Setting the Right Level for Your Problem Statements

Each problem a team takes on needs to be leveled correctly or they risk setting themselves up for failure

The first step in the Lean UX canvas (and process) is to write business problem statements. In last month's newsletter I showed a complete Lean UX canvas. This month I started writing a bit more specifically about the difference between problem statements and opportunity statements. One of the things that's important to consider when writing problem statements is what level to set them at. I get this question a lot during our training courses. Most teams have a lot of ambition. They want to make sure the work they do positively impacts the entire business unit or even the company. This is admirable but it also comes with risk.

Setting yourself up to fail

The biggest risk is being too ambitious with your problem statement. A core quality of the high-performing teams we've observed is self-sufficiency. This often means that the team has the skillsets required to do all of its work. However, it also means that the team can work as independently as possible to deliver on its goals. Obviously no one works in a vacuum but the less dependent a team can be on other teams, the more efficiently it can move, make decisions and pivot when the data comes back. As you set bigger and bigger problems to solve for your team, its independence diminishes.The problem statement you commit to will determine how much of your fate is in your hands. As the number of hands increases the likelihood of solving the entire problem and reaching the outcomes decreases. We're setting ourselves up to fail.

Commit to problems you can solve

If your team is in charge of an entire product, by all means set your problem statements at the product level. Take on big improvements. However, if your team is in charge of one slice of the user journey, solve problems within that part of the user journey. For example, if you're the authentication team on an e-commerce site, of course ultimately we want to help drive increased sales. However, we work on the authentication portion of the journey. Instead of solving revenue problems we're solving operations costs. We want customers to authenticate quickly and securely. We don't want them calling or chatting with customer service about lost passwords.Will this ultimately drive revenue? Yes, people can't shop and pay if they can't authenticate. But there are so many other variables between authenticating and paying for something in a shopping cart. You can't be responsible nor beholden to those other parts of the customer experience. You can only focus on the problems within your sphere of influence and your success criteria should reflect it.

Writing appropriate problem statements takes practice

The discipline to write problem statements that are within your team's domain takes practice. It also takes a clear understanding of the corporate and product strategy. We want to make sure we're taking on not only problems we can solve but ones that will support the current direction of the company. To do that we need line of sight into how the behavior we influence within our portion of the user journey drives behavior further down the line. We need to understand which of these behaviours are leading indicators and how we can best maximise them. While the authentication process itself doesn't yield any revenue it does drive down operations costs and ensures that your customers can easily move forward in their goal to make a purchase.

What I've been up to:

I spent a week in October traveling to Richmond, Virginia to reunite with my band from university. It was the 28th anniversary of the formation of that band and we decided to hold a reunion. We rehearsed 3 nights prior to the show and I must admit we were at 80% after the first rehearsal. In more ways than one, it was just like riding a bike. The show was a big success and was widely attended by many familiar and now older faces. Never let them tell you can't go home again. This was one of the highlights of 2022 for me.

The guys and I on stage at The Camel in Richmond, Virginia last month.

As always, you can learn all about the workshops and keynotes I offer here. I'm now booking into late Q1 and Q2 2023.

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: War of the Worlds Season 3 -- When Season 2 of this smart and dark show ended I didn't know there would be a Season 3. I was thrilled to find it a couple of weeks ago and have now completed it. This is a mind-bending season where keeping up where each character is at any given time isn't easy but if, like me, you found Seasons 1 and 2 scary and intriguing, you'll like the new season as well.

Listen: Wolf Alice -- We've now seen this British band twice in the last 4 years. They're phenomenal and fun. They give their recorded material 100% more life when on stage and oh boy can they all sing. The records are good, definitely listen. If you have a chance to see them live, don't miss it.

Read: Barça - The Rise and Fall of the Club That Built Modern Football -- If you know me, you know I'm not a sports guy. However, learning how someone or something became the global phenomenon that it is, is always interesting, even if it is sports related. This book takes a look at how the Barcelona football club reinvent not only the playing of the sport but the business of football as well.

If you're interested in working together please reach out. If you're not sure what I do, here's a description.


or to participate.