What is a problem statement and why is it important?

Projects should always begin with a thorough definition of the problem as a problem statement.

A problem statement is a concise description of the issue that will be addressed in a project.

It can be tempting to skip the problem statement because you’ve seen this problem before, you already know the solution, or because a stakeholder is pushing you to move faster.

However, many projects have failed because of a false assumption that everybody understands the problem. This misunderstanding is generally not identified until the project is completed and somebody is surprised by the output.

Therefore, good problem solvers take time to define the problem precisely. Then, they socialize the problem with all key stakeholders to ensure that the definition is understood and agreed upon.

Example problem statements

In a business context, problem statements may be:

  • Why has revenue growth fallen from 10% in 2021 to 5% in 2022?
  • How can ACME Bank increase its market share to 15% by 2025?
  • Why are over 50% of customers not renewing their subscription after month 3?

Characteristics of a good problem statement

In order to ensure that your problem statement is concise and informative, it should be:

  • Specific: Ensure that you constrain the scope of your problem by making the problem statement should be specific as possible, while still being informative and valuable.
  • Time-bound: Ensure that you include time constraints on your problem statement; solutions for the short term might be significantly different than solutions for the long term.
  • Measurable and testable: Ensure that your problem statement is quantified, so that there are clear criteria for you to define success.

Problem statement worksheet and downloadable templates

A problem statement worksheet articulates the problem that will be addressed in the project.

It also describes how the problem came about, defines the scope and constraints of the project, and identifies key stakeholders and sources of insight.

The problem statement worksheet looks like this:

Problem Statement Worksheet Slide

You can download this slide (and 30 others) for free below: