Posted by: JC Gatlin | January 13, 2010

How to write a Problem Statement

The problem (or the deviation from the standard) sometimes seems obvious. In reality, this can be the toughest and most time-consuming part of the PDCA process. Put the time and energy upfront in identifying an accurate problem and writing a clear, concise, and measurable problem statement.

Step 1.

Write a “Problem Description,” a short paragraph describing as many details of the problem you and the members of your PDCA Group can share.  Don’t worry about grammar or junk words. This isn’t for publication or an official part of the final PDCA. It’s simply an opportunity to get everyone’s thoughts down on paper. 


Step 2.

Work out the “What Should Be Happening vs. What’s Actually Happening” Chart. This will begin to narrow your Problem Description into a single sentence or phrase. Pull this information directly from your Problem Description.


Step 3.

Further develop the problem by adding “When,” “Where” and “What.” Pull this information directly from the Problem Description, if possible. 


Step 4.

Using the “What Should Be Happening vs. What’s Actually Happening” Chart, and the When, Where and What answers, write the first draft of the problem statement. Make it as short and to the point as possible.

Step 5.

Circle any junk words – words that are vague or can have different meanings to different people. Examples of junk words: a lot, far, too expensive, very old, extremely heavy, far from.


Step 6.

Circle any phrases dealing with amounts or time frames. These cannot be open-ended and must be measurable. Ask the question, will someone reading this problem statement six months from now understand the measurements?


Step 7.

Show the deviation from standard. By stating the standard, you’re making the problem obvious.

Step 8.

Check for some common missteps.

  • Is the word “Because” in the Problem Statement? If so, you’re probably including the Point of Cause in it. Remove “because” and the phrase the follows, and the Problem Statement will be more concise.
  • Are the words “need to,” “should,” “must,” or “are not doing/checking/reviewing” in the Problem Statement? If so, you may be including a root cause or even a counter measure in it. Review those phrases carefully and ask “Is that causing the problem?” or “Is that solving the problem?” If the answer is yes to either of those two questions, remove the clause from the Problem Statement.
  •  Is the Problem Statement over 25 words? Most problem statement are 18-25 words. If your problem statement is 25 words or more, review it again to see if there are any words or clauses that can be removed. Keep it short, concise and to the point. It’s not wrong to be over 25 words, but it is a warning sign.
  •  Have you identified the problem being that there is no standard? The fact that there simply is no standard is rarely the problem in itself. A lack of standard and even in-adherence to a standard is generally a Point of Cause or a root cause. Ask the question, “Is this lack of standard causing something to happen that shouldn’t be happening?” That action or “happening” is more likely the problem.

© January 2010 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo



  1. Great post. I believe good problem statements are the least invested in part of the process, yet one of the most important. The problem statement sets the trajectory, the path.

    One thing I would add about problem statements is write them in pencil (at least figuratively). I think once you write it, as you get into solving the problem, a substantial portion of the time you will learn something that requires modifying the problem statement. You want to remain flexible in your process to do that.

  2. […] How to write a Problem Statement dal blog Lean Homebuilding di J.C. Gatlin: Guida passo per passo su come scrivere la dichiarazione di un problema. Molto interessante! (traduzione automatica) […]

  3. Hi. Very interesting Post. Not really what i have searched over Google, but thanks for the information.

  4. Greetings,

    A very good and interesting post. But i want some more understanding on the problem statement. Why there should be only eighteen words? Why not more than 25?

    Awaiting for your response.


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