29 Questions to Identify and State a Business Problem [Updated]

Understanding your problem is critical to solving it.  No matter how awesome your idea may seem, if it does not solve a problem, it’s not going to sell.

Problems = Market Opportunities

To take any idea from concept to creation, there needs to be a market for that idea.

Coming up with ideas is easy and quite cheap.  There is no cost to writing an idea on a post-it and putting it up on the whiteboard.  Alternatively, problems can be quite expensive and difficult to clearly and accurately identify.  As such, in my experience working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs around the world, I have learned that one of most difficult challenges in taking ideas from concept to creation is correctly and clearly stating the problem that an idea hopes to solve.

The beginning of the concept to creation journey begins with clearly and accurately identifying the problem/market your idea intends to address.  If you do not clearly and accurately identify your problem, you risk developing your idea in a direction that you did not intend.  A poorly defined problem is much like a compass that doesn’t accurately point north.  You can certainly move, however, you may be moving in the wrong direction.

Below are 29 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 that your intended customer is attempting to complete
  • The problem; when and how it manifests itself to each participant
  • The challenges & problems standing in the way of successfully completing that job
  • The people and/or groups negatively impacted by the challenges & problems
  • The difference between your customer and user, if one exists
  • The cost of the problem to your customer and/or user
  • The scope of the problem (market size)

Complete these 29 questions in order to understand your problem and market opportunity.

  1. [Problem] What job/task does your idea help someone perform? (hint: don’t state what your idea does)
  2. [Problem] Describe the job/task that your idea is going to help someone perform.
  3. [Problem] What problem(s) does someone encounter in performing that job/task? Describe them.
  4. [Problem] How does the problem affect the result of the job/task someone is attempting to complete?
  5. [Problem] When does the problem occur? If many, when does each problem occur?
  6. [Problem] Do people even realize there is a problem? If so, when does the problem become noticeable by someone?
  7. [Problem] Describe the moment that someone realizes she needs your solution.
  8. [Problem] Describe what happens leading up to the moment someone realizes she needs your solution.
  9. [Problem] What does she say or think to herself as she becomes aware of the problem?
  10. [Problem] How is the problem measured? Qualitatively and quantitatively.
  11. [Competition] How does someone know the problem is solvable?
  12. [Competition] How are people currently solving the problem(s)?
  13. [Market Sizing] How many people are attempting to perform this job/task? Every day?  Every month?  Every year?
  14. [Market Sizing] Of that number, how many are likely to encounter the problem? Why?
  15. [Market Sizing] What sets them apart from the ones who do not suffer from the problem?
  16. [Market Sizing] What are the burdens/costs incurred as a result of the problem?
  17. Based on that measurement, what is considered very bad? Not so bad? Average?
  18. [Market Sizing] How does the cost of the problem vary as you metrics of the problem increase/decrease?
  19. [Target Audience] Who directly suffers from the problem? Who indirectly suffers from this problem?
  20. [Target Audience] Describe those groups that suffer from the problem?
  21. [Target Audience] What job/task was each group attempting to complete or perform?
  22. [Target Audience] If others suffer from the problem (directly or indirectly), how do they suffer? Differently from the other group?  How is their suffering measured?
  23. [Target Audience] Are all of the groups you identified aware they are suffering from a problem? Why or why not?
  24. [Target Audience] Which group(s) know this problem is solvable?
  25. [Competition] How are the group(s) currently solving the problem?
  26. [Market Sizing] How much is this problem worth to each of the groups, separately?
  27. [Market Sizing] What does it cost in the short-term? What does it cost in the long-term?
  28. [Target Audience] Which groups, if any, would be most able to pay to solve this problem?
  29. [Target Audience] Which groups, if any, would be most willing to pay to solve this problem?
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