the Spotify app 

Why: Leads to lower engagement and retention 

How: Improve recommendation algorithms and playlist tools 

Problem Statement: Spotify users struggle to discover new music in-app, decreasing engagement and retention over time. Improving recommendations and playlists can help users find music and increase loyalty. 

This frames the issue in a specific, measurable, and actionable way for the product team. 

Tips for crafting strong problem statements 

  • Involve stakeholders early to get diverse perspectives 
  • Observe real customers to map needs and pain points 
  • Leverage user research and data to quantify struggles 
  • Use frameworks like 5Ws and SMART criteria 
  • Avoid assuming a specific solution path Design experiments to test if solutions achieve outcomes 
  • Continuously refine as you learn more about customers 

Key Takeaways 

  1. Clearly define the problem without assuming solutions. 
  2. Understand target users and their obstacles. 
  3. Direct design efforts towards addressing root causes. 
  4. Use frameworks to craft focused, measurable statements. 
  5. Set the stage for developing high-impact solutions. 
  6. Sharpening your problem-framing skills will elevate your product development process. 

What techniques or examples have you found most helpful?


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