How to write a problem statement

A big part of the role of a content designer at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to help the teams we work with define a clear focus.

I’ve written before about how to write a mission. Before we start thinking about the mission, we’ve found it useful to get a shared agreement of the problem we’re here to solve. We call this the problem statement.

A good way of breaking down a problem statement is to write down:

  1. the specific problem, or user need, the team is addressing
  2. the result of the problem
  3. the situation, explaining why the problem is a priority
  4. the opportunity: a result of the problem and the situation

This is what a problem statement for Strava, the running and cycling app, might look like:

It can be difficult to stay motivated to do regular exercise.
A lot of people start an exercise routine like running or cycling regularly, but don’t keep it up.
In the UK, obesity is increasing and people are finding it more difficult to cope with mental health problems. We know that taking regular exercise improves our physical health as well as our mental health.
There’s an opportunity to help people stay active and improve their performance. Connecting them with other people for support, encouragement and competition, and making it easy for them to analyse their workout, could help more people stay motivated.

By working as a team to articulate the problem you’re tackling, you start with a clear, shared focus. We find it useful to print out, stick on the wall and refer to regularly throughout the development of a service or piece of work.

It’s a handy reminder to stay focused on the problem we’re trying to solve.