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Effective problem statements have these 5 components

problem-statement-colleagues-gathered-talking-in-office

We’ve all encountered problems on the job. After all, that’s what a lot of work is about. Solving meaningful problems to help improve something. 

Developing a problem statement that provides a brief description of an issue you want to solve is an important early step in problem-solving .

It sounds deceptively simple. But creating an effective problem statement isn’t that easy, even for a genius like Albert Einstein. Given one hour to work on a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes finding solutions. (Or so the story goes.)

Einstein was probably exaggerating to make a point. But considering his success in solving complex problems, we think he was on to something. 

As humans, we’re wired to jump past the problem and go directly to the solution stage. In emergencies, this behavior can be lifesaving, as in leaping out of the way of a speeding car. But when dealing with longer-range issues in the workplace, this can lead to bad decisions or half-baked solutions. 

That’s where problem statements come in handy. They help to meaningfully outline objectives to reach effective solutions. Knowing how to develop a great problem statement is also a valuable tool for honing your management skills .

But what exactly is a problem statement, when should you use one, and how do you go about writing one? In this article, we'll answer those questions and give you some tips for writing effective problem statements. Then you'll be ready to take on more challenges large and small.

What is a problem statement?

First, let’s start by defining a problem statement. 

A problem statement is a short, clear explanation of an issue or challenge that sums up what you want to change. It helps you, team members, and other stakeholders to focus on the problem, why it’s important, and who it impacts. 

A good problem statement should create awareness and stimulate creative thinking . It should not identify a solution or create a bias toward a specific strategy.

Taking time to work on a problem statement is a great way to short-circuit the tendency to rush to solutions. It helps to make sure you’re focusing on the right problem and have a well-informed understanding of the root causes. The process can also help you take a more proactive than reactive approach to problem-solving . This can help position you and your team to avoid getting stuck in constant fire-fighting mode. That way, you can take advantage of more growth opportunities.  

When to use a problem statement

The best time to create a problem statement is before you start thinking of solutions. If you catch yourself or your team rushing to the solution stage when you’re first discussing a problem, hit the brakes. Go back and work on the statement of the problem to make sure everyone understands and agrees on what the real problem is. 

Here are some common situations where writing problem statements might come in handy: 

  • Writing an executive summary for a project proposal or research project
  • Collaborating   on a cross-functional project with several team members
  • Defining the customer issue that a proposed product or service aims to solve
  • Using design thinking to improve user experience
  • Tackling a problem that previous actions failed to solve 

How to identify a problem statement

Like the unseen body of an iceberg, the root cause of a specific problem isn’t always obvious. So when developing a problem statement, how do you go about identifying the true, underlying problem?

These two steps will help you uncover the root cause of a problem :

  • Collect information from the research and previous experience with the problem
  • Talk to multiple stakeholders who are impacted by the problem

People often perceive problems differently. Interviewing stakeholders will help you understand the problem from diverse points of view. It can also help you develop some case studies to illustrate the problem. 

Combining these insights with research data will help you identify root causes more accurately. In turn, this methodology will help you craft a problem statement that will lead to more viable solutions. 

What are problem statements used for?

You can use problem statements for a variety of purposes. For an organization, it might be solving customer and employee issues. For the government, it could be improving public health. For individuals, it can mean enhancing their own personal well-being . Generally, problem statements can be used to:

  • Identify opportunities for improvement
  • Focus on the right problems or issues to launch more successful initiatives – a common challenge in leadership
  • Help you communicate a problem to others who need to be involved in finding a solution
  • Serve as the basis for developing an action plan or goals that need to be accomplished to help solve the problem
  • Stimulate thinking outside the box  and other types of creative brainstorming techniques

3 examples of problem statements

When you want to be sure you understand a concept or tool, it helps to see an example. There can also be some differences in opinion about what a problem statement should look like. For instance, some frameworks include a proposed solution as part of the problem statement. But if the goal is to stimulate fresh ideas, it’s better not to suggest a solution within the problem statement. 

In our experience, an effective problem statement is brief, preferably one sentence. It’s also specific and descriptive without being prescriptive. 

Here are three problem statement examples. While these examples represent three types of problems or goals, keep in mind that there can be many other types of problem statements.        

Example Problem Statement 1: The Status Quo Problem Statement

Example: 

The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons.

This can be used to describe a current pain point within an organization that may need to be addressed. Note that the statement specifies that the issue occurs during the company’s slow time as well as the busy season. This is helpful in performing the root cause analysis and determining how this problem can be solved. 

The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons. The company is currently understaffed and customer service representatives are overwhelmed.

Background:

Example company is facing a significant challenge in managing their customer service on-hold times. In the past, the company had been known for its efficient and timely customer service, but due to a combination of factors, including understaffing and increased customer demand, the on-hold times have exceeded five minutes consistently. This has resulted in frustration and dissatisfaction among customers, negatively impacting the company's reputation and customer loyalty.

Reducing the on-hold times for customer service callers is crucial for Example company. Prolonged waiting times have a detrimental effect on customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to potential customer churn and loss of revenue. Additionally, the company's declining reputation in terms of customer service can have a lasting impact on its competitive position in the market. Addressing this problem is of utmost importance to improve customer experience and maintain a positive brand image.

Objectives:

The primary objective of this project is to reduce the on-hold times for customer service callers at Example company. The specific objectives include:

  • Analyzing the current customer service workflow and identifying bottlenecks contributing to increased on-hold times.
  • Assessing the staffing levels and resource allocation to determine the extent of understaffing and its impact on customer service.
  • Developing strategies and implementing measures to optimize the customer service workflow and reduce on-hold times.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented measures through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as average on-hold time, customer satisfaction ratings, and customer feedback.
  • Establishing a sustainable approach to maintain reduced on-hold times, taking into account both busy and slow seasons, through proper resource planning, training, and process improvements.

Example Problem Statement 2: The Destination Problem Statement

Leaders at Example company want to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. 

This approach can be used to describe where an organization wants to be in the future. This type of problem statement is useful for launching initiatives to help an organization achieve its desired state. 

Like creating SMART goals , you want to be as specific as possible. Note that the statement specifies “net revenue” instead of “gross revenue." This will help keep options open for potential actions. It also makes it clear that merely increasing sales is not an acceptable solution if higher marketing costs offset the net gains. 

Leaders at Example company aim to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. However, the company currently lacks the necessary teams to tackle this objective effectively. To achieve this growth target, the company needs to expand its marketing and PR teams, as well as its product development teams, to prepare for scaling. 

Example company faces the challenge of generating a 5% increase in net revenue for its premium product line of widgets in the upcoming fiscal year. Currently, the company lacks the required workforce to drive this growth. Without adequate staff in the marketing, PR, and product development departments, the company's ability to effectively promote, position, and innovate its premium product line will be hindered. To achieve this kind of growth, it is essential that Example company expands teams, enhances capabilities, and strategically taps into the existing pool of loyal customers.

Increasing net revenue for the premium product line is crucial for Example company's overall business success. Failure to achieve the targeted growth rate can lead to missed revenue opportunities and stagnation in the market. By expanding the marketing and PR teams, Example company can strengthen its brand presence, effectively communicate the value proposition of its premium product line, and attract new customers.

Additionally, expanding the product development teams will enable the company to introduce new features and innovations, further enticing existing and potential customers. Therefore, addressing the workforce shortage and investing in the necessary resources are vital for achieving the revenue growth objective.

The primary objective of this project is to increase net revenue for Example company's premium product line of widgets by 5% in the next fiscal year. The specific objectives include:

  • Assessing the current workforce and identifying the gaps in the marketing, PR, and product development teams.
  • Expanding the marketing and PR teams by hiring skilled professionals who can effectively promote the premium product line and engage with the target audience.
  • Strengthening the product development teams by recruiting qualified individuals who can drive innovation, enhance product features, and meet customer demands.
  • Developing a comprehensive marketing and PR strategy to effectively communicate the value proposition of the premium product line and attract new customers.
  • Leveraging the existing base of loyal customers to increase repeat purchases, referrals, and brand advocacy.
  • Allocating sufficient resources, both time and manpower, to support the expansion and scaling efforts required to achieve the ambitious revenue growth target.
  • Monitoring and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as net revenue, customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer satisfaction to measure the success of the growth initiatives.
  • Establishing a sustainable plan to maintain the increased revenue growth beyond the next fiscal year by implementing strategies for continuous improvement and adaptation to market dynamics.

Example Problem Statement 3 The Stakeholder Problem Statement

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys , less than 30% of employees at Eample company stated that they feel valued by the company. This represents a 20% decline compared to the same period in the year prior. 

This strategy can be used to describe how a specific stakeholder group views the organization. It can be useful for exploring issues and potential solutions that impact specific groups of people. 

Note the statement makes it clear that the issue has been present in multiple surveys and it's significantly worse than the previous year. When researching root causes, the HR team will want to zero in on factors that changed since the previous year.

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys, less than 30% of employees at the Example company stated that they feel valued by the company. This indicates a significant decline of 20% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The company aspires to reduce this percentage further to under 10%. However, achieving this goal would require filling specialized roles and implementing substantial cultural changes within the organization.

Example company is facing a pressing issue regarding employee engagement and perceived value within the company. Over the past year, there has been a notable decline in the percentage of employees who feel valued. This decline is evident in the results of the quarterly employee engagement surveys, which consistently show less than 30% of employees reporting a sense of value by the company.

This decline of 20% compared to the previous year's data signifies a concerning trend. To address this problem effectively, Example company needs to undertake significant measures that go beyond superficial changes and necessitate filling specialized roles and transforming the company culture.

Employee engagement and a sense of value are crucial for organizational success. When employees feel valued, they tend to be more productive, committed, and motivated. Conversely, a lack of perceived value can lead to decreased morale, increased turnover rates, and diminished overall performance.

By addressing the decline in employees feeling valued, Example company can improve employee satisfaction, retention, and ultimately, overall productivity. Achieving the desired reduction to under 10% is essential to restore a positive work environment and build a culture of appreciation and respect.

The primary objective of this project is to increase the percentage of employees who feel valued by Example company, aiming to reduce it to under 10%. The specific objectives include:

  • Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the factors contributing to the decline in employees feeling valued, including organizational policies, communication practices, leadership styles, and cultural norms.
  • Identifying and filling specialized roles, such as employee engagement specialists or culture change agents, who can provide expertise and guidance in fostering a culture of value and appreciation.
  • Developing a holistic employee engagement strategy that encompasses various initiatives, including training programs, recognition programs, feedback mechanisms, and communication channels, to enhance employee value perception.
  • Implementing cultural changes within the organization that align with the values of appreciation, respect, and recognition, while fostering an environment where employees feel valued.
  • Communicating the importance of employee value and engagement throughout all levels of the organization, including leadership teams, managers, and supervisors, to ensure consistent messaging and support.
  • Monitoring progress through regular employee surveys, feedback sessions, and key performance indicators (KPIs) related to employee satisfaction, turnover rates, and overall engagement levels.
  • Providing ongoing support, resources, and training to managers and supervisors to enable them to effectively recognize and appreciate their teams and foster a culture of value within their respective departments.
  • Establishing a sustainable framework for maintaining high employee value perception in the long term, including regular evaluation and adaptation of employee engagement initiatives to address evolving needs and expectations.

problem-statement-man-with-arms-crossed-smiling

What are the 5 components of a problem statement?

