Frame Problem

   Problem Framing 

Explore a problem space and formulate a robust problem statement to ensure that you are solving for the right problem.

Session Length: 45+ minutes Group Size: 6+ people Prep Time: 10-20+ minutes


Use Problem Framing at the start of the effort, then revisit it periodically to track your progress.


This approach helps a team to:

• Establish clarity and consensus about the problem the team is trying to solve.
• Gain a sense of what “done” will look like.
• Define the scope of the team’s initial activities and goals.
• Reduce the likelihood of working at cross-purposes.

The Problem Framing canvas helps create an inclusive environment, where all members of the team are able to contribute to building a shared understanding of the problem at hand. Facilitators should take care to build a high-trust environment and ensure each participants is encouraged to speak up. This tool helps foster an adaptable mindset among groups, and they often end up coming up with new ways to describe the problem they are working on.  


STEP 1: Focus on the characteristics and elements of the problem. Ask, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” (Don’t discuss solutions yet.) Participants should describe a specific undesirable situation that the team is working.
STEP 2: Identify which problem elements are most important and most viable for your team to attack. This helps teams begin with the end in mind, and defines a specific goal.
STEP 3: Establish a refined problem statement that reflects the priorities from the discussion. Use it to focus the team and remind them of a common purpose.
STEP 4: Determine why the problem hasn’t already been solved. Gather perspectives from team members and identify ways to remove barriers and obstacles.
STEP 5: Identify who else has this problem. Identifying other instances of the problem can lead to collaboration opportunities. Agree on who in the group will reach out to the individual, group, or organization wrestling with a similar problem.
STEP 6: Identify who does not have this problem and try to determine why. Perhaps the problem is solved in that domain (see step 7), or perhaps the problem did not occur in the first place.
STEP 7: Ask, “Who has solved this problem already?” and then identify opportunities to copy, reuse, or otherwise leverage their solutions. Solutions from other domains may be applicable with adaptations. Discuss issues of relevance, applicability, or other barriers to adoption. Document which opportunities should be investigated.
STEP 8: Revisit the problem statement from Step 1 and ensure that it reflects the nuance from the successive steps. Create a definition of what “done” looks like. What difference will it make for your team? Document the finalized problem and outcome statement and share it with your team.


Want a more detailed intro to Problem Framing? Check out this blog post!

Looking for a SIMPLIFIED version?

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Problem Framing |Worksheet

Download this tool to print out and start using with your team. Each download includes a tool description and if applicable, a template and example.