The Problem Framing Canvas: The Who, What, When, Where, and Why Behind the Problem

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There is a common understanding between product people around the world that when you build a product, you build it to solve a problem or build it to respond to a desire. Based on my previous experience, when you use common approaches such as observation and interviews to clarify user needs, you come up with many problem statements. It is very important to know that a statement closes the mind but a question opens the mind.

Problem Framing is a Design Thinking method to understand, define, and prioritize the wicked business problem. This method empowers product people to change problem statements to challenging questions using ‘How Might We …’ in order to open their minds to come up with many potential ideas. We created The Problem Framing Canvas to help product people to frame the right problem for the right customer and make critical decisions, faster!

The Problem Framing Canvas

How to Use the Problem Framing Canvas

The Problem Framing Canvas describes the general problem statement, who is affected, what is it about, when/where does it occur, and we and our customers care about it. You can find step-by-step instructions about how to complete this canvas like a pro in the following:

  1. Business Area
    Here, you start with mentioning your business name, its logo, and your team members.
  2. General Problem Statement
    The general problem statement is a description that clarifies the current situation and its related pains/desires. This is the abstract-level description that your business wants to solve.
  3. Who is Affected?
    This part is the fundamental part of the Problem Framing. Here you should mention who experiences the problem, what consequences do they experience, how do lived experiences of the problem vary, who does not have it, who benefits when this problem exists, and who benefits when this problem does not exist?
  4. What Is It About?
    Describe the problem! List some symptoms. What assumptions/biases are surrounded this problem? What are the pains, what are the desires?
  5. When/Where Does It Occur?
    Describe when does the problem occurs, what are the related jobs-to-be-done, and where does it occur in the user/customer journey?
  6. Why Care About It?
    Clarify why we as a business care about it? Why does our target customer/user care about it?
  7. How Might We …
    Change the problem statement and other findings to a positive challenge. Ask the HMW question. Mention the action you want to achieve, the persona to be influenced or affected, the outcome you would ideally achieve.

    Use this Problem Framing Canvas whenever you want to solve WICKED business problems and when you want to make better decisions, faster.

If you like Product Management Templates, we’ve got plenty more for you right here!

An Imaginary Case Study: A Digital Health Product

To clarify the Problem Framing and to know how to design a well-suited Problem Framing Canvas, let’s go through the imaginary experience. Think about an imaginary digital health company that wants to run a new product for its target market. The product helps patients in Paris to find a suitable doctor in the city and provides a better experience in comparison to their as-is experience. Let’s frame the right problem for its patients:

1. Business Area

Product Name: Sinuhe, Team Members: Sara, Mike, John, Emma.

2. General Problem Statement

Patients spend a lot of time at the office to visit, and this causes them confusion at the same time that they already are not in a good mood.

3. Who is Affected?

Persona: Elderly Patients, Age range: 50-65, Where they live: Paris – On the outskirts of two kilometers from the city center -, Has at least 3K Euro revenue per month.

Who experiences the problem: Patients like this Persona experience wasting their time and energy while their turns come at the doctor’s office.

Who doesn’t experience the problem: The doctor and the secretary don’t experience this situation due to several tasks that they do during the day in the office.

Who benefits and who doesn’t benefit: No one benefits from this situation. This situation increases the dissatisfaction level among patients which impacts the service quality of the doctor’s office.

4. What Is It About?

Problem Description: Patients could be facing delays in visits while they suffering from pain or illness. This makes them become impatient or angry and have improper discussions with the secretary or even the doctor.

Assumptions: Patients visit news websites while they are waiting. Patients sleep in the doctor’s office when they are sitting and waiting. Patients ask questions about their possible visiting time. Secretary could be disorganized when there are more than fifteen patients in the office due to many questions that she should answer to the patients.

Pains, desires: Waste in time, visiting delays, anxiety for illness and the curing process, also they want to know the possible visiting time so they can manage their time and their daily tasks.

5. When/Where Does It Occur?

When: When patients waiting in the doctor’s office to be visited.

Where: At the doctor’s office.

6. Step 5: Why Care About It?

Why business care about it: Because providing a delightful cure experience for patients has fantastic potential in case of the market size and the problem size in Paris.

Why target customer/user cares about it: Because they want to get cured asap while managing their time for daily routines in the day that they go to doctor’s office.

7. How Might We…

How might we help the patients to waste less time and energy during the curing process?

You might also be interested in: Focus on the Problem, Not the Solution by Spotify Product Manager

Last Word

Problem Framing helps product people to focus on what really matters, to focus on the right problem at the right time for the right people. Keep in mind that the ‘HMW…’ question empowers our brain to think differently, to see opportunities for ideation, and to generate as many ideas as possible. Try this canvas within your product management discipline and share your achievements or feedback with us. Keep framing!

About the Author

Aidin Ziapour

Aidin Ziapour is an Innovation Strategist and certified Product Management expert. He is an official associate member of the International Requirements Engineering Board. Also, he has experience working with several famous corporations and brands such as the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship, Axel Springer & Porsche, Amazing Design People List, and System Group.

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