- A problem statement is a clear description of the issue(s), it includes a vision, issue statement, and method used to solve the problem.
- The 5 'W's can be used to spark the discussion about the problem.
- A problem statement expresses the words that will be used to keep the effort focused and it should represent a solveable problem.
How to Write a Problem Statement
A problem statement is a clear concise description of the issue(s) that need(s) to be addressed by a problem solving team. It is used to center and focus the team at the beginning, keep the team on track during the effort, and is used to validate that the effort delivered an outcome that solves the problem statement. It has a specific form:
- Vision - what does the world look like if we solve the problem?
- Issue Statement - one or two sentences that describe the problem using specific issues. It is not a "lack of a solution" statement. For example, our problem is that we don't have an ERP system.
- Method - the process that will get followed to solve the problem. For example, DMAIC or Kaizen.
How to get started
The 5 'W's - Who, What, Where, When and Why - is a great tool that helps get pertinent information out for discussion. From the [poem] from Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child" which opens with:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Who - Who does the problem affect? Specific groups, organizations, customers, etc.
What - What are the boundaries of the problem, e.g. organizational, work flow, geographic, customer, segments, etc. - What is the issue? - What is the impact of the issue? - What impact is the issue causing? - What will happen when it is fixed? - What would happen if we didn’t solve the problem?
When - When does the issue occur? - When does it need to be fixed?
Where - Where is the issue occurring? Only in certain locations, processes, products, etc.
Why - Why is it important that we fix the problem? - What impact does it have on the business or customer? - What impact does it have on all stakeholders, e.g. employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, etc. Each of the answers will help to zero in on the specific issue(s) and frame the Issue Statement. Your problem statement should be solveable. That is, it should take a reasonable amount of time to formulate, try and deploy a potential solution.
Consider a software development and hosted data services company that supplies products and services to wireless carriers. They had issues deploying new software releases into the production environment. Deployment in this case is the work necessary for taking a production ready binary and installing, testing and releasing it into the production environment. The company failed to deploy the releases on-schedule over 50% of the time.
We want all of our software releases to go to production seamlessly, without defects, where everyone is aware and informed of the outcomes and status. (Vision)
Today we have too many release failures that result in too many rollback failures. If we ignore this problem; resources will need to increase to handle the cascading problems, and we may miss critical customer deadlines which could result in lost revenue, SLA penalties, lost business, and further damage to our quality reputation. (Issue Statement)
We will use our Kaizen Blitz methodology in evaluating the last release to help us improve our processes. (Method)
A problem well stated is half solved, Wally Davis taught me that one. And he's right, the better the clarity around what the team is attempting to fix, the more efficient they'll be in solving the problem, the solution will better 'fix' the issues, and the team can get back to executing the business versus fixing it.
Our experts are trained and well seasoned in defining problem statements and keeping teams on track to deliver results. Let us help your team get better solving your problems. Contact us today.
A problem statement is a brief overview of the issues or problems existing in the concerned area selected for the research. It is an explanation of the issues prevalent in a particular sector which drives the researcher to take interest in that sector for in-depth study and analysis, so as to understand and solve them (Saunders et al. 2009).
Purpose behind writing problem statement in any research study is to:
Components of problem statement
The word count of problem statement for a thesis or dissertation should be in range of 150-300 words. The problem statement in any research therefore includes four important segments i.e.
- Background of the Problem: Here you can reflect on facts related to the problem to make the reader understand about the gravity of the problem.
- Anchor: How one needs to resolve this problem in the research paper.
- General problem: How is impacts a larger population.
- Specific problem: How it impacts your sample population.
Example 1 (Quantitative Study)
- Background of the problem: The high attrition rate in manufacturing organization is creating anxiety and fear among the employees and thus affecting the productivity of the organization as a whole.
Here you need to refer to previous research done in the past in the manufacturing sector to determine the key reasons for high attrition rate. It should stimulate the reader to read further.
- Anchor: This must include a statistical value to magnify and elucidates the problem.
Here you can present the attrition percentage within the manufacturing industry and compare it with the case company.
- General Problem: The general business problem is to determine the financial lost to the organisation.
The general business problem needs to just outline the problem.
- Specific Problem: Since high attrition rate is affecting the overall productivity of the employees it is in turn affecting the performance of the organization. In order to do so one needs to determine the relationship between employee productivity and organisational performance.
This is narrower in scope than the general business problem and focused around need of the study which allows easy transition to Need of the Study.
Example 2 (Qualitative Study)
- Background of the problem: There has been increase in workplace deaths of miners from 2010 to 2011 (Cite here).
- Anchor: Study conducted by XYZ (Year) indicates that 7 out of 10 deaths in mining industry are due to abc reasons (Cite here).
- General Problem: The cost of workplace deaths negatively influences profitability to the business workers.
- Specific Problem: There is little information on what measures can be undertaken to reduce the workplace death toll.
General problems with problem statement
Quite often students are not able to frame their problem statement properly as they miss out on one or the other component or get confused on what to include or not. Most common problems which are observed have been highlighted below which will improve your ability to write problem statement:
- Unable to clearly identify the research problem.
- Often confused with research questions of the study.
- The problem is not encouraging enough for the researcher to read further.
- Not data driven i.e. NO citations.
- More than 300 words.
- Not focused with the research subject.
Problem statement checklist
To summarise, I have developed this checklist which needs to be kept in mind when writing your problem statement. It includes a list of all the things which should be included in your problem statement
|Background of the Problem|
|Enticing and Stimulating||√|
|Citation (no older than 5 years)||√|
|Statistical reference to define the problem||√|
|Citation (No older than 5 years)||√|
|General Business Problem||√|
|Specific Business Problem||√|
- Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research methods for business students, 5th ed., Harlow, Pearson Education.
- Bryman, A. (2008) Social research methods, 4th edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
- Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2009) Business Research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, 3rd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
Senior Analyst at Project Guru
Sudeshna likes to observe and pen down the goings-on in her surrounding, socially and politically. Having a Master's degree in International Relations, her interests lies in analyzing the occurrences of various countries. Previously worked as a teacher, she now holds the position of a Research Analyst in Project Guru and writes down her thoughts through various articles in the Knowledge Tank section.
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