Sometimes, you can sense something is wrong. But it's unclear what the real issue is.

Defining a problem is the first step in problem solving, and lays the foundation for an effective and efficient response to a challenge.

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How To Define A Problem

Diagnosing a situation may seem easy at first glance. In fact, it can take time and effort to pinpoint a root cause.

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Here are some tips to start investigating the source of an issue.

  • Identify the "W's"

When stating the problems, it is critical to go into details. Instead of just saying what the problem is, identify:

  1. What are the symptoms?

  2. What tools have been used?

  3. Who is involved?

  4. When did this happen?

  5. Where did this take place?

  • Focus on the problem itself

    You might be tempted to develop solutions as you investigate the problem. In the defining stage, resist the impulse to form a solution, and concentrate on the problem itself until you have a clear understanding of the issue.

  • Assess the impact

    It is not enough to just state what's wrong. To successfully define a problem, identify the impact. Even better if you can quantify them (measure using numbers).


In the process of problem-defining, how can we identify the root of the problem more accurately?

Hone Your Skills

Being a sharp and efficient problem solver takes efforts and practice. Now, collect your tools to find out what stops you from achieving your goal.

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  • Develop a keen sense of observation

    Dive into details of the problem. Jot down what you see, feel, and hear. A brainy problem solver is alway curious about what's new and tries to understand what's unclear.

  • Analyze creatively and critically

    Being open to new ideas and fostering an innovative mindset is important in determining the issue. Ask yourself: what biases might I have that influence my view of the problem?

  • Demonstrate leadership in problem-defining

    Take charge of the process as a leader and use your skills in decision-making, prioritizing, balancing, coordinating, communicating, and evaluating as you define the problem.


When you get conflicting evidence on the cause of the problem, how should you respond?

Take Action

A well-defined problem will give a clear direction on where to head forward. Without a clear understanding you may experience confusion, resource waste, or even negative morale.

Remember: a problem well stated is a problem half-solved.

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