In developing a problem statement, it helps to think like a journalist by focusing on the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why or how. Keep in mind that every statement may not explicitly include each component. But asking these questions is a good way to make sure you’re covering the key elements:

  • Who: Who are the stakeholders that are affected by the problem?
  • What: What is the current state, desired state, or unmet need? 
  • When: When is the issue occurring or what is the timeframe involved?
  • Where: Where is the problem occurring? For example, is it in a specific department, location, or region?
  • Why: Why is this important or worth solving? How is the problem impacting your customers, employees, other stakeholders, or the organization? What is the magnitude of the problem? How large is the gap between the current and desired state? 

How do you write a problem statement?

There are many frameworks designed to help people write a problem statement. One example is outlined in the book, The Conclusion Trap: Four Steps to Better Decisions, ” by Daniel Markovitz. A faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, the author uses many case studies from his work as a business consultant.

To simplify the process, we’ve broken it down into three steps:

1. Gather data and observe

Use data from research and reports, as well as facts from direct observation to answer the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. 

Whenever possible, get out in the field and talk directly with stakeholders impacted by the problem. Get a firsthand look at the work environment and equipment. This may mean spending time on the production floor asking employees questions about their work and challenges. Or taking customer service calls to learn more about customer pain points and problems your employees may be grappling with.    

2. Frame the problem properly  

A well-framed problem will help you avoid cognitive bias and open avenues for discussion. It will also encourage the exploration of more options.

A good way to test a problem statement for bias is to ask questions like these:

3. Keep asking why (and check in on the progress)

When it comes to problem-solving, stay curious. Lean on your growth mindset to keep asking why — and check in on the progress. 

Asking why until you’re satisfied that you’ve uncovered the root cause of the problem will help you avoid ineffective band-aid solutions.

Refining your problem statements

When solving any sort of problem, there’s likely a slew of questions that might arise for you. In order to holistically understand the root cause of the problem at hand, your workforce needs to stay curious. 

An effective problem statement creates the space you and your team need to explore, gain insight, and get buy-in before taking action.

If you have embarked on a proposed solution, it’s also important to understand that solutions are malleable. There may be no single best solution. Solutions can change and adapt as external factors change, too. It’s more important than ever that organizations stay agile . This means that interactive check-ins are critical to solving tough problems. By keeping a good pulse on your course of action, you’ll be better equipped to pivot when the time comes to change. 

BetterUp can help. With access to virtual coaching , your people can get personalized support to help solve tough problems of the future.

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Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

18 excellent educational podcasts to fuel your love of learning

The future of ai: where does your job stand, 6 ai prompt generator tools to boost your creativity, 4 benefits of ai and 4 potential disadvantages, 20 ai tools to help boost productivity in 2023, how to use 100% of your brain: is it possible, experimentation brings innovation: create an experimental workplace, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, all about the 3 types of memory and how they form, similar articles, 10 problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head, writing a value statement: your guide to keeping your team aligned, 10 personal brand statements to put all eyes on you, discover 4 types of innovation and how to encourage them, what is organizational structure and why is it important, create smart kpis to strategically grow your business, contingency planning: 4 steps to prepare for the unexpected, what is a career statement, and should you write one, how to craft an impactful company mission statement, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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How to Write a Case Study: The Compelling Step-by-Step Guide

How to write a case study the compelling step by step guide

Is there a poignant pain point that needs to be addressed in your company or industry? Do you have a possible solution but want to test your theory? Why not turn this drive into a transformative learning experience and an opportunity to produce a high-quality business case study? However, before that occurs, you may wonder how to write a case study.

You may also be thinking about why you should produce one at all. Did you know that case studies are impactful and the fifth most used type of content in marketing , despite being more resource-intensive to produce?

Below, we’ll delve into what a case study is, its benefits, and how to approach business case study writing:

Definition of a Written case study and its Purpose

A case study is a research method that involves a detailed and comprehensive examination of a specific real-life situation. It’s often used in various fields, including business, education, economics, and sociology, to understand a complex issue better. 

It typically includes an in-depth analysis of the subject and an examination of its context and background information, incorporating data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and existing literature. 

The ultimate aim is to provide a rich and detailed account of a situation to identify patterns and relationships, generate new insights and understanding, illustrate theories, or test hypotheses.

Importance of Business Case Study Writing

As such an in-depth exploration into a subject with potentially far-reaching consequences, a case study has benefits to offer various stakeholders in the organisation leading it.

  • Business Founders: Use business case study writing to highlight real-life examples of companies or individuals who have benefited from their products or services, providing potential customers with a tangible demonstration of the value their business can bring. It can be effective for attracting new clients or investors by showcasing thought leadership and building trust and credibility.
  • Marketers through case studies and encourage them to take action: Marketers use a case studies writer to showcase the success of a particular product, service, or marketing campaign. They can use persuasive storytelling to engage the reader, whether it’s consumers, clients, or potential partners.
  • Researchers: They allow researchers to gain insight into real-world scenarios, explore a variety of perspectives, and develop a nuanced understanding of the factors that contribute to success or failure. Additionally, case studies provide practical business recommendations and help build a body of knowledge in a particular field.

How to Write a Case Study – The Key Elements 

How to Write a Case Study – The Key Elements

Considering how to write a case study can seem overwhelming at first. However, looking at it in terms of its constituent parts will help you to get started, focus on the key issue(s), and execute it efficiently and effectively.

Problem or Challenge Statement

A problem statement concisely describes a specific issue or problem that a written case study aims to address. It sets the stage for the rest of the case study and provides context for the reader. 

Here are some steps to help you write a case study problem statement:

  • Identify the problem or issue that the case study will focus on.
  • Research the problem to better understand its context, causes, and effects.
  • Define the problem clearly and concisely. Be specific and avoid generalisations.
  • State the significance of the problem: Explain why the issue is worth solving. Consider the impact it has on the individual, organisation, or industry.
  • Provide background information that will help the reader understand the context of the problem.
  • Keep it concise: A problem statement should be brief and to the point. Avoid going into too much detail – leave this for the body of the case study!

Here is an example of a problem statement for a case study:

“ The XYZ Company is facing a problem with declining sales and increasing customer complaints. Despite improving the customer experience, the company has yet to reverse the trend . This case study will examine the causes of the problem and propose solutions to improve sales and customer satisfaction. “

Solutions and interventions

Here are some steps to help you write a case study solution or intervention

Business case study writing provides a solution or intervention that identifies the best course of action to address the problem or issue described in the problem statement. 

Here are some steps to help you write a case study solution or intervention:

  • Identify the objective , which should be directly related to the problem statement.
  • Analyse the data, which could include data from interviews, observations, and existing literature.
  • Evaluate alternatives that have been proposed or implemented in similar situations, considering their strengths, weaknesses, and impact.
  • Choose the best solution based on the objective and data analysis. Remember to consider factors such as feasibility, cost, and potential impact.
  • Justify the solution by explaining how it addresses the problem and why it’s the best solution with supportive evidence.
  • Provide a detailed, step-by-step plan of action that considers the resources required, timeline, and expected outcomes.

Example of a solution or intervention for a case study:

“ To address the problem of declining sales and increasing customer complaints at the XYZ Company, we propose a comprehensive customer experience improvement program. “

“ This program will involve the following steps:

  • Conducting customer surveys to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement
  • Implementing training programs for employees to improve customer service skills
  • Revising the company’s product offerings to meet customer needs better
  • Implementing a customer loyalty program to encourage repeat business “

“ These steps will improve customer satisfaction and increase sales. We expect a 10% increase in sales within the first year of implementation, based on similar programs implemented by other companies in the industry. “

Possible Results and outcomes

Writing case study results and outcomes

Writing case study results and outcomes involves presenting the impact of the proposed solution or intervention. 

Here are some steps to help you write case study results and outcomes:

  • Evaluate the solution by measuring its effectiveness in addressing the problem statement. That could involve collecting data, conducting surveys, or monitoring key performance indicators.
  • Present the results clearly and concisely, using graphs, charts, and tables to represent the data where applicable visually. Be sure to include both quantitative and qualitative results.
  • Compare the results to the expectations set in the solution or intervention section. Explain any discrepancies and why they occurred.
  • Discuss the outcomes and impact of the solution, considering the benefits and drawbacks and what lessons can be learned.
  • Provide recommendations for future action based on the results. For example, what changes should be made to improve the solution, or what additional steps should be taken?

Example of results and outcomes for a case study:

“ The customer experience improvement program implemented at the XYZ Company was successful. We found significant improvement in employee health and productivity. The program, which included on-site exercise classes and healthy food options, led to a 25% decrease in employee absenteeism and a 15% increase in productivity . “

“ Employee satisfaction with the program was high, with 90% reporting an improved work-life balance. Despite initial costs, the program proved to be cost-effective in the long run, with decreased healthcare costs and increased employee retention. The company plans to continue the program and explore expanding it to other offices .”

Case Study Key takeaways

Key takeaways are the most important and relevant insights and lessons

Key takeaways are the most important and relevant insights and lessons that can be drawn from a case study. Key takeaways can help readers understand the most significant outcomes and impacts of the solution or intervention. 

Here are some steps to help you write case study key takeaways:

  • Summarise the problem that was addressed and the solution that was proposed.
  • Highlight the most significant results from the case study.
  • Identify the key insights and lessons , including what makes the case study unique and relevant to others.
  • Consider the broader implications of the outcomes for the industry or field.
  • Present the key takeaways clearly and concisely , using bullet points or a list format to make the information easy to understand.

Example of key takeaways for a case study:

  • The customer experience improvement program at XYZ Company successfully increased customer satisfaction and sales.
  • Employee training and product development were critical components of the program’s success.
  • The program resulted in a 20% increase in repeat business, demonstrating the value of a customer loyalty program.
  • Despite some initial challenges, the program proved cost-effective in the long run.
  • The case study results demonstrate the importance of investing in customer experience to improve business outcomes.

Steps for a Case Study Writer to Follow

Steps for a Case Study Writer to Follow

If you still feel lost, the good news is as a case studies writer; there is a blueprint you can follow to complete your work. It may be helpful at first to proceed step-by-step and let your research and analysis guide the process:

  • Select a suitable case study subject: Ask yourself what the purpose of the business case study is. Is it to illustrate a specific problem and solution, showcase a success story, or demonstrate best practices in a particular field? Based on this, you can select a suitable subject by researching and evaluating various options.
  • Research and gather information: We have already covered this in detail above. However, always ensure all data is relevant, valid, and comes from credible sources. Research is the crux of your written case study, and you can’t compromise on its quality.
  • Develop a clear and concise problem statement: Follow the guide above, and don’t rush to finalise it. It will set the tone and lay the foundation for the entire study.
  • Detail the solution or intervention: Follow the steps above to detail your proposed solution or intervention.
  • Present the results and outcomes: Remember that a case study is an unbiased test of how effectively a particular solution addresses an issue. Not all case studies are meant to end in a resounding success. You can often learn more from a loss than a win.
  • Include key takeaways and conclusions: Follow the steps above to detail your proposed business case study solution or intervention.

