How to Solve a Problem Effectively Using a Problem Statement

You will almost certainly be required to solve problems using a unique skill set and methodology as part of a current project or task. When things get tough, you might want to demonstrate to your boss the complex challenge that your job may present. Effective problem-solving skills shine in this environment, making it one of the most sought-after skills among employers.

A problem statement, in general, outlines the current situation's negative aspects and explains why they are important. It's a communication tool that can help you get more customers and gain support from other companies.

What is a Problem Statement?

According to Wikipedia, a Problem Statement is a concise description of issues that problem-solving teams must address and should be presented to them (or created) before they attempt to solve the problem.

In simple terms, it is a thought process that occurs prior to performing a task in order to avoid any errors during the solution process.

A good problem statement should answer questions such as:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who has the problem?
  • Where does the problem occur?
  • When does the problem occur?
  • What does the problem impact?

“[A user] needs [need] in order to accomplish [goal].” 

With this basic formula, you can add information and arguments in favor of solving your problem.

Peter Peterka, a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, emphasizes the importance of facts and research within your problem statement. He focuses on, “Your problem statement can be very clear and simple, starting out as one or two sentences, but will be backed with data, research, and insights into the problem.”

What should a good problem statement look like?

A good problem statement should be:

  • Concise – The simpler your problem statement, the clearer the outcome. A reader of the project statement should be able to say, “YES, I UNDERSTAND IT!” on the first read.
  • Specific – The problem statement should be precise, to the point, and should convey directly to the reader.
  • Measurable – Problems should be regulated with frequencies or degrees. Using such which render easy clarifications of defining goals of the problem statement.
  • Impacted Audience – The problem statement should identify the affected population.

How to develop an effective Problem Statement?

Each team creates its own processes for developing effective problem statements. The procedure is extremely adaptable. You can arrange it according to your preferences and business methodology. But one methodology stands out above the rest: The 5 Whys.

What are the 5 whys?

The 5 Whys is one of the most effective Root Cause Analysis techniques (learn more about RCA in our previous blog). Every team that encounters roadblocks in their task can use the 5 Whys approach to identify the root cause of any issue and protect the process from recurring errors and failures.

How to Complete a Five Whys Root Cause Analysis?

  1. Begin with a specific problem. Find the issue you are facing. This will resolve your team to pinpoint the common root cause problem.
  2. Ask why the problem happened and write the solution down to the specific problem you listed.
  3. Keep asking WHY? to each of the succeeding problems and to its answers until you reach the root cause of the problem.
  4. Make sure the team manages to resolve all the Whys? To the problems and their solutions. This may take some time due to the detailed filtration of the entire flow.

The Five Whys Tools

The simplest way to carry out the 5 Whys is to simply write them down on a piece of paper. However, for a larger project, you may need more than a piece of paper. The Fishbone or Ishikawa diagrams can be useful in the early stages of problem identification. In one of our many Six Sigma-related blogs, you can learn more about the Ishikawa diagram. Collect all of the root-cause relationships and determine which had the greatest impact on the original problem.

Closing Thought

After going over the problem statement and its approaches in detail, you should have a concise and well-balanced Problem Statement ready for your next brainstorming session. It is a straightforward procedure with no assumptions. The process is a smorgasbord of possibilities for tracing problems to their root causes. It lays the groundwork for the team to start working on solutions that truly fit.

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