Problem Analysis

Unpacking and Analyzing the Problem

Don’t be one of those companies that builds a product in search of a problem. Understand the problem you want to solve before you do any work on your product. Testing the problem you want to solve is the most important activity in product development. Get this wrong and everything that follows is all for naught. You will have built a product that no one uses.

Discover the crucial truths about the problem. Form a hypothesis about the problem. Write a problem statement. Test your hypothesis.

“New and interesting business opportunities are all around us, and they almost always start with a problem. Find a problem you think you can fix and you’re well on your way.”

~ Michael Dell

Drill Down to the Root Cause

The best way to investigate a problem is to talk directly with those who are affected by it. Who live with the pain daily. You need to go to the source to truly understand it.

If you don’t have direct access to those people, get it. Reach out to them directly, or ask your colleagues or contacts to introduce you.

Ask a lot of questions until you get to the root cause. To the core of the problem.

Once you identify the cause, immerse yourself with the problem. Look at it from different angles and perspectives.

What’s the context in which the problem arises? What are the conditions that trigger it? Is the problem always present? Or only at certain times? How long has the problem existed?

The Painful Part of Problems

I can’t overstate it enough: Understanding the implications of the problem is just as important as identifying the root cause. Implications are the result of the problem.

What does it mean to those who are affected by it? How are they impacted? How significant is the problem to them? Which groups or individuals are burdened most?

For example, how much does it cost in money or lost productivity? How much time do people loose dealing with the problem or working around it? Have they lost customers due to it?

Does the problem make them less efficient or effective? Does the problem impact their quality of life or business?

What is the emotional impact of the problem on those affected by it? For example, does the problem cause anger, stress, or fatigue?

What does not get done as a result of having to cope with the problem?

Assessing the Significance of the Problem

How important is this problem to those who are impacted? This will tell you whether the problem is worth your attention.

Do those impacted feel it must be solved? What if the problem was never solved? Could they live with it? Do any workarounds exist?

If you didn’t fix it, would they find an alternative solution? Are they talking to other organizations or people about a solution?

How does the problem rank relative to other problems they are trying to solve? Which problems are more important? Which are of lesser importance?

Have resources (money, people, and time) been allocated to address this problem? Do they have a formal team responsible for solving it?

What type of visibility does this problem have within the company? Is it known among senior management?

Are industry insiders, such as analysts or consultants, discussing the problem? Are any of your competitors talking about the problem?

How widespread is the problem? Does it affect every organization in a given market? Does it affect one or multiple markets? Do they all experience the problem to the same degree? Or is it limited in some markets?

Should You Solve the Problem?

Just because you can solve the problem, doesn’t mean you should solve it.

Do customers expect you to solve the problem? Have they been asking you to? Or would they expect to get a solution someplace else?

Are they willing to pay for a solution? Or would they expect your existing product to fix it at no additional charge? How much are they willing to pay?

Is this problem similar to other problems your company has addressed in the past? Does it align with the strategic focus of your business? How does it rank relative to other problems you are addressing?

Is your business equipped to solve this problem? Or would it need to make significant new investments to tackle it? What type of investment would be required to solve it? What is the total cost to solve it?

What partnerships, if any, would you need to solve this problem? Do you already have those partnerships in place, or would you need to establish new partnerships?


We’ve looked at four key activities you should perform when you are testing the problem you want to solve: identifying the root cause, surfacing the implications, assessing the significance, and determining whether to invest.

What other aspects of problem analysis do you find important? Please share.

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