Tips for How to Write a Case Study

Here are some bonus tips for how to write a case study. These tips will help improve the quality of your work and the impact it will have on readers:

  • Use a storytelling format: Just because a case study is research-based doesn’t mean it has to be boring and detached. Telling a story will engage readers and help them better identify with the problem statement and see the value in the outcomes. Framing it as a narrative in a real-world context will make it more relatable and memorable.
  • Include quotes and testimonials from stakeholders: This will add credibility and depth to your written case study. It also helps improve engagement and will give your written work an emotional impact.
  • Use visuals and graphics to support your narrative: Humans are better at processing visually presented data than endless walls of black-on-white text. Visual aids will make it easier to grasp key concepts and make your case study more engaging and enjoyable. It breaks up the text and allows readers to identify key findings and highlights quickly.
  • Edit and revise your case study for clarity and impact: As a long and involved project, it can be easy to lose your narrative while in the midst of it. Multiple rounds of editing are vital to ensure your narrative holds, that your message gets across, and that your spelling and grammar are correct, of course!

Our Final Thoughts

A written case study can be a powerful tool in your writing arsenal. It’s a great way to showcase your knowledge in a particular business vertical, industry, or situation. Not only is it an effective way to build authority and engage an audience, but also to explore an important problem and the possible solutions to it. It’s a win-win, even if the proposed solution doesn’t have the outcome you expect. So now that you know more about how to write a case study, try it or talk to us for further guidance.

Are you ready to write your own case study?

Begin by bookmarking this article, so you can come back to it. And for more writing advice and support, read our resource guides  and  blog content . If you are unsure, please reach out with questions, and we will provide the answers or assistance you need.

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  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
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Problem statement overview.

The dissertation problem needs to be very focused because everything else from the dissertation research logically flows from the problem. You may say that the problem statement is the very core of a dissertation research study. If the problem is too big or too vague, it will be difficult to scope out a purpose that is manageable for one person, given the time available to execute and finish the dissertation research study.

Through your research, your aim is to obtain information that helps address a problem so it can be resolved. Note that the researcher does not actually solve the problem themselves by conducting research but provides new knowledge that can be used toward a resolution. Typically, the problem is solved (or partially solved) by practitioners in the field, using input from researchers.

Given the above, the problem statement should do three things :

  • Specify and describe the problem (with appropriate citations)
  • Explain the consequences of NOT solving the problem
  • Explain the knowledge needed to solve the problem (i.e., what is currently unknown about the problem and its resolution – also referred to as a gap )

What is a problem?

The world is full of problems! Not all problems make good dissertation research problems, however, because they are either too big, complex, or risky for doctorate candidates to solve. A proper research problem can be defined as a specific, evidence-based, real-life issue faced by certain people or organizations that have significant negative implications to the involved parties.

Example of a proper, specific, evidence-based, real-life dissertation research problem:

“Only 6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women” (Center for Leadership Studies, 2019).

Specific refers to the scope of the problem, which should be sufficiently manageable and focused to address with dissertation research. For example, the problem “terrorism kills thousands of people each year” is probably not specific enough in terms of who gets killed by which terrorists, to work for a doctorate candidate; or “Social media use among call-center employees may be problematic because it could reduce productivity,” which contains speculations about the magnitude of the problem and the possible negative effects.

Evidence-based here means that the problem is well-documented by recent research findings and/or statistics from credible sources. Anecdotal evidence does not qualify in this regard. Quantitative evidence is generally preferred over qualitative ditto when establishing a problem because quantitative evidence (from a credible source) usually reflects generalizable facts, whereas qualitative evidence in the form of research conclusions tend to only apply to the study sample and may not be generalizable to a larger population. Example of a problem that isn’t evidence-based: “Based on the researcher’s experience, the problem is that people don’t accept female leaders;” which is an opinion-based statement based on personal (anecdotal) experience.

Real-life means that a problem exists regardless of whether research is conducted or not. This means that “lack of knowledge” or “lack of research” cannot be used as the problem for a dissertation study because it’s an academic issue or a gap; and not a real-life problem experienced by people or organizations.  Example of a problem that doesn’t exist in real life: “There is not enough research on the reasons why people distrust minority healthcare workers.” This type of statement also reveals the assumption that people actually do mistrust minority healthcare workers; something that needs to be supported by actual, credible evidence to potentially work as an underlying research problem.

What are consequences?

Consequences are negative implications experienced by a group of people or organizations, as a result of the problem. The negative effects should be of a certain magnitude to warrant research. For example, if fewer than 1% of the stakeholders experience a negative consequence of a problem and that consequence only constitutes a minor inconvenience, research is probably not warranted. Negative consequences that can be measured weigh stronger than those that cannot be put on some kind of scale.

In the example above, a significant negative consequence is that women face much larger barriers than men when attempting to get promoted to executive jobs; or are 94% less likely than men to get to that level in Corporate America.

What is a gap?

To establish a complete basis for a dissertation research study, the problem has to be accompanied by a gap . A gap is missing knowledge or insights about a particular issue that contributes to the persistence of the problem. We use gaps to “situate” new research in the existing literature by adding to the knowledge base in the business research field, in a specific manner (determined by the purpose of the research). Identifying gaps requires you to review the literature in a thorough fashion, to establish a complete understanding of what is known and what isn’t known about a certain problem.  In the example from above about the underrepresentation of female CEOs, a gap may be that male-dominated boards have not been studied extensively in terms of their CEO hiring decisions, which might then warrant a study of such boards, to uncover implicit biases and discriminatory practices against female candidates.

How to Write a Problem Statement

How to write a problem statement.

  • Here is one way to construct a problem section (keep in mind you have a 250-300 word limit, but you can write first and edit later):

It is helpful to begin the problem statement with a sentence :  “The problem to be addressed through this study is… ”  Then, fill out the rest of the paragraph with elaboration of that specific problem, making sure to “document” it, as NU reviewers will look for research-based evidence that it is indeed a problem (emphasis also on timeliness of the problem, supported by citations within the last 5 years).

Next, write a paragraph explaining the consequences of NOT solving the problem. Who will be affected? How will they be affected? How important is it to fix the problem? Again, NU reviewers will want to see research-based citations and statistics that indicate the negative implications are significant.

In the final paragraph, you will explain what information (research) is needed in order to fix the problem. This paragraph shows that the problem is worthy of doctoral-level research. What isn’t known about the problem? Ie, what is the gap? Presumably, if your problem and purpose are aligned, your research will try to close or minimize this gap by investigating the problem. Have other researchers investigated the issue? What has their research left unanswered?

  • Another way to tackle the Statement of the Problem:

The Statement of the Problem section is a very clear, concise identification of the problem. It must stay within the template guidelines of 250-300 words but more importantly, must contain four elements as outlined below. A dissertation worthy problem should be able to address all of the following points:

-->identification of the problem itself--what is "going wrong" (Ellis & Levy, 2008)

-->who is affected by the problem

-->the consequences that will result from a continuation of the problem

-->a brief discussion of 1) at least 3 authors’ research related to the problem; and 2)   their stated suggestion/recommendation for further research related to the problem

Use the following to work on the Statement of the Problem by first outlining the section as follows:

1. One clear, concise statement that tells the reader what is not working, what is “going wrong”. Be specific and support it with current studies.

2. Tell who is affected by the problem identified in #1. 

3. Briefly tell what will happen if the problem isn’t addressed.

4. Find at least 3 current studies and write a sentence or two for each study that

i. briefly discusses the author(s)’ work, what they studied, and

ii. state their recommendation for further research about the problem

  • Finally, you can follow this simple 3-part outline when writing the statement of the problem section:

Your problem statement is a short (250-300 words), 3 paragraph section, in which you

  • Explain context and state problem (“the problem is XYZ”), supported by statistics and/or recent research findings
  • Explain the negative consequences of the problem to stakeholders, supported by statistics and/or recent research findings
  • Explain the gap in the literature.

Example of a problem statement that follows the 3-part outline (295 words):

The problem to be addressed by this study is the decline of employee well-being for followers of novice mid-level managers and the corresponding rise in employee turnover faced by business leaders across the financial services industry (Oh et al., 2014).  Low levels of employee well-being are toxic for morale and result in expensive turnover costs, dysfunctional work environments, anemic corporate cultures, and poor customer service (Compdata, 2018; Oh et al., 2014).  According to Ufer (2017), the financial services industry suffers from one of the highest turnover rates among millennial-aged employees in all industries in the developed world, at 18.6% annually.  Starkman (2015) reported that 50% of those surveyed in financial services were not satisfied with a single one of the four key workplace aspects: job, firm, pay or career path. 

Low levels of employee well-being interrupt a financial services’ company’s ability to deliver outstanding customer service in a world increasingly dependent on that commodity (Wladawsky-Berger, 2018).Mid-level managers play an essential role in support of the success of many of top businesses today (Anicich & Hirsh, 2017). 

The current body of literature does not adequately address the well-being issue in the financial services industry from the follower’s perspective (Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carsten, 2014). Strategic direction flows top-down from senior executives and passes through mid-level leadership to individual contributors at more junior grades.  The mid-level managers’ teams are tasked with the achievement of core tasks and the managers themselves are expected to maintain the workforce’s morale, motivation and welfare (Anicich & Hirsh, 2017).  Unless industry leaders better understand the phenomenon of employee well-being from the follower perspective and its role in positioning employees to provide a premium client experience, they may be handicapped from preserving their most significant principal market differentiator: customer service (Wladawsky-Berger, 2018). 

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PROBLEM STATEMENT

Learn everything you need to know to develop a Problem Statement by an Ex-McKinsey consultant . Includes best practices , examples, and a free problem statement template at the bottom.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”

– Charles Kettering, Early 1900s American Inventor

I remember my first day on my first project at McKinsey, the partner got the team in a room for us to spend a few hours “defining the problem statement.” At first, I thought to myself, “man, what a dumb idea…this client is paying us millions of dollars, and we don’t even know what we are trying to solve?” But, as we started to debate the context of the client, the issues they faced, and the reasons why they brought us on, I started to appreciate defining the problem statement and the ability for the right problem statement to frame and focus problem solving .

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a clear description of the problem you are trying to solve and is typically most effectively stated as a question. Problem statements are subtly critical in effective problem solving. They have an uncanny ability in focusing the efforts of brainstorming , teamwork, and projects .

To understand this better, let’s go through some examples of how you can position a brainstorming session on various topics.

problem statements

Beyond brainstorming, problem statements should be used at the beginning of any project to frame and focus on the problem. A good problem statement defines the “who” the problem involves, and defines the scope of the problem. Since problem statements guide much of the problem solving of a project, it is important not to be too narrow or broad with the problem statement.

