Career Development

Step by Step Guide: How to Write a Problem Statement

May 12, 2021

The job market is highly competitive, with aspiring professionals facing numerous challenges in the hopes of securing their dream jobs. However, demonstrating your ability to think critically and solve various complex problems can make the difference in helping you find employment.

In any case, it is almost inevitable that a company will face numerous issues during its lifespan. Showing your initiative to solve these problems can help you stay on top of the competition and take care of your customer's needs. Moreover, employers prefer candidates who are fast thinkers with exceptional problem-solving skills.

Learning how to write a problem statement is a big indicator that you are ready to use your problem-solving skills to find a solution.

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a short and concise description of an issue that requires urgent attention to improve the progress of a project. The statement is usually one or two sentences that identify and describe a problem. It also explains why the problem matters and what would happen to the project if the issue is not fixed on time. The statement explains the 'Who, What, Where, When and Why' of a problem.

While a problem statement identifies the gap between the current problem and the desired goal, it does not define the solution or how you should tackle the problem. It only helps team leaders to understand the current issues affecting the project and build on that to find practical solutions.

Read more: How to Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Understanding the importance of a problem statement

A problem statement is important to businesses, organisations and other legal entitities. It focuses on helping senior management, decision-makers and project leaders understand the problem clearly and find viable solutions to address the concern.

The main aim of a problem statement is to find practical ways to bridge the gap between the current problem and the desired outcome. It minimises problems and reduces the likelihood of incurring losses with a goal of moving the company forward.

Here are additional reasons why a problem statement is important:

Ideal for multiple purposes

Problem statements have other purposes aside from identifying and explaining issues. They give the reader an in-depth view of the impact a problem has on a company or project. A problem statement acts as a communication tool to ensure that everybody concerned understands the issue and the right course of action to solve it.

The statement describes the five W's:

  • Who the problem impacts
  • Where the issue occurs
  • Why the problem matters
  • What are the effects of the problem
  • When the problem needs to be fixed

A problem statement also clarifies the expected outcomes to give every stakeholder a clear picture of what the desired goal would look like at the end of the project.

It helps guide projects

A problem statement is an important document when undertaking any project. It can act as a guideline to ensure that a project runs smoothly within set deadlines. Team leaders can refer to the statement after each phase of a project to establish focus and minimise errors.

You can also use a problem statement as a guide for root-cause analysis to understand why various issues pop up when undertaking a project. Team leaders are able to discern when to act in case of any issues and know how to avoid similar problems in the future.

Step-by-step guide on how to write a problem statement

Whether you are an aspiring employee searching for your dream job or an employer looking for the right candidates to fill vacant roles in your company, learning how to write a problem statement should be a top priority. In any case, writing a problem statement shows that you recognise the existence of a problem and are ready to address it.

A good problem statement should be clear, short and concise to improve the chance of getting approval from the top management. Moreover, it must be as accurate as possible since any slight mistake can make it hard to deliver the desired outcome.

Here are the key elements to consider when writing a problem statement:

1. Put the problem in context

Start by describing how the process should work and how the problem is preventing this particular process from functioning as it should. Besides, putting the issue into context will make it easier for everyone to understand the problem. All the stakeholders will be able to discern more clearly how the process would function if the problem did not exist in the first place. Always focus on the who, what, where, when and why during this stage to make sure you stay on track.

2. Describe the precise issue and explain why it matters

A problem statement does more than just define a problem. It explains the precise reason why it is a problem and why it is important to find a solution. At this point, you should clarify to your audience the impact of the problem on business operations and why you should fix the problem. You can also point out the various steps that have already been taken in the past to try and address the problem. Answer the five Ws as organically as possible to make things clear from the onset.

Related: 4 Types of Communication

3. Explain the financial cost of not fixing the problem

A problem affecting the company might seem insignificant during the initial stages after it first emerges. This can make the management reluctant to take action immediately. Your problem statement should therefore explain why it is important to address the issue immediately and discuss the financial cost of not fixing the problem.

In most cases, you should frame the problem in terms of your cash burn. The statement should explicitly explain to management that not fixing the problem will lead to a decrease in sales, lost customers and on overall fall in revenue. If possible, highlight the exact amount the company stands to lose if they do not take action soon.

4. Support your claims with solid evidence

You need to have solid evidence to support your claims. Writing a problem statement without evidence to back your claim will only lead to disapproval from the management and key stakeholders. The people concerned want to see trends, facts and figures so it is only logical that you do your research and cite your sources when presenting the statement.

5. Propose possible solutions to the problem

The essence of writing a problem statement is to identify a problem, assess its impact and find a solution. Your focus at this stage should be to find as many viable solutions as possible. Having a good grasp of the causes of the problem will make it easier to find realistic solutions.

6. Explain the benefits of each of your proposed solutions

Your problem statement should show decision-makers what the company stands to gain by adopting your proposed solutions. In essence, it should show how fixing the problem will benefit the company in the long-term. You should use solid data and monetary figures to explain each benefit.

Examples of expected benefits include:

  • Increased sales
  • Decreased expenses
  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Greater brand awareness
  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Low refund rate

7. Summarise the problem and the ideal solution

The last step entails summarising your problem statement. Here, you should highlight the problem once again, indicate why it needs to be fixed, and why your solution is the best choice to address the issue at hand.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition, Template and Examples

Example of a problem statement

Here's an example to help you breakdown the crucial components your problem statement should include:

Project problem

The number of people taking the flu vaccine in Singapore has significantly declined over the years.

Context: what is the problem

Influenza is a serious respiratory disease that can lead to complications or even turn fatal if left untreated. Despite the risks involved, research indicates that the number of people taking the flu vaccine has declined in the past few years in Singapore. The likely reason for this is the rising cost of vaccination. Flu vaccines in Singapore are not free, meaning patients have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for the vaccine. The turnout for mandatory vaccines is impressive since patients do not have to pay anything .

Relevance: why does it matter and why is it important

With fewer people taking part in influenza vaccination programs, the mortality rates are set to increase in the next few years. More people are likely to succumb to flu-related complications. When a specific group of citizens fails to get vaccines, they are likely to put a strain on the already overstretched healthcare system.

Aims and objectives: how to solve the problem and why

The main objective of this plan is to encourage more people to turn up for vaccination. One way to go about this is to reduce the cost of flu vaccines. Another possible solution is to encourage more neighborhoods to take up medical insurance that will pay for their vaccinations during flu season. Nonetheless, reducing the cost of vaccination will have a much bigger impact and can make vaccination accessible to everyone.

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