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?

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. Continue reading

5 Steps to Planning for Success

I’ve learned something over and over again. It seems no matter how much I plan for success, it never quite happens how I planned. In fact, my success turns out better than I planned.

To be honest, some things went according to plan, however, with reflection I realized that I never planned things quite as well as the situations that simply just happened spontaneously. When I strictly followed the plan, I was focused more on the individual tasks or objectives. And sometimes I would wonder what the purpose of all of this was. I was so focused on “the plan” that I would lose sight of “the goal.”

So, here’s what I learned about how to plan for success.

1. Decide on a goal and make sure it is as clear as can be at that moment. Truth is our goal today will never be as clear as it will be tomorrow. Tomorrow we will know more, we will have experienced more, and we will see things differently. It’s ok if your goal is not incredibly detailed. Just make sure you can share the essence of the idea with someone else. With each day that passes, it will become clearer.

2. Make a plan. This probably sounds contrary to my introduction, however having a plan is essential. A plan maps out the steps that you believe it will take to achieve your goal at that moment in time. You need a plan for things to NOT go according to plan. So make a plan 🙂

3. Be mindful. Be mindful and aware of your growth and development. Each day you learn something new based on the steps you detailed in your plan. With that development comes new ideas and new interpretations. What you know today is not what you knew yesterday, nor what you will know tomorrow. So stop for a minute to be mindful of your development.

4. Pay attention to the distractions. What may seem like a distraction from your plan may be a great opportunity to bring you closer to your evolving goal. When we allow our minds to step away from our goals for a little while we gain more perspective on them and begin to learn new frameworks from which to reflect on them. This is why TED is so successful, it provides people with an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and take a delightful journey into someone else’s comfort zone and broaden their perspective. That distraction also gives your brain a break from your goals and allows you to process your thoughts and ideas in the background.

5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important step. As your goal evolves, as your framework expands, as your perspective widens, you will see more and think differently about your own goal and plan. You will have ideas for altering your plan or what will seem like “deviating” from your plan. Be flexible. Allow that to happen. This is your brain and heart’s way of saying “I have a better idea now.” Listen and be flexible enough to “deviate” from the plan because you aren’t deviating from your goal, which may or may not be the same as it was on day 1. And that’s ok. Most of the startup founders I have spoken to say that what they eventually created was quite different from what they originally set out to do. Their advice was to be flexible and let the idea evolve along its journey.

Consider your goals and previous plans you have set.  Often these 5 steps occur naturally, but resisting them may be limiting your potential for success.  Decide on a goal, set a plan, allow some distractions, develop your idea, and readjust your plan.  As long as you are moving toward your evolving goal you will be on the path towards success.

Oh, and please take the time to enjoy your journey.  The journey is where you will spend most of your time, so make it fun.

Dynamiko U

Change is not easy.  We know it from personal experience.  However, we also know it’s possible.  The challenge is figuring out what separates the successful attempts from the unsuccessful ones.  Change in business is made even more difficult because it may involve customers, employees, and the organization as a whole.  If changing a personal habit is difficult, imagine a larger group.

According to psychologists, Chip and Dan Heath, change has traditionally been considered from two perspectives, emotional and rational thinking.  The classic metaphor to distinguish between the two has been the rider  (rational) and the elephant (emotional).  If you can imagine that metaphor, you have a rider that considers all facts and plans his or her moves.  Then you have the elephant that the rider is attempting to steer.  If steered correctly, the elephant will follow.  However, when the elephant decides to run in a certain direction, the rider…

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Just sharing a post I just wrote for my leadership blog. Let me know what you think, thanks!

Dynamiko U

I’m currently reading a great book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University that has done a great deal of work in social psychology.  In the book she discusses two mindsets – growth and fixed.  A person with a fixed mindset tends to believe that talents, skills, and abilities are fixed and typically cannot develop or improve with intervention.  Someone with the growth mindset believes that talents, skills, and abilities can be developed and improved over time with effort.  She goes on to describe several case studies that portray the two mindsets in a variety of contexts.

Leaders can leverage the growth mindset in order to realize the potential of their organization in a few ways:

1.  Adopt the Growth Mindset.  Start believing that people, including you, can grow and develop existing and new talents.  Stop believing that…

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I’m the first to say the education system in the US could benefit from some serious changes.  However, the more people I talk to the more I realize that it doesn’t seem quite clear what “traditional” education is.  I’ve attended many events and talks on the need for a new model of education, one that replaces the so-called “traditional” model.  For example, I’ve heard people say that lecturing groups of students and having classrooms are part of that traditional model that needs to be replaced.

traditional classroomLet’s just focus on those two elements of “traditional” education.  This makes me ask, what’s so bad about a classroom?  What’s so bad about talking to students in a large group?  When students watch Khan Academy videos, the presenter of the video lectures them.  Two main differences come to mind – first, we can pause and replay a specific part or all of the video…

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I believe we can all agree that perseverance and confidence play a significant role in success.  No matter what example of success we come up with, we can safely say that confidence and perseverance played a key role.  For instance, confidence is built with each win we achieve, no matter how small.  However, we aren’t perfect, so we cannot count on perfect records and thus must persevere through the inevitable failures.  Taken together, confidence and perseverance are essential to any subsequent success.

A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Review entitled, “Is Algebra Necessary?”  The author, Andrew Hacker, suggested that the math requirements in our high schools and colleges are a leading contributor to high school and college drop out rates.  According to Hacker, “making math mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent.”  He also goes on to suggest…

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This is a reblogged post from another blog I maintain at http://www.studeelounge.com. Thanks!


I recently read comments on an article about a new platform that allows teachers to sell their lesson plans to teachers worldwide.  In a response to the article, one person commented that the quality of student has decreased and others agreed with his assessment.

How dare we even talk about the “quality” of a student?  A student comes to school as a “tabula rasa” (blank slate) and as teachers, we are responsible for developing a quality student.

An expectation of “student quality” suggests that some students are predisposed to successfully complete the teacher’s work and others are not.  Thus if they do not succeed in a particular teacher’s classroom then it must be the student that is the problem.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that students should be passive participants nor that all the responsibility for learning rests on the teacher.

There is a line by Mr. Miyagi…

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New Years Resolution – Experiencing Something New Each Week

This past December I reflected on several significant learning experiences, both good and bad, and considered myself lucky to have had them.  As they occurred, I was aware I was going through a learning experience, no matter how painful or enjoyable it might have been.  But then I thought, why not be more intentional about learning and make it a weekly goal.  So I challenged myself to either learn something new, experience something new, or visit a new place at least once each and every week.  In addition, I wanted to make a record of what I learned.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this initiative is the awareness that I am learning something so that the experience does not just pass me by.  This post is my commitment to the resolution.  I will begin by discussing my new experiences in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned!

What are some of your new years resolutions?  Have you/Will you be documenting your results?  If so, please share with us how we may stay updated on your progress.