How do you create an effective problem statement?

As stated before, every McKinsey project starts with the development of a problem statement. Once we landed on a strong problem statement, then we had to align the client with the problem statement. The easiest way for a project and team to get off track is if the team and the client are trying to solve different problems. A good problem statement aligns the expectations of the client with the team’s activities and output.

Here are the best practices when creating an effective problem statement:

Use the 5 Ws and one H

One of the most useful tools when developing a problem statement is the 5 Ws and one H, which is simply utilizing who, what, why, where, when, and how questions to frame the problem statement. Simply thinking through these questions as they relate to the problem can help you create a strong problem statement.

Ask the most crucial question, “What are we trying to solve?”

We’ve all been in those brainstorming sessions, meetings or on those projects, where you’re just scratching your head, as the conversation or directions are more like an Olympic ping-pong match going from one topic to the next. The most effective question that I’ve used in over a thousand meetings and conversations is simply “what are we trying to solve?” It cuts through the clutter, confusion, and misalignment, and quickly centers the focus and energy of everyone.

Frame the problem statement as a goal

Some of the best problem statements are simply goals formatted as questions. If you need to increase sales by 10%, a good problem statement is, “Within the next 12 months, what are the most effective options for the team to increase sales by 10%?”

Force the prioritization 

Often, the most effective problem statements force the prioritization of issues and opportunities. Using phrases such as “the most important for the customer” or “the best way” will force prioritization.

DOWNLOAD THE PROBLEM STATEMENT POWERPOINT WORKSHEET

To get you going on defining a strong problem statement, download the free and editable Problem Statement PowerPoint Worksheet.

problem statement worksheet template

Correctly defining a problem statement at the beginning of a project or initiative will dramatically improve the success of the project or initiative. Problem statements help guide problem solving, analysis , hypotheses , and solutions.

Developing a problem statement is an iterative brainstorming process. Get the major stakeholders in a room for a few hours and start the process by having everyone write down what they think the problem is on index cards. Collect the index cards and post them on a whiteboard. You can either discuss each one or have the group pick the top 3 and then discuss them. You can use the Problem Statement Worksheet to further define the problem by answering the 5 Ws and 1 H. The key is to find the right problem statement all stakeholders feel strongly about, in that, if the problem statement were solved, the problem would be solved.

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How to Write a Problem Statement in Research

example of statement of the problem in a case study

What is a Research Problem Statement?

A research problem statement is a concise statement describing the problem or issue addressed by the research study. The research problem should be composed in a way that both experts and non-experts in the field can understand.

Every research paper describes the investigation of a problem: by adding knowledge to the existing literature, revisiting known observations, or finding concrete solutions. What contribution your publication makes to your field or the scientific community at large depends on whether your research is “basic” (i.e., mainly interested in providing further knowledge that researchers can later apply to specific problems) or “applied” (i.e., developing new techniques, processes, and products).

In any case, a research proposal or research paper must clearly identify and describe the “problem” that is being investigated, so that the reader understands where the research comes from, why the study is relevant, if the applied methods are appropriate, and if the presented results are valid and answer the stated questions. This is known as the “statement of the problem.”

Table of Contents:

  • What is a Research Problem?

How to Write a Problem Statement in a Research Paper

  • Statement of the Problem Example 
  • Where Does the Problem Statement Go in Your Paper?

Consider Using Professional Editing Services

Understanding how to write a research problem.

Your research problem defines the gap in existing knowledge you want to address (e.g., global warming causes), an issue with a certain process (e.g., voter registration) or practices (e.g., patient treatment) that is known and well documented and needs a solution, or some surprising phenomena or earlier findings that point to the need for further investigation. Your approach can be theoretical or practical, and the specific type of problem you choose to address depends on the type of research you want to do. 

In any case, your paper should not repeat what other studies have already said. It also should not ask a question that is too broad in scope to be answered within your study, nor should it be so vague that your reader cannot grasp your motivation or focus. To avoid such problems, you need to clearly define your research question, put it into context, and emphasize its significance for your field of research, the wider research community, or even the general public.

When including your statement of the research problem, several key factors must be considered in order to make a statement that is clear, concise, relevant, and convincing to readers. Think about the following elements not as “steps” to writing your problem statement, but as necessary conditions on which your statement can be firmly grounded and stand out.

Provide context for your study

Putting your research problem in context means providing the reader with the background information they need to understand why you want to study or solve this particular problem and why it is relevant. If there have been earlier attempts at solving the problem or solutions that are available but seem imperfect and need improvement, include that information here.

If you are doing applied research, this part of the problem statement (or “research statement”) should tell the reader where a certain problem arises and who is affected by it. In basic or theoretical research, you make a review of relevant literature on the topic that forms the basis for the current work and tells the reader where your study fits in and what gap in existing knowledge you are addressing.

Establish the relevance of this research

The problem statement also needs to clearly state why the current research matters, or why future work matters if you are writing a research proposal. Ask yourself (and tell your readers) what will happen if the problem continues and who will feel the consequences the most. If the solution you search for or propose in your study has wider relevance outside the context of the subjects you have studied, then this also needs to be included here. In basic research, the advancement of knowledge does not always have clear practical consequences—but you should clearly explain to the reader how the insights your study offers fit into the bigger picture, and what potential future research they could inspire.

Define specific aims and Objectives

Now that the reader knows the context of your research and why it matters, briefly introduce the design and the methods you used or are planning to use. While describing these, you should also formulate your precise aims more clearly, and thereby bring every element in your paper together so that the reader can judge for themselves if they (a) understand the rationale behind your study and (b) are convinced by your approach.

This last part could maybe be considered the actual “statement of the problem” of your study, but you need to prepare the reader by providing all the necessary details before you state it explicitly. If the background literature you cite is too broad and the problem you introduced earlier seems a bit vague, then the reader will have trouble understanding how you came up with the specific experiments you suddenly describe here. Make sure your readers can follow the logical structure of your presentation and that no important details are left out.   

Research Problem Statement Example

The following is a sample statement of the problem for a practical research study on the challenges of online learning. Note that your statement might be much longer (especially the context section where you need to explain the background of the study) and that you will need to provide sources for all the claims you make and the earlier literature you cite. You will also not include the headers “context”, “relevance” and “aims and objectives” but simply present these parts as different paragraphs. But if your problem statement follows this structure, you should have no problem convincing the reader of the significance of your work.

Providing context: Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, most educational institutions around the world have transitioned to a fully online study model, at least during peak times of infections and social distancing measures. This transition has not been easy and even two years into the pandemic, problems with online teaching and studying persist (reference needed) . While the increasing gap between those with access to technology and equipment and those without access has been determined to be one of the main challenges (reference needed) , others claim that online learning offers more opportunities for many students by breaking down barriers of location and distance (reference needed) .  

Establishing relevance: Since teachers and students cannot wait for circumstances to go back to normal, the measures that schools and universities have implemented during the last two years, their advantages and disadvantages, and the impact of those measures on students’ progress, satisfaction, and well-being need to be understood so that improvements can be made and demographics that have been left behind can receive the support they need as soon as possible.

Defining aims and objectives: To identify what changes in the learning environment were considered the most challenging and how those changes relate to a variety of student outcome measures, we conducted surveys and interviews among teachers and students at ten institutions of higher education in four different major cities, two in the US (New York and Chicago), one in South Korea (Seoul), and one in the UK (London). Responses were analyzed with a focus on different student demographics and how they might have been affected differently by the current situation.

Where Does the Problem Statement Go in Your Paper? 

If you write a statement of the problem for a research proposal, then you could include it as a separate section at the very beginning of the main text (unless you are given a specific different structure or different headings, however, then you will have to adapt to that). If your problem statement is part of a research paper manuscript for publication in an academic journal, then it more or less constitutes your introduction section , with the context/background being the literature review that you need to provide here.

If you write the introduction section after the other parts of your paper, then make sure that the specific research question and approach you describe here are in line with the information provided in the research paper abstract , and that all questions you raise here are answered at the end of the discussion section —as always, consistency is key. Knowing where to put the research question can depend on several important contextual factors.

Receive instant editing with Wordvice.AI, our automated grammar checker . Then hand over your manuscript or paper to a professional English editing service for paper editing , thesis editing , or other academic editing services .

And if you need advice on how to write the other parts of your research paper , on how to make a research paper outline if you are struggling with putting everything you did together, or on how to come up with a good research question in case you are not even sure where to start, then head over to the Wordvice academic resources website where we have a lot more articles and videos for you.

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

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  • Acknowledgments

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

  • The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
  • The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
  • The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
  • The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.

In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

  • What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
  • Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

  • Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
  • Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
  • Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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example of statement of the problem in a case study

How to Build a Compelling Problem Statement (+Case Study)

example of statement of the problem in a case study

Your pipeline’s ‘Closed Lost’ column is filled with prospects who expressed the exact same pain points as your customers.

Both of these groups started from the same place — a list of pains that align with your product. But they ended their buying journey in two different places.

So what gives? How does a picture-perfect deal, with a prospect whose problems are a match for your product, fall through?

Nobody cared (enough).

Really. Sometimes, a competitor steals the deal. Others times, a budget gets re-allocated. But more often than not, your deal just slipped down the priority list. Your champion couldn’t get their team interested. The decider didn’t take the time to take a look.

That’s because your champion didn’t tell a compelling story that cut through the clutter .

Some champions are natural storytellers. They hit all the high notes. They know how to make their team lean in a little closer. But other buyers need your help.

They need a specific, compelling problem statement that grabs and holds attention.

Here’s how to create one.

The Formula for Compelling Problem Statements

First, I’ll give you the formula. Then, we’ll break down each of its parts.

Costs ‍ Every [Frequency], at least [Reach] are [Pain], costing us [Impact].
Consequences ‍ That means [Implication #2]. If that’s not addressed by [Timeline], then [Implication #3].

Part 1: Focus on Costs

We all feel more upset if we lose $10, than we feel happy if we find $10.

That’s the basic idea of “Loss Aversion.” We feel a greater pressure to avoid losses than we do to acquire the equivalent gain. It’s also why you should build your problem statement around losses.

Highlight active or immanent losses first, before calling out new opportunities.

example of statement of the problem in a case study

To make the loss compelling, be specific. And to be specific, quantify the impact of your buyer’s problem whenever possible. A simple way to estimate the impact is: ‍

example of statement of the problem in a case study

Don’t give your best guess. Ask your buyer what their guess is. Then, write it down with them. Here are a few examples, with some made up numbers:

example of statement of the problem in a case study

Once you’ve quantified the problem, don’t assume the loss is meaningful .

For example, if you’re selling to the enterprise, beware of The Law of Large Numbers. Pointing out a $1M loss is pointing out 0.0001% in a business that does $10B in annual revenue.

Instead, ask questions like:

  • How does this estimate of [X] compare to what you expected to see?
  • How do you think [decision maker] would react to seeing this number?
  • Are there other problems your team’s facing that are more pressing than this?

