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.
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.
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
- Clearly define the problem without assuming solutions.
- Understand target users and their obstacles.
- Direct design efforts towards addressing root causes.
- Use frameworks to craft focused, measurable statements.
- Set the stage for developing high-impact solutions.
- Sharpening your problem-framing skills will elevate your product development process.
What techniques or examples have you found most helpful?
Looking to practice your PLG techniques like the ones above? Join us on February 13 & 14 for the Product-Led Summit in Austin.
Unlock transformational growth through strategic product adoption & expansion.