What does a problem statement look like, and how do I find one or create one?

What does a problem statement look like, and how do I find one or create one?
A problem statement clearly summarizes a specific problem or situation that needs to be addressed because it is preventing the organization from meeting its business goals. The problem statement can often be just a few sentences, or it might be as long as several paragraphs.

Problem statements are often included in the project charter, the scope documents, or the business case documents. They are often included in paragraphs about the "current situation" or "current opportunity." The business analyst should take care to understand these problem statements, if they exist; occasionally, the business analyst may even be asked to help write the problem statement.

A good problem statement will:

  • Identify the problem
  • Describe the part or parts of the business impacted by the problem—individuals, organizations, departments, systems, products, etc.
  • Describe how the problem specifically impacts those parts of the business, and/or how the problem negatively impacts the business goals.

For example:

In the current environment, new enrollment packets are printed in our Grand Rapids facility and mailed to subscribers' homes. This paper-intensive, time-consuming process puts a drain on the print facility resources and delays the arrival of username and password information to the subscriber by several business days. Subscribers frequently call after 1-2 days to ask about their new enrollment packet, and to express their frustration or request expedited shipping. The print/mail process doesn't support our corporate initiative to reduce paper waste wherever possible. The delays are causing an unnecessary, costly increase in call center volume, distracting sales agents from their primary role of selling to new subscribers, and preventing them from meeting their sales targets.

Stating the problem in detail makes it easy to identify the key stakeholders (the print-to-mail team in Grand Rapids, the call center, the sales agents, and subscribers) and the high-level requirements for the solution (the need to stop wasting paper and increase speed of delivery for enrollment packets), and to confidently know which business goals the project objectives are supporting (reducing paper waste and increasing sales).

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