Part 2: Highlight Consequences

You’d be surprised what overwhelm and burnout can force us to live with. We grow numb to our problems, and apathy becomes a perfectly acceptable solution.

But often, that’s because we can’t see the full consequences of our inaction. So once you’ve quantified the loss (above), press into its implications. There are three levels of consequences you’ll want to speak to:

  • Functional Problems: “It takes a long time to build customer surveys and analyze the data.”
  • Strategic Problems: “We’re not sure which customers are a churn risk before their renewal date.”
  • Personal Problems: “Me, or someone on my team, may lose our job if renewal revenue declines.”

Now, nobody likes talking consequences. So generally, it’s best to lead your buyers to them with questions — not statements. Questions that start by asking:

  • What happens if...
  • What does this mean for...
  • How will that affect...

Bringing It All Together

If your head is spinning with “math” right now, your buyer’s will be too.

While you’ll quickly become fluent in problem statements using this framework, your champion will need some help. So from here, make sure to:

  • Put their story to the test. After you’ve drawn out all the component parts with your champion, ask them to play back the story. Is it compelling? Is their delivery confident?
  • Write it out for them. Give them something to refer back to during a conversation, and to send around to their team afterwards.
  • Develop a problem statement process. Getting the data you need to turn a minor-annoyance into a can’t-ignore mega issue may require some creativity. Here’s a case study on that, below. ‍

[Case Study] “My board definitely needs to see this.”

The breakthrough that let one my past sales teams cross the chasm from $500K, to $5M, in ARR was the process for enabling our champions with a can’t-ignore problem statement.

Here’s the full story.

Creating Context

We sold marketing and fundraising software to nonprofits. CRM, landing pages, payments, email, text, video, all-in-one. For context, our market was the 1.2M nonprofits raising close to $500 B every year.

A portion of this funding comes from foundations. Foundations are organizations that exist to give out large chunks of money to nonprofits called “grants.” These grants are great when you get them, but they’re not sustainable.

For example, a $500K grant needs to be replaced with a wider group of individual donors before it’s fully spent. Otherwise, the nonprofit can’t keep funding their programs and payroll.

When nonprofits don’t raise money from individuals, that’s a problem. Think of it like investing in a startup. If the startup doesn’t find customers to generate cash — aside from raising more venture funding — the investment was for nothing. There’s no revenue to keep the show going.

Collecting the Right Data

I had created a champion out of the Head of Grantmaking at one of the nation’s largest family foundations. They grant out more than $50M to nonprofits every year, and she saw the problem we were solving.

She knew our software could help her nonprofits raise more funding, but buying software for 20 nonprofits would be a significant, six-figure deal — which needed board approval. What’s more, her board had never funded a for-profit company’s software before. Generally, nonprofits are skeptical of for-profits, regardless of their social good.

We were rolling a boulder uphill, and needed a compelling story. We were chatting one day when I said, “This may be crazy. But what if we asked all your nonprofits for their fundraising data, to show your board?”

She was up to give it a shot. So next, I:

  • Wrote a three-part email campaign requesting her nonprofits help her out with a survey.
  • Signed up for Typeform and built out a simple survey to collect fundraising data.
  • Opened up a free Mailchimp account and built out the survey campaign.
  • Recorded a Loom video that showed my champion how to upload a list of emails and hit “send.”
  • Downloaded all the survey responses a week later and crunched the data in Excel.
  • Put together a short, 2-page report for the next board meeting packet.

Crafting the Problem Statement

That report shared this statement: ‍

Every year, at least 200 of the Foundation’s nonprofits raise less than 20% of their annual budget from individual donors, which is costing the Foundation more than $10M in follow-on funding to keep them operational. This means the programs we support are at risk of closing, if we don’t continue to fund them. If that’s not addressed inside this fiscal year, we’ll be unable to allocate this funding to new initiatives outlined in the strategic plan we’re voting on today.

When my champion saw this, she immediately said, “ My board needs to see this .”

Here’s the end of the story.

This paragraph — not a case study, deck, or demo — helped my champion closed the deal.

That deal not only pushed us over quota for the month, it opened up a whole new market segment. We could now point to their foundation, and the 20 nonprofits they brought with them, as one of our customers. That gave us credibility to start engaging with other foundations.

In fact, we hired on a new FTE for our sales enablement team, who built out and perfected that survey process. It became a “free assessment” we gave to every champion in our pipeline.

FLUINT RESOURCES

Check out our library of free resources and templates.

Our readers are using our frameworks to close more deals, and faster than ever. How? They are selling with their buyers. You can too.

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example of statement of the problem in a case study

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Research Method

Home » Problem Statement – Writing Guide, Examples and Types

Problem Statement – Writing Guide, Examples and Types

Table of Contents

Problem Statement

Problem Statement

Definition:

Problem statement is a clear, concise, and well-defined statement that outlines the issue or challenge that needs to be addressed. It is a crucial element in any project or research as it provides a clear understanding of the problem, its context, and its potential impact.

Types of Problem Statements

There are various types of problem statements, and the type of problem statement used depends on the context and purpose of the project or research. Some common types of problem statements are:

Business Problem Statement

Business Problem Statement identifies a problem or challenge within an organization that needs to be solved. It typically includes the impact of the problem on the organization and its stakeholders, such as customers, employees, or shareholders.

Research Problem Statement

Research Problem Statement outlines the research question or problem that the study aims to address. It describes the research objectives, the significance of the research, and the potential impact of the research findings.

Design Problem Statement

Design Problem Statement defines the problem or challenge that a design project aims to solve. It includes the user’s needs, the design constraints, and the desired outcomes of the design project.

Social Problem Statement

Social Problem Statement describes a problem or challenge in society that needs to be addressed. It typically includes the social, economic, or political impact of the problem and its effect on individuals or communities.

Technical Problem Statement

Technical Problem Statement defines a problem or challenge related to technology or engineering. It includes the technical requirements, constraints, and potential solutions to the problem.

Components of Problem Statement

The components of a problem statement may vary depending on the context and purpose of the project or research, but some common components include:

  • Problem description : This component provides a clear and concise description of the problem, its context, and its impact. It should explain what the problem is, who is affected by it, and why it needs to be addressed.
  • Background information : This component provides context for the problem by describing the current state of knowledge or practice related to the problem. It may include a review of relevant literature, data, or other sources of information.
  • Objectives : This component outlines the specific objectives that the project or research aims to achieve. It should explain what the project or research team hopes to accomplish by addressing the problem.
  • Scope : This component defines the boundaries of the problem by specifying what is included and excluded from the problem statement. It should clarify the limits of the project or research and ensure that the team remains focused on the core problem.
  • Methodology : This component outlines the approach or methodology that the project or research team will use to address the problem. It may include details about data collection, analysis, or other methods used to achieve the objectives.
  • Expected outcomes : This component describes the potential impact or outcomes that the project or research aims to achieve. It should explain how the solution or findings will address the problem and benefit the stakeholders.

How to write Problem Statement

Here are some general steps to follow when writing a problem statement:

  • Identify the problem : Clearly identify the problem that needs to be addressed. Consider the context, stakeholders, and potential consequences of the problem.
  • Research the problem: Conduct research to gather data and information about the problem. This may involve reviewing literature, analyzing data, or consulting with experts.
  • Define the problem: Define the problem clearly and concisely, using specific language and avoiding vague or ambiguous terms. Be sure to include the impact of the problem and the context in which it occurs.
  • State the objectives : Clearly state the objectives that the project or research aims to achieve. This should be specific and measurable, with clear outcomes that can be evaluated.
  • Identify the scope: Identify the boundaries of the problem, including what is included and excluded from the problem statement. This helps to ensure that the team remains focused on the core problem.
  • Outline the methodology : Outline the approach or methodology that the project or research team will use to address the problem. This should be based on research and best practices, and should be feasible and realistic.
  • Describe the expected outcomes : Describe the potential impact or outcomes that the project or research aims to achieve. Be specific about how the solution or findings will address the problem and benefit the stakeholders.
  • Revise and refine : Review the problem statement and revise it as needed to ensure clarity, accuracy, and completeness.

Applications of Problem Statement

Here are some of the applications of problem statements:

  • Research : In academic research, problem statements are used to clearly define the research problem, identify the research question, and justify the need for the study. A well-crafted problem statement is essential for the success of any research project.
  • Project management: In project management, problem statements are used to identify the issues or challenges that a project team needs to address. Problem statements help project managers to define project scope, set project goals, and develop project plans.
  • Business strategy: In business strategy, problem statements are used to identify business challenges and opportunities. Problem statements help businesses to define their strategic objectives, develop action plans, and allocate resources.
  • Product development : In product development, problem statements are used to identify customer needs and develop new products that address those needs. Problem statements help product developers to define product requirements, develop product features, and test product prototypes.
  • Policy-making: In public policy-making, problem statements are used to identify social, economic, and environmental issues that require government intervention. Problem statements help policymakers to define policy objectives, develop policy options, and evaluate policy outcomes.

Examples of Problem Statements

Examples of Problem Statements are as follows:

  • High student-to-teacher ratios are leading to decreased individualized attention and lower academic achievement.
  • Limited funding for extracurricular activities is limiting opportunities for student development and engagement.
  • The lack of diversity and inclusion in curriculum is limiting cultural understanding and perpetuating inequalities.
  • The need for continuous professional development for teachers is crucial to improving teaching quality and student outcomes.
  • Unequal access to education due to socio-economic status, geographical location, or other factors is contributing to disparities in academic achievement.
  • The shortage of healthcare professionals is leading to increased patient wait times and decreased quality of care.
  • Limited access to mental health services is contributing to the high prevalence of mental health issues and suicides.
  • The over-prescription of opioids is contributing to the current opioid epidemic and increasing rates of addiction and overdose.
  • Limited access to affordable and nutritious food is leading to poor nutrition and increased rates of chronic diseases.
  • The lack of standardized electronic health record systems is limiting coordination of care and leading to medical errors.

Environmental Science

  • Pollution from industrial and agricultural practices is contributing to climate change and increased health risks.
  • The overexploitation of natural resources is leading to decreased biodiversity and ecological imbalance.
  • Limited access to clean water is leading to health issues and affecting agriculture and economic development.
  • The destruction of natural habitats is leading to the extinction of many species and disrupting ecosystems.
  • Climate change is leading to more frequent and severe natural disasters, causing significant damage to infrastructure and displacement of populations.

Engineering

  • The inadequate design and maintenance of bridges and roads is leading to increased accidents and fatalities.
  • The lack of reliable and sustainable energy sources is contributing to environmental degradation and limiting economic growth.
  • The lack of cybersecurity measures in critical infrastructure is making it vulnerable to cyber attacks and compromising public safety.
  • The lack of efficient waste management systems is contributing to pollution and environmental degradation.
  • The need for developing technologies that are environmentally friendly and sustainable is crucial to addressing climate change.

