What’s Your Problem?

Written By: Daniel Kulvicki, Solutions Director at Calavista


I know. The title is a little in your face, but I have always asked this question on each of my projects. Instead of focusing on a solution, focus on the problem that you are solving and keep that focus through the entire project lifecycle. Most projects spend 90% of their time on the solution and only 10% on the actual problem space. We should be putting equal weight to the problem space and the solution space. Let us look at the differences of the problem space versus the solution space.


Figure 1 – Problem Space vs. Solution Space


Problem Space

“A market is a set of related customer needs, which rests squarely in problem space or you can say “problems” define market, not “solutions”. A market is not tied to any specific solutions that meet market needs. It is a broader space. There is no product or design that exists in problem space.” (Ref 1)

What I have found in the past, is that when you ask customers what problem you need to solve; they come back with a solution. Solutions are great for customer feedback to ensure your problem is being solved. However, you must first identify your core problem. My favorite question is “What are you trying to solve?” and it usually takes about 3-4 iterations of answers to that question to get close to the real problem space. Eventually, a “voila!” happens and it just seems easy after that. Until you start working towards the solution.


Solution Space

“If I speak of solution space, any product or the product design — such as mock-ups, wire-frame, prototype, depends on and is built upon problem space, but is in solution space.”

Everyone loves the solution space. It is hands on, validates, and is something new! How quickly have meetings turned to whiteboard sketches and tons of ideas that gets everyone excited? All of this excitement is great and is needed when working in the solution space. But, don’t forget the problem you are solving. Everyone might start off with the right core problem to solve, but as the solution progresses; that problem may change, and no one notices it as they drive to their “awesome” solution. That is why you need to have a certain discipline as a project is executing to step back into the problem space in order to validate the solution.


Product Discovery

Product Discovery is essentially an Agile approach to manage your problem space. Product Owners on an Agile project tend to manage the backlog, but not the problem space. Hence, the need to build in Product Discovery as part of backlog grooming. Try it sometime in a future project. With the right discovery process, your projects will start to come in on time and budget like they do at Calavista.

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