30 Questions to Help You Identify and State a Clear Problem Statement

Understanding your problem is critical to solving it.  No matter how awesome your idea may seem, if it does not solve a problem, it will struggle to become financially viable.

Problem = Market Opportunity.

To transform any idea from concept to creation, there needs to be a market.  One of the biggest challenges I have found in working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs has been correctly and clearly stating a problem and making sure it is the correct problem.

Ideas are easy to come by.  If we sat a group of 5 people down and gave them 10 minutes to write ideas down, we would easily have a list of at least 50+ ideas!  Ideas are truly, as the saying goes, a dime a dozen.  Ideas are cheap.  Solving validated problems and executing those solutions is what ultimately matters.

111616-Youth Summit-131_FThe problem and solution dilemma that I often encounter at events like Startup Weekend is that people come in excited about an idea; what is not always so clear is what problem it solves.  The good news is that you already know the problem, the bad news is that you skipped over it so quickly, you didn’t even notice it.  So, which came first?  It was definitely the problem.  Even though ideas (i.e. insights) often seem to spark out of nowhere, they actually come from a complex and seemingly magical interaction and culmination of problem awareness, solutions for other problems, and your personal knowledge bank.  POOF!  All of a sudden, you have an idea.  The underlying processes happen so quickly and subconsciously, that you believe the idea just came to you.

At this point, your mission is to figure out what problem your idea solves.  This poses a challenge to many, but it is critical you understand your problem clearly before you move on, or else you risk possibly solving the wrong problem.  Further more, if your problem is too broadly defined, you may pursue a solution so complex that your customer will struggle to understand it.

Below are 30 questions/challenges I pose to people to help them identify the problem to their solution/idea.  Completing these questions will help you understand the following:

  • The job/task that is affected by the problem
  • The person(s) or group(s) affected by the problem, directly or indirectly
  • The difference between your customer and user, if one exists
  • The problem; when and how it manifests itself to each group
  • What the problem costs the user and/or the customer
  • The scope of the problem (market size)

Complete the 30 questions below in order to clearly understand your problem and market opportunity.

  1. Describe the moment that someone realizes she wishes she had your solution.
  2. What job/task is she attempting to perform/complete?
  3. Does she even realize there is a problem?
  4. When does the problem occur?
  5. When does the problem become noticeable?
  6. When does she actually notice the problem?
  7. Describe what happens leading up to that moment.
  8. What does she say or think to herself as she becomes aware of the problem?
  9. How does she know it is a solvable problem?
  10. What is the pain point/problem(s)?
  11. How is she currently solving the pain point or problem?
  12. How does the problem affect the end result of the job/task she is attempting to complete?
  13. What, if any, are the additional burden/costs incurred as a result of the problem affecting the job/task?
  14. How is this pain point/problem measured?
  15. Based on that measurement, what is considered very bad? Not so bad? Average?
  16. How does the value/cost of the problem vary as you move up or down the measurement scale of the problem?
  17. Who directly suffers from the problem? Who indirectly suffers from this problem?
  18. Describe those groups that suffer from the problem?
  19. What job/task was each group attempting to complete or perform?
  20. If others suffer from the problem (directly or indirectly), how do they suffer? Differently from the other group?  How is their suffering measured?
  21. Are all of the groups you identified aware they are suffering from a problem? Why or why not?
  22. Which group(s) know this problem is solvable?
  23. How are the group(s) currently solving the problem?
  24. How much is this problem worth to each of the groups, separately?
  25. What does it cost in the short-term? What does it cost in the long-term?
  26. Which groups, if any, would be most able to pay to solve this problem?
  27. Which groups, if any, would be most willing to pay to solve this problem?
  28. How many people are attempting to perform this job/task? Every day?  Every month?  Every year?
  29. Of that number, how many are likely to encounter the problem? Why?
  30. What sets them apart from the ones who do not suffer from the problem?
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