Social Work

  • The lack of resources for mental health and social services is contributing to homelessness and the need for emergency assistance.
  • The high prevalence of child abuse and neglect is leading to long-term physical and emotional harm to children.
  • The lack of affordable and accessible childcare is limiting the opportunities for working parents, especially mothers.
  • The stigmatization of mental health issues is limiting access to mental health services and perpetuating discrimination.
  • The limited access to education, employment, and housing opportunities is contributing to poverty and social inequality.
  • The increasing use of ad-blocking software is limiting the effectiveness of traditional digital advertising.
  • The lack of transparency in digital advertising is leading to ad fraud and decreased trust in online marketing.
  • The need to adapt marketing strategies to changing consumer behaviors and preferences is crucial to reaching target audiences effectively.
  • The high competition in the marketplace is making it challenging for small businesses to compete with larger corporations.
  • The need to balance marketing goals with ethical considerations is crucial to maintaining consumer trust and avoiding negative publicity.
  • The high prevalence of anxiety and depression is leading to decreased productivity and increased healthcare costs.
  • The limited access to mental health services in certain geographic areas is limiting access to care and contributing to disparities in mental health outcomes.
  • The need for effective prevention and intervention programs for substance abuse and addiction is crucial to reducing rates of addiction and overdose.
  • The lack of awareness and understanding of mental health issues is perpetuating stigma and limiting access to care.
  • The need for culturally sensitive mental health services that are tailored to the needs of diverse populations is crucial to improving mental health outcomes.

Purpose of Problem Statement

The purpose of a problem statement is to clearly and concisely describe a specific problem or issue that needs to be addressed. It serves as a clear and succinct explanation of the problem, its context, and its importance, providing the necessary information to understand why the problem is worth solving. A well-crafted problem statement also helps to define the scope of the problem, which in turn helps to guide the research or problem-solving process. In essence, a problem statement sets the stage for identifying potential solutions and determining the best approach to solve the problem.

Characteristics of Problem Statement

The characteristics of a good problem statement include:

  • Clear and concise : A problem statement should be written in clear and concise language, free of technical jargon, and easily understandable to the intended audience.
  • Specific : The statement should clearly define the problem and its scope. It should identify the who, what, where, when, and why of the problem.
  • Measurable : A problem statement should be measurable in some way, whether through quantitative or qualitative methods. This allows for objective assessment of progress towards solving the problem.
  • Relevant : The problem statement should be relevant to the context in which it is presented. It should relate to the needs and concerns of stakeholders and the broader community.
  • Feasible : The problem statement should be realistic and achievable, given the available resources and constraints.
  • Innovative: A good problem statement should inspire creative and innovative solutions.
  • Actionable : The problem statement should lead to actionable steps that can be taken to address the problem. It should provide a roadmap for moving forward.

Advantages of Problem Statement

Advantages of Problem Statement are as follows:

  • Focus : A problem statement helps to clearly define the problem at hand and provides focus to the problem-solving process. It helps to avoid wasting time and resources on issues that are not relevant.
  • Alignment : A well-written problem statement ensures that everyone involved in the problem-solving process is on the same page and understands the issue at hand. This alignment helps to ensure that efforts are focused in the right direction and that everyone is working towards the same goal.
  • Clarity : A problem statement provides clarity about the nature of the problem and its impact. This clarity helps to facilitate communication and decision-making, making it easier to develop effective solutions.
  • Innovation : A well-crafted problem statement can inspire creativity and encourage innovative thinking. By clearly defining the problem, it can help to identify new approaches and solutions that may not have been considered before.
  • Measurability : A problem statement that is clear and specific can be used to measure progress and success. It helps to ensure that efforts are focused on addressing the root cause of the problem and that progress towards a solution can be tracked and evaluated.

Limitations of Problem Statement

While problem statements have many advantages, they also have some limitations, such as:

  • Limited Scope: A problem statement is usually focused on a specific issue or challenge. As a result, it may not capture the full complexity of a larger problem, which can limit the effectiveness of the solutions developed.
  • Lack of Detail : In some cases, problem statements may be too broad or lack sufficient detail, which can make it difficult to develop effective solutions. It’s important to ensure that the problem statement is specific enough to guide the problem-solving process.
  • Bias : The way in which a problem statement is written can sometimes reflect the biases or assumptions of the person or group writing it. This can lead to a narrow or incomplete understanding of the problem and limit the effectiveness of the solutions developed.
  • Inflexibility : A problem statement may be too rigid or inflexible, which can limit the exploration of alternative solutions. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to adapt the problem statement as new information or perspectives emerge.

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1. define how certain things should work, 2. state the problem and emphasize why it matters, 3. explain the financial costs of the problem, 4. back up the claims and propose a clear solution, 5. highlight the benefits of the proposed solutions, 6. conclude the problem statement.

  • What is the problem?
  • Who has the problem?
  • Where and when does the problem happen?
  • How often does the problem happen?
  • What are the causes?
  • What is its impact?

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FREE 10+ Case Study Problem Statement Samples in PDF | DOC

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A case study is an in-depth and specific study of a certain yet relevant person, group, or event. In a case study involving psychology and its related disciplines, nearly every aspect of the subject’s life and history is analyzed to understand the human mind through seeking and unveiling patters of behavior. This type of academic study can be used in a variety of fields including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, social science, law related studies, and social work. With the importance of this study, it is very much recommended to have this Case Study Problem Statement available anytime. In making this possible and convenient for the one that’s going to make all these problem statements, our site is offering you free, available, ready-made but very open to be customized templates that you can choose from. Just look into these templates throughout the article and choose the template that could help you achieve your problem statement goals.

Case Study Problem Statement

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The aim is that learning gained from studying one case can be generalized to many others, so putting it into simpler terms is the most effective way to achieve this goal. On the contrary, case studies tend to be highly subjective, specific, deep and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to the larger population of common good. Case studies focus on a single individual or group cases, but somehow, they follow a format that is similar to other types of psychology writing.

A case study can have both strengths and weaknesses, just like any other type of academic writing. Researchers must take into consideration these advantages and disadvantages before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs. One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate, imagine and scrutinize that are often difficult to impossible to replicate or studied in a laboratory. Some other benefits of a case study that are important to be tackled with are:

  • Makes it possible for researchers to collect a great deal of information
  • Provide researchers the chance to gather or collect information on rare or unusual cases
  • Allows the researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored and studied in depth in experimental research
  • Don’t need to be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • May not be scientifically rigorous
  • Can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or revise and improvise, somehow develop a recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can then help the researchers develop additional ideas, critical insights and generalizations and study questions that might then be explored in future studies.

There are the many different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might use:

  • Collective case studies : These talks about the studying of a group of individuals. Researchers might decide on studying a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community of people.
  • Descriptive case studies : These usually starts with a descriptive theory. The subjects or respondent’s statements should be well-observed and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Explanatory case studies : These   are often used to do causal case studies. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have actually caused certain yet common everyday-life-things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies : These are sometimes used as a prelude and continue to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information first before then use it in developing their research questions and hypotheses.
  • Instrumental case studies : These happens when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers, this is done through careful observations and focused group discussions.
  • Intrinsic case studies : This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal motive or interest that  he would like to answer by making the study. Jean Piaget’s deep and focused observations of his own children are great examples of how an intrinsic case study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory, further then becoming a great information that is spread to those who are practicing in the field.

A case study is a research strategy and an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real-life context. Case studies are based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group or event to explore the causes of underlying principles.

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  • How to Write a Problem Statement | Guide & Examples

How to Write a Problem Statement | Guide & Examples

Published on 8 November 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George.

A problem statement is a concise and concrete summary of the research problem you seek to address. It should:

  • Contextualise the problem. What do we already know?
  • Describe the exact issue your research will address. What do we still need to know?
  • Show the relevance of the problem. Why do we need to know more about this?
  • Set the objectives of the research. What will you do to find out more?

Table of contents

When should you write a problem statement, step 1: contextualise the problem, step 2: show why it matters, step 3: set your aims and objectives.

Problem statement example

Frequently asked questions about problem statements

There are various situations in which you might have to write a problem statement.

In the business world, writing a problem statement is often the first step in kicking off an improvement project. In this case, the problem statement is usually a stand-alone document.

In academic research, writing a problem statement can help you contextualise and understand the significance of your research problem. It is often several paragraphs long, and serves as the basis for your research proposal . Alternatively, it can be condensed into just a few sentences in your introduction .

A problem statement looks different depending on whether you’re dealing with a practical, real-world problem or a theoretical issue. Regardless, all problem statements follow a similar process.

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The problem statement should frame your research problem, giving some background on what is already known.

Practical research problems

For practical research, focus on the concrete details of the situation:

  • Where and when does the problem arise?
  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What attempts have been made to solve the problem?

Theoretical research problems

For theoretical research, think about the scientific, social, geographical and/or historical background:

  • What is already known about the problem?
  • Is the problem limited to a certain time period or geographical area?
  • How has the problem been defined and debated in the scholarly literature?

The problem statement should also address the relevance of the research. Why is it important that the problem is addressed?

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to do something groundbreaking or world-changing. It’s more important that the problem is researchable, feasible, and clearly addresses a relevant issue in your field.

Practical research is directly relevant to a specific problem that affects an organisation, institution, social group, or society more broadly. To make it clear why your research problem matters, you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen if the problem is not solved?
  • Who will feel the consequences?
  • Does the problem have wider relevance? Are similar issues found in other contexts?

Sometimes theoretical issues have clear practical consequences, but sometimes their relevance is less immediately obvious. To identify why the problem matters, ask:

  • How will resolving the problem advance understanding of the topic?
  • What benefits will it have for future research?
  • Does the problem have direct or indirect consequences for society?

Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal here should not be to find a conclusive solution, but rather to propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it.

The research aim is the overall purpose of your research. It is generally written in the infinitive form:

  • The aim of this study is to determine …
  • This project aims to explore …
  • This research aims to investigate …

The research objectives are the concrete steps you will take to achieve the aim:

  • Qualitative methods will be used to identify …
  • This work will use surveys to collect …
  • Using statistical analysis, the research will measure …

The aims and objectives should lead directly to your research questions.

Learn how to formulate research questions

You can use these steps to write your own problem statement, like the example below.

Step 1: Contextualise the problem A family-owned shoe manufacturer has been in business in New England for several generations, employing thousands of local workers in a variety of roles, from assembly to supply-chain to customer service and retail. Employee tenure in the past always had an upward trend, with the average employee staying at the company for 10+ years. However, in the past decade, the trend has reversed, with some employees lasting only a few months, and others leaving abruptly after many years.

Step 2: Show why it matters As the perceived loyalty of their employees has long been a source of pride for the company, they employed an outside consultant firm to see why there was so much turnover. The firm focused on the new hires, concluding that a rival shoe company located in the next town offered higher hourly wages and better “perks”, such as pizza parties. They claimed this was what was leading employees to switch. However, to gain a fuller understanding of why the turnover persists even after the consultant study, in-depth qualitative research focused on long-term employees is also needed. Focusing on why established workers leave can help develop a more telling reason why turnover is so high, rather than just due to salaries. It can also potentially identify points of change or conflict in the company’s culture that may cause workers to leave.

