Here's The Problem

Daniel Starr

A clear, concise statement of the problem your project is trying to solve is essential. It puts requirements into context, builds mutual understanding about goals between the team and stakeholders, and serves as a reality check on future scope changes. Here’s how to write a good one and use it effectively.

In the article “The Ring Project” (April 13, 2006), I suggested that you’re a lot more likely to succeed as a project manager if you keep your project’s destination in sight. Lord of the Rings’ Frodo and Sam had little difficulty doing this, as their destination was an active volcano several miles high. But what about your project’s destination?
In my experience, a clear, concise problem statement can serve as a project’s version of that active volcano. No more than a page or two in length, and possibly only a couple sentences, a statement about what “success” means to the project — thoughtfully created and bought-into by all stakeholders — can provide the destination that’s always kept in sight.
Many Users, Many Reasons
For the project team, a problem statement provides the overarching reason for the project’s existence. It allows the team to navigate the dark woods and treacherous swamps of the hundred-page requirements document without getting lost, for it provides the context within which the requirements have meaning. In the article “All Pain, No Gain” (Dec. 15…

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