Thursday, September 14, 2006

Problem Statements

Over on the Requirements Defined blog, Joe writes:
A clear problem statement is, in many cases, just as important as the requirements themselves.
I agree completely that clear problem statements are of utmost importance in product management. However, I don't think Joe shares my view that problem statements are requirements, or at least are logical transpositions thereof.

If the problem is
It takes more than five seconds for a user to make a reservation.
Then the requirement is
The total amount of time it takes for a user to make a reservation shall not exceed five seconds.
Joe goes on to explore how you can further analyze and decompose problem statements:
For example, a company may know that their overall processing time for orders is too long. They may not, however, understand all of the individual problem statements that add up to that company-wide issue. Breaking this problem down into individual subcomponents for analysis and definition requires the exact same skill set used in solution analysis.
Again, I agree that problem decomposition is an essential product management activity. Where Joe and I seem to disagree here is over whether "subproblems" serve as the foundation for requirements - or for design.

Typically, customers do not care about "subproblems" except insofar as they contribute to the larger problem they want to solve. "Subproblems" contain assumptions about the way the product or organization currently operates. A new product will often dispense with at least some of these assumptions. Therefore, which "subproblems" you choose to address is a matter of design.

Part of a product manager's role is to find the right place to fit into, or even transform, customers' processes. In this sense, a product manager engages in some of what we might call "business process design". However, the product manager should always strive to select the highest-level problem to solve, to the extent feasible.

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