Step 3: Set your aims and objectives This project aims to better understand why established workers choose to leave the company. Qualitative methods such as surveys and interviews will be conducted comparing the views of those who have worked 10+ years at the company and chose to stay, compared with those who chose to leave.

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement.

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarise the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

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A truck is parked along a highway covered by floodwater.

Houston’s flood problems offer lessons for cities trying to adapt to a changing climate

example of statement of the problem in a case study

Professor Emeritus of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, University of Michigan

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Richard Rood receives funding from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation. He is a co-principal investigator at the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center at the University of Michigan.

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Scenes from the Houston area looked like the aftermath of a hurricane in early May after a series of powerful storms flooded highways and neighborhoods and sent rivers over their banks north of the city.

Hundreds of people had to be rescued from homes, rooftops and cars, according to The Associated Press. Huntsville registered nearly 20 inches of rain from April 29 to May 4, 2024.

Floods are complex events, and they are about more than just heavy rain. Each community has its own unique geography and climate that can exacerbate flooding. On top of those risks, extreme downpours are becoming more common as global temperatures rise.

I work with a center at the University of Michigan that helps communities turn climate knowledge into projects that can reduce the harm of future climate disasters. Flooding events like the Houston area experienced provide case studies that can help cities everywhere manage the increasing risk.

A man works on the engine of a truck while standing in floodwater over his ankles outside a home.

Flood risks are rising

The first thing recent floods tell us is that the climate is changing.

In the past, it might have made sense to consider a flood a rare and random event – communities could just build back. But the statistical distribution of weather events and natural disasters is shifting.

What might have been a 1-in-500-years event may become a 1-in-100-years event , on the way to becoming a 1-in-50-years event. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, it delivered Houston’s third 500-year flood in the span of three years.

Basic physics points to the rising risks: Global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing global average temperatures. Warming leads to increasing precipitation and more intense downpours, and increased flood potential, particularly when storms hit on already saturated ground.

Communities aren’t prepared

Recent floods are also revealing vulnerabilities in how communities are designed and managed.

Pavement is a major contributor to urban flooding, because water cannot be absorbed and it runs off quickly. The Houston area’s frequent flooding illustrates the risks. Its impervious surfaces expanded by 386 square miles between 1997 and 2017, according to data collected by Rice University . More streets, parking lots and buildings meant more standing water with fewer places for rainwater to sink in.

If the infrastructure is well designed and maintained, flood damage can be greatly reduced. However, increasingly, researchers have found that the engineering specifications for drainage pipes and other infrastructure are no longer adequate to handle the increasing severity of storms and amounts of precipitation. This can lead to roads being washed out and communities being cut off . Failures in maintaining infrastructure, such as levees and storm drains, are a common contributor to flooding.

In the Houston area, reservoirs are also an essential part of flood management, and many were at capacity from persistent rain. This forced managers to release more water when the storms hit.

For a coastal metropolis such as the Houston-Galveston area, rapidly rising sea levels can also reduce the downstream capacity to manage water. These different factors compound to increase flooding risk and highlight the need to not only move water but to find safe places to store it.

Maps show how risk of extreme precipitation increased in some regions, particularly the Northeast and Southeast, and projections of increasing rainfall.

The increasing risks affect not only engineering standards, but zoning laws that govern where homes can be built and building codes that describe minimum standards for safety, as well as permitting and environmental regulations.

By addressing these issues now, communities can anticipate and avoid damage rather than only reacting when it’s too late.

Four lessons from case studies

The many effects associated with flooding show why a holistic approach to planning for climate change is necessary, and what communities can learn from one another. For example, case studies show that:

Floods can damage resources that are essential in flood recovery, such as roads, bridges and hospitals . Considering future risks when determining where and how to build these resources enhances the ability to recover from future disasters . Jackson, Mississippi’s water treatment plant was knocked offline by flooding in 2022, leaving people without safe running water. Houston’s Texas Medical Center famously prepared to manage future flooding by installing floodgates, elevating backup generators and taking other steps after heavy damage during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Flood damage does not occur in isolation. Downpours can trigger mudslides , make sewers more vulnerable and turn manufacturing facilities into toxic contamination risks . These can become broad-scale dangers, extending far beyond individual communities.

A man in a boat peers under sheeting along a level. The river side is higher than the dry side across the levee.

It is difficult for an individual or a community to take on even the technical aspects of flood preparation alone – there is too much interconnectedness. Protective measures like levees or channels might protect one neighborhood but worsen the flood risk downstream . Planners should identify the appropriate regional scale, such as the entire drainage basin of a creek or river, and form important relationships early in the planning process.

Natural disasters and the ways communities respond to them can also amplify disparities in wealth and resources. Social justice and ethical considerations need to be brought into planning at the beginning.

Learning to manage complexity

In communities that my colleagues and I have worked with , we have found an increasing awareness of the challenges of climate change and rising flood risks.

In most cases, local officials’ initial instinct has been to protect property and persist without changing where people live. However, that might only buy time for some areas before people will have little option but to move .

When they examine their vulnerabilities, many of these communities have started to recognize the interconnectedness of zoning, storm drains and parks that can absorb runoff, for example. They also begin to see the importance of engaging regional stakeholders to avoid fragmented efforts to adapt that could worsen conditions for neighboring areas.

This is an updated version of an article originally published Aug. 25, 2022 .

  • Climate change
  • Infrastructure
  • Extreme weather
  • Extreme rainfall
  • Disaster mitigation
  • Flash flooding

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Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide

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Welcome to our preparation tips for case interviews!  Whether you are just curious about case interviews or are planning to apply for consulting internships or full-time jobs, these tips and resources will help you feel more prepared and confident.

example of statement of the problem in a case study

A case interview is a role playing exercise in which an employer assesses how logically and persuasively you can present a case. Rather than seeing if you get the “correct” answer, the objective is to evaluate your thought process. ( Adapted with permission from Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc Cosentino). 

Case interviews are very commonly used in the interview process for consulting firms and companies in similar industries. In the case interview, you will typically be given a business problem and then asked to solve it in a structured way. Learning this structure takes preparation and practice. You can learn more and practice using the resources listed below.  

Why are Case Interviews Used?

Case interviews allow employers to test and evaluate the following skills:

  • Analytical skills and logical ability to solve problems
  • Structure and thought process
  • Ability to ask for relevant data/information
  • Tolerance for ambiguity and data overload
  • Poise and communication skills under pressure and in front of a client

How can I prepare for Case Interviews?

1.) Read Management Consulted’s “Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide (2024)”

Management Consulted is a FREE resource for Tufts students : case and consulting resources such as 500 sample cases, Case Interview Bootcamp,  Market Sizing Drills, Math Drills, case videos, consulting firm directory, and more

2.) Review additional resources:

  • Case in Point – This book, by Marc Cosentino, is a comprehensive guide that walks you through the case interview process from beginning to end. This guide has helped many students over the years and can serve as an excellent foundation for how to approach business problems
  • Casequestions.com – The companion website to Marc Cosentino’s book listed above offers preparation for case interviews, along with links to top 50 consulting firms
  • Management Consulting Case Interviews: Cracking The Case – tips for case interviews from the other side of the table, from Argopoint, a Boston management consulting firm specializing in legal department consulting for Fortune 500 companies
  • Preplounge.com – Free case preparation access for to up to 6 practice interviews with peers, selected cases, and video case solutions
  • RocketBlocks – Features consulting preparation such as drills and coaching
  • Practice sample online cases on consulting firm websites such as McKinsey , BCG , Bain , Deloitte and more!  

3.) Schedule a mock case interview appointment with  Karen Dankers or Kathy Spillane , our advisors for the Finance, Consulting, Entrepreneurship, and Business Career Community.

4.) PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE cases out loud on your own (yes, that can feel odd) or preferably, with another person. See #2 and #3 above for resources and ideas to find partners to practice live cases

5.) Enjoy and have fun solving business problems!

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Analytics transformation in wealth management

The wealth management industry is typically seen as embodying old-fashioned values and providing discrete, tailored services. These attributes remain valuable parts of the business, but for many clients, they are no longer sufficient. In a highly connected world, people want faster and more convenient offerings and a cutting-edge digital experience. Amid rising competition, established wealth managers need to keep pace with new offerings as they retain the values that set them apart.

About the authors

This article is a collaborative effort by Anutosh Banerjee , Fumiaki Katsuki , Vishal Kaushik, Aditya Saxena, Sanchit Suneja, and Renny Thomas .

Wealth managers are unlikely to be able to serve modern clients effectively without a digitized operating model. This will support advisory and non-advisory activities and service everchanging investment preferences. Some leading managers are building modular data and IT architectures, which enable smart decision-making, personalization at scale, and more extensive product offerings. 1 For an in-depth look at how some of these elements are being developed in an overall banking context, see our collection “ Building the AI bank of the future ,” May 2021, mckinsey.com. The changes are also helping them meet their regulatory obligations, boosting the productivity of relationship managers (RMs), and lifting compressed margins.

For wealth managers interested in pursuing these benefits, this article lays out the potential of deploying advanced analytics and offers a playbook of measures that wealth managers should consider including in a digital transformation.

The case for advanced analytics

Meeting the needs of today’s customers requires a business model that is at the same time efficient and adaptable to individual clients. Wealth managers are finding success with two approaches:

  • Serve clients across the wealth continuum on a flat-fee advisory basis. Instead of the still-prevalent product-focused model, wealth managers need to build in pricing flexibility aligned to clients’ needs at every stage of their lives. An increasingly common pricing model is for clients to negotiate a flat fee based on the value of their investments. To maintain revenues with this model, wealth managers need to create new efficiencies and ensure RMs are more productive, which means spending more time with clients.
  • Embrace personalization aligned to client life stages and goals. Today’s customers are increasingly dissatisfied with a one-size-fits-all service model, so wealth managers should consider transitioning to needs-based personalization. This requires RMs to get comfortable with a wider range of solutions, from the simplest products to complex higher-yielding investments (private markets, venture capital, pre-IPO, and structured products). In addition, RMs must be equipped to help clients make complex investment decisions, supported by analytics.

In today’s context, each of these goals is achievable only with advanced capabilities in data and analytics, especially targeting relationship management.

Focus on relationship management

Modernization can be game changing when it targets the role of RMs. Based on conversations with industry participants, we estimate that RMs typically spend 60 to 70 percent of their time on non-revenue-generating activities, amid rising regulatory and compliance obligations (Exhibit 1). One reason is that most still work with legacy IT systems or even spreadsheets. As clients demand more engagement and remote channel options, that needs to change.

A few leading wealth managers are using technology to provide RMs with the tools to serve clients more efficiently and effectively. Some have taken a zero-based approach, rebuilding their tech stacks and embracing advanced analytics to inform more personalized services. By providing targeted solutions, these firms have been able to boost revenues and reduce operational costs.

