Design Thinking: How to Frame the Problem

Clarifying the Problem Is the First Step Toward a Successful Design Sprint.

The entire first day of a design sprint focuses on understanding the problem and its nuances, which is critically important to the success of the remainder of the process. Not only is it about finding a problem that can be effectively resolved by the design sprint, but also positioning it to be confronted directly, based on prioritizing criteria such as cost, time, impact, and any other relevant parameters.

Drafting an accurate and concise problem statement is key. Breaking down the wording and refining the positioning of the problem is important to demonstrate clarity, removing nuances that could lead to multiple interpretations. Using the 'How Might We' phrase while brainstorming helps determine potential subsets of the entire problem, giving insight to best approaches that may take effect down the line.

The major pivot point to avoid failure in the design thinking process is the degree of specificity in the problem statement. Ambiguity is no ally during this process. It does not open parameters up to more solutions. It only leads to unnecessary time wasted on inapplicable solutions. One of the many ways to approach defining a specific problem is to identify the many who's, what's, and why's that exist in the space around the issue, such as asking:

  • Who is affected?
  • Who fully understands the problem?
  • What are the business needs?
  • What are the goals?
  • What is impacted?
  • What are the contributing strengths and weaknesses?
  • What has been tried?
  • Why this problem? Is it worth it?
  • Why has this issue persisted? Has anything prevented a solution or amplified it?
  • How are people currently achieving their goals?

These questions serve the purpose of prioritizing the problems to solve first and positioning them for stakeholder buy-in. Moving forward with client value and business priorities in mind will justify your decisions, especially when qualifying necessary time and resources.

All this preparatory work in framing the problem sets up the following steps and decisions, such as the very important task of assembling the right team. Having the qualified background knowledge and experience available makes all the difference in the accuracy of the work and the amount of time spent doing so. Subject matter experts, also known as SMEs, are key in providing extremely helpful insight. These highly specialized individuals can share their expertise and perspective, shedding light on unseen details and flushing out processes for potential obstacles informed by their unique points of view.

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