Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Defining the (s) to be solved for is a critical step in any development project; and especially so when trying to develop a great user experience.

Not only is it a critical step it’s got to be done early in the process. There’s a very good reason why problem definition occurs early in a design sprint!

Imagine trying to develop a great user experience without first having identified the problems, frustrations, challenges that you’d like to overcome. You’d be attempting to shape the effect without first knowing the cause. Not knowing the problems, you wouldn’t know what causes are most influential in determining the user experience. You’d have no target to aim for when developing solutions.

Focusing on the problem gives us a point of focus; it provides direction in what can often be uncertain situations.

But S*&t Gets In The Way

Once the problems are surfaced a lot of work starts to happen. We begin thinking about all the weird and wonderful things that we could do and design.

We start with great intentions to focus on designing solutions that are specific to the problems we have identified. But as time passes, potential pitfalls arise.

We might start gathering information and data that leads us down new paths; we might be asked “oh, could you just [… do something that really isn’t that important but I’m important so you should …]” by a senior colleague and get diverted; we might allow ourselves to get distracted from the problems we initially set out to solve and begin focusing on other things entirely.

Maintaining focus over long periods is not easy. We are human after all.

A Way To Focus On The Problem At Hand

What if there were a straightforward way to keep the problems we need to solve for at the forefront of our minds?

What if we could conceptualise the problem in a fun way?

What if we could make the problem more ?

What if we could create a situation where our subconscious was better able to work on solutions too?

A Memorable Problem

Problem Statement Haiku is a creative hack I have used to reframe problems during dozens of innovation and projects.

Haikus, for those who are unfamiliar, are Japanese poems consisting of 17 syllables. There is a strict structure to the haiku form: 3 lines of 5 followed by 7 followed by 5 syllables.

By writing our Problem Statement as a haiku we have to figure out how we could describe it in a way that fits the prescribed format. For example:

Hai-kus rea-lly are

Ve-ry help-ful to us all

When sol-ving prob-lems

Think Deep To Reframe And Remember

Creating a haiku out of our problem forces us to think deeply and reframe it to fit within the 5,7,5 structure.

We might think through dozens of different ways to say what we want; some might sound great but not be the correct number of syllables, others might be the correct number of syllables but not quite capture the essence of the problem.

What we come up doesn’t matter so much. It’s the process of making our problem fit within a prescribed format; we literally have to problem solve our problems. This reinforces the problem in our minds several times over and commits it to our longer term memory

This in turn makes it more readily accessible when we are consciously designing our solutions. Our subconscious mind is also more attuned to the problems we are working on; it’s amazing to see how the creative solutions flow first thing in the morning after a good night’s rest without time spent consciously thinking about the work.

A Focal Point For Your Team

Projects can be full on and many competing priorities can emerge. At the same time having a clear focus around which the team can align is really important to ensuring continued progress towards a common goal.

The Problem Statement Haiku exercise emerged out of a need to come up with creative ways to keep the problems to be solved for at the forefront of our team’s minds. It’s helped us reframe problems, make them more memorable and keep them as the focus of our work even when other things come into view.

You are very welcome to use the Problem Statement Haiku exercise in your next project. I’d love to hear your experience using it.

Happy problem solving.

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