Clear benefits of being more client focused

The benefits of digitization are relevant in most markets, but the potential to leverage digitization to achieve a significant performance uplift is especially great in regions where wealth managers have not yet seized the opportunity. In Asia, for example, many wealth managers still need to fully embrace digital ways of working (Exhibit 2). We estimate that IT-based transformations could create some $40 billion to $45 billion of incremental value for wealth managers serving high-net-worth individuals in Asia, equating to roughly 25 basis points on a wealth pool of $17 trillion. 2 Wealth management penetration in the region is 35 to 40 percent, but for the purposes of the calculation, we assume 100 percent of high-networth individuals’ personal financial assets (investable assets of more than $1 million).

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Drilling down in the potential gains from data and analytics, we see benefits in three key areas: acquisition and onboarding, engagement and deepening of client relationships, and servicing and retention.

Acquisition and onboarding. Basic acquisition and onboarding applications include client discovery, risk profiling, account opening, and onboarding. RMs and investment teams can use analytics for lead generation, share-of-wallet modeling, and automated proposals. There are also multiple applications in investment management, risk, and compliance, including social-profile checking, anti-money-laundering and know your customer, and fraud protection.

How analytics creates sustainable impact: Two examples from Asia

One leading Asian wealth manager deployed an analytics-led program to produce granular client insights that enabled it to offer responsive, timely, and personalized services to client microsegments. The bank leveraged personalization at scale to boost assets under management by 30 to 40 percent per client in six to eight months.

A second wealth manager created the position of chief investment officer to inform a bankwide view of asset classes and geographies. The CIO used analytics to link product selection to the “house view,” ensuring consistency across model portfolios.

Engagement and deepening. Client-focused applications include personalized research, portfolio management, and notifications. RMs and investment teams can implement client clustering, propensity modeling, recommendation engines, and digital performance management (see sidebar “How analytics creates sustainable impact: Two examples from Asia”). In investment management, risk, and compliance, there are opportunities to de-bias investment decisions, data analysis, and trade execution.

Servicing and retention. Client-related applications include portfolio simulations and optimization, as well as self-execution of trades. RMs can leverage applications such as churn predictors and work planners, while investment management, risk, and compliance can scale up portfolio planning and trade surveillance.

A playbook for analytics-driven wealth management

Early success stories are encouraging, but they are the exception rather than the rule. More often, firms have started the transformation journey but have faltered along the way. Common reasons include a lack of ownership at senior levels and budgetary or strategic restraints that prevent project teams from executing effectively.

The challenges of transforming service models are significant but not insurmountable. Indeed, as analytics use cases become more pervasive, implementation at scale becomes more achievable. In the following paragraphs, we present five ingredients of an analytics-based transformation (Exhibit 3). These can be supported by strong leadership, a rigorous focus on outcomes, and a willingness to embrace new ways of working. Indeed, managers who execute effectively will get ahead of the competition and be much more adept in meeting client needs.

Set a leadership vision

Analytics-driven transformations are often restricted to narrow silos occupied by a few committed experts. As a result, applications fail to pick up enough momentum to make a real difference to performance. Conversely, if support for change programs comes from the top and is guided by an outcomes-driven approach, the business can break away from entrenched operating norms and reset for structural change. With that in mind, executive teams should communicate a vision that can be cascaded through the business. They should also create a safe environment, or sandbox, for business lines to experiment before scaling.

Plot the change journey

Wealth managers have applied advanced analytics to achieving different objectives. Some have found that the application of advanced analytics to business problems delivers significant value and enables them to make better decisions faster and more consistently. Others are using data and advanced analytics to improve sales and marketing, inform investment decision-making, and boost RM productivity.

Any plan for data-driven change must fit the organization’s business model. Implementation will vary based on the technical feasibility, data accuracy and accessibility, time to impact, scalability, and availability of funds. The first few use cases will set the mood and direction, so careful thought is required ahead of action.

One common impediment to scaling is the lack of a single metric to describe impact, which makes it hard for tech teams to communicate benefits. Still, there are workarounds. Financial key performance indicators (KPIs) can show flows across key mandates or volumes of advisory, rather than execution-driven assets under management. Nonfinancial metrics can focus on cross-sell ratios, increased client retention, number of RMs trained, or adoption rates for solutions. Other helpful evaluations include customer satisfaction scores, new trust-based RM-client relationships, time to market, and cultural shifts. Progress on these measures will boost organizational conviction that transformation is beneficial.

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Build a strong foundation, leading with technology.

Data and technology together form the backbone that supports analytics-led transformation. A strong analytics backbone requires a rigorous standard of data management, coupled with informed decisions about the IT applications and systems to employ.

A digital approach to client-centric servicing

A leading bank created a digital and analytics-powered application that ingests internal and external data points, enabling it to identify “hidden affluence” among its clients.

Another bank combined demographic data with information from client conversations to generate real-time product recommendations and facilitate cross-selling. To continuously train the recommendation engine, the bank built a central data lake—consolidated, centralized storage for raw, unstructured, semistructured, and structured data from multiple sources—so the system has an ever-growing set of data to work from. It then pushed product recommendations through multiple client channels.

A leading investment bank continuously scrapes more than 2,000 financial news sources and more than 800 blogs, stock message sites, and social-media platforms. This exercise helped to enrich the data used by the analytics engine to assess sentiment and inform insights on stocks, bonds, commodities, countries, currencies, and cryptocurrencies.

Wealth managers are routinely in touch with their clients offline. These interactions elicit significant information about client preferences and requirements, but the information is often stored on paper or in RMs’ heads. To mine this knowledge fully, wealth managers must capture it digitally and convert it into a structured format that can be processed to create insights and personalized services (see sidebar “A digital approach to client-centric servicing”). In doing so, they need to put systems in place to ingest, store, and organize the data in line with regulatory obligations while ensuring the data are accurate, available, and accessible.

On the technology side, some leading wealth managers use natural-language processing to analyze text and voice data and identify personalized triggers and insights. Others are building feedback loops across channels to train artificial intelligence algorithms. Technologies can also be applied to processes: robotic process automation, for example, can replace routine manual labor and mental processing in regulatory compliance, risk assessment, reporting, and query management.

Deployment of data-driven decision-making requires scalable, adaptable, and resilient core technology components—a unified data and technology stack that connects across IT activities. 3 Sven Blumberg, Rich Isenberg, Dave Kerr, Milan Mitra, and Renny Thomas, “ Beyond digital transformations: Modernizing core technology for the AI bank of the future ,” April 2021, McKinsey.com. This will enable managers to adopt a tech-first approach to designing customer journeys.

In building data and IT architecture, wealth managers require a basic tool kit with four key components:

  • a rationalized IT stack to create a common front-and back-end platform and a unified resource for mobile and web applications
  • a scalable data platform with modular data pipelines and application-programming-interface (API)-based microservices for building and deploying analytics solutions at scale
  • a semi-autonomous lab environment to enable experimentation, coupled with an at-scale factory environment for production of analytics solutions
  • a highly scalable distributed network on the cloud to respond to variable demand for data storage and processing

In parallel to assembling these components, banks must consolidate data from across geographies and business lines. This will enable analysts to elicit insights based on the maximum amount of information. Some leading players first experiment in a sandbox environment and work with external partners to acquire the necessary skills, after which they scale up incrementally.

Build the team and prioritize change management

It is not easy to scale and sustain analytics impact. Organizational silos and cultural resistance are common inhibiting factors, while the vital role that RMs play in forming and maintaining relationships must be adapted to the new environment. Indeed, RMs must be front and center of the transformation process. For this, organizations need effective team building and change management.

Team building. A productive approach to team building is to create cross-functional squads with a range of talents (Exhibit 4). Product owners and designers should be responsible for ensuring that the team meets the needs of its clients (RMs or end clients) and stays focused on delivering value. Data scientists and data engineers implement use cases and check that insights are generated as data are ingested—a minimal-viable-product (MVP) approach. IT architects and software engineers, meanwhile, build the slick interfaces and back-end systems that deliver insights to clients across channels.

How three Asian wealth managers engaged clients and boosted RM productivity

A leading private bank deployed machine learning to generate next-best conversation ideas. It built propensity models and analyzed customer clusters to identify anchor clients and learn from transaction patterns.

Another private bank built a digital workbench that enables RMs to serve clients via a single platform. The workbench was integrated with a centrally hosted recommendation engine that provides personalized recommendations based on life events and transaction data.

A third private bank used explanatory and predictive modeling to identify “moments of truth.” These informed RM coverage and outreach strategy, which helped the bank develop initiatives to support growth and focus RMs on high-value activities.

A core objective should be to explore analytics and AI use cases that boost RM productivity (see sidebar “How three Asian wealth managers engaged clients and boosted RM productivity”). To that end, the squad should embed business and channel management teams so that ideas are aligned with RM client services. Several firms have found that involving RMs and other domain experts in squads leads to significant improvements in data interpretation and modeling.

In many cases, assembling productive squads will require new talent. In particular, banks will need data scientists to be responsible for building analytics software and data engineers to scope and build data pipelines and data architecture. Translators, who act as conduits between the business and technology teams, will be critical for ensuring that squads understand business needs. Finally, squads need IT skill sets to ensure that analytics and digital solutions are compatible with core data and technology stacks.

The best approach to talent acquisition is to take baby steps: get one squad right, foster RM adoption, and then gradually expand capabilities as use cases multiply and are scaled up. Some of the required skill sets are in high demand, so outsourcing may be a realistic early option. In the longer term, however, it makes sense to build internally.

Change management. Relationship managers should be encouraged to embrace analytics and convinced that new applications lead to better services and higher levels of performance. Change management strategies can help. Examples include creating teams of “influencers,” running capability-building sessions, developing change narratives that generate widespread excitement, redefining roles, and aligning performance with financial or nonfinancial awards.

Institutionalize new ways of working

Analytics-driven transformation at scale should be predicated on collaboration, team self-steering, and an iterative approach to problem-solving—elements of the so-called agile approach, which originated in software development. In running agile sprints, it pays to keep business needs in sight, accepting that failure is part of the process. Two-week sprints are usually sufficient to get pilots up and running, and the aim should be to produce an MVP with every sprint.

Wealth managers can apply these basic principles via four process disciplines:

  • Inspect and adapt. Daily check-ins will ensure that teams identify roadblocks, such as product backlogs, and maintain their focus on goals.
  • Engage end users. Sprint reviews with end users, stakeholders, and sponsors enable teams to gather feedback and bake in recommendations.
  • Embed a sense of unity and purpose. Teams should hold retrospectives to incorporate learnings.
  • Institutionalize support infrastructure. Agile tooling (for example, Confluence, Jira, and Zeplin) will facilitate experimentation and support remote working where necessary.

Organizations using agile operating models must embrace flexible learning. This is a departure from traditional waterfall-based approaches, in which decision-making occurs at the beginning of each project. In agile, capability building and a relentless focus on change management will be vital elements of optimizing the program. To cement the relationship between innovation and growth, leading firms also assign KPIs to application rollouts, and they reward decