Problem Solving with the Problem Statements

Posted on July 23, 2019
Problem Solving with the Problem Statements

Failure by project teams to effectively resolve problems can often be traced back to a poorly executed Problem Statement or the absence of one entirely.

The Problem Statement clarifies and draws attention to a problem in a purely objective and factually detailed way. It can result in getting the go-ahead from senior leaders to divert resources to solve a problem and unifies a team to find a solution.

The statement describes the “Undesirable Gap” or the gap between a present problematic state and desired future state.

The person writing the statement needs to distance themselves when writing it, which may be difficult if it affects them directly. They must refrain from making assumptions about its cause, its solution or assigning blame. Quantifiable measurements and factual details are a part of the statement, not speculation.

For instance: a warehouse foreman is concerned about frequent late deliveries. The Problem Statement will detail the incidents of lateness, including dates and times, the drivers, the freight in question and other facts. It reports when the problem was first observed and who and what other activities it is impacting. Even though other issues are resulting from it, the statement presents only one problem at a time for a solution.

The 5W/2H Tool was developed for the purpose of writing the Problem Statement, outlining the questions that need to be answered.

The 52H Tool

Even if the cause of the problem seems obvious, the writer needs to remember that establishing the root cause is not their job — is one of the future steps in the investigative process.

At the start of any improvement project, a Problem Statement is of utmost importance. Proper attention to it, and to other Lean Six Sigma principles, will help keep operations in any organization running smoothly.


The topic of this article is covered in the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd program Masters Certificate in Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (starting Nov. 1, 2019). Master the skills to achieve higher quality products and services, reduce process variation and waste, and eliminate defects and non-value-added steps – and become Black Belt certified.