Get Started

Mastering Problem Statements: A Comprehensive Guide Using the PRIZ Platform

July 9, 2024

Defining a problem statement is an extremely important step in the journey of solving any issue, whether in business, technology, or personal projects. A well-crafted problem statement sets the stage for focused efforts, guiding research, and strategic development. It acts as a beacon, illuminating the path toward the ultimate goal by clearly outlining the gap between the current reality and the desired outcome. In this article, we will explore the steps of defining a proper problem statement, delve into its key components, and provide practical examples to help you with the process using the PRIZ platform.

The Definition

First, I want to put the correct definition in place, so we all understand what is the goal of the problem statement and further understand why it is so important.

I found many examples on the web defining the problem statement. The one I liked from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) can be summarized as follows:

A problem statement is a concise description of an issue to be addressed or a condition to be improved. It identifies the gap between the current state and the desired state of a process or product. The problem statement should include the problem’s context, the impact of the problem, and the criteria for a successful solution. It serves as the foundation for any project by focusing the team’s efforts and guiding the research and development process.

I wanted, however, to simplify it a bit.

A problem statement is a clear and concise description of an issue that needs to be addressed. It identifies the gap between the current state and the desired state, providing a foundation for research and problem-solving efforts. It typically includes the problem’s background, its impact, and the criteria for a successful solution.

Why is a Problem Statement Important?

With the definition in place, it’s important to understand why defining a proper problem statement is so important. There are many reasons for this, but here are a few of the most critical ones

  1. Focuses Efforts It helps to focus the team’s efforts on the specific issue at hand, ensuring that everyone is aligned and working towards the same goal.
  2. Guides Research and Development It provides a foundation for research and development efforts, guiding the investigation and solution-finding processes.
  3. Clarifies Objectives It clarifies the objectives and criteria for a successful solution, making it easier to measure progress and success.
  4. Improves Communication It improves communication within the team and with stakeholders by providing a clear and concise description of the issue and its context.
  5. Facilitates Problem-Solving By identifying the gap between the current state and the desired state, it facilitates systematic problem-solving and helps to prioritize tasks and resources.

Problem vs Failure

Before we dive into building the problem statement, it’s important to reiterate the difference between failure and the problem.

Failure is what we can see, hear, or feel. The problem is what we need to do differently as a result of the failure.

For example, the failure might be low efficiency on a production line. This can lead to different problems such as low customer satisfaction, reduced sales, high production costs, and more.

Failures cannot be fixed, but problems can be solved. A failure is the origin of several problems and indicates that problems exist. The worst situation is when people (engineers) try to solve the failure itself. We should analyze the failure, identify the problems, analyze those problems, make the right choices, and correctly formulate the problem statement.

The Process of Defining the Problem Statement

In many processes and templates that organizations and teams create over time, it’s common to have a single field for the problem statement. While it’s great that these processes encourage defining the problem to solve, there’s little done to help engineers actually define it. This is one reason why this phase is often not properly done or is ignored altogether.

At PRIZ, we believe the problem statement is critical enough, so we invested the time to research and build the process into our Engineering Thinking Platform.

Here is the 5-step process for defining the problem statement, which our research shows is the most efficient and produces the best results when a team focuses on resolving a challenge, especially a complex one.

Problem Statement Screen | PRIZ Guru

Current Situation

As the definition states, we first need to clearly identify the current state. In the PRIZ Platform, we call this the Current Situation to make it more generic.

For this example, we chose a random manufacturing problem.

Current Situation | PRIZ Guru

Disadvantages of the Current Situation

At this phase, we need to understand why the current situation is undesirable. It’s important to note that different people and contexts may have different disadvantages. In this example, if someone doesn’t care about this production line or its output, they might not see any disadvantages. That person might not even consider it a problem.

The definition of disadvantages is subjective to the person, the team, the case, etc.

Disadvantages of the Current Situation

Ideal Final Result

The next step is defining the Ideal Final Result. In simple terms, what are we trying to achieve?

This example is quite straightforward: “Production line’s efficiency should be at least 90%.”

Ideal Final Result | PRIZ Guru


Now that we have identified the current state and the desired state, the gaps are what prevent us from reaching our goal. We can narrow down these gaps. In this case, it is very clear and has been mentioned before: frequent machine breakdowns and workflow bottlenecks are stopping us from achieving 90% production line efficiency.

Gaps should state concisely and clearly what they are.

Gaps | PRIZ Guru

Problem Statement

Finally, we have all the information needed to define the problem statement. In the PRIZ Platform, we call it a Problem to Solve.

When we combine all the collected knowledge, it might look something like this:

The production line is currently operating at 70% efficiency due to frequent machine breakdowns and workflow bottlenecks. These issues cause delays in order fulfillment and increase operational costs. The desired production efficiency is at least 90%.

Problem statement | PRIZ Guru

That’s it. Here are a few good examples of problem statements. Keep in mind, there is no strict rule about how a problem statement should look. The important part is that it clearly identifies the gap between the current state and the desired state, providing a foundation for research and problem-solving efforts.

Examples of Problem Statements

  1. Example 1:
    • Current State: Customer support response times have been increasing over the past six months.
    • Desired State: Reduce customer support response times to less than 24 hours.
    • Problem Statement: The current customer support response time is averaging 72 hours, which is negatively impacting customer satisfaction and retention. The goal is to reduce this response time to under 24 hours to improve customer satisfaction and retention.
  2. Example 2:
    • Current State: The company’s website has a high bounce rate of 70%.
    • Desired State: Decrease the bounce rate to below 50%.
    • Problem Statement: The current website bounce rate is 70%, indicating that users are leaving the site without engaging with the content. This high bounce rate is affecting conversion rates and overall business growth. The objective is to decrease the bounce rate to below 50% to enhance user engagement and increase conversions.
  3. Example 3:
    • Current State: The manufacturing process has a defect rate of 5%.
    • Desired State: Reduce the defect rate to less than 1%.
    • Problem Statement: The current defect rate in the manufacturing process is 5%, leading to increased costs and customer dissatisfaction. The aim is to reduce the defect rate to less than 1% to minimize costs and improve product quality.
Leave A Comment

Creative thinking tools

Our platform offers a range of creative thinking tools that help you think outside the box and develop new, innovative solutions.

Try the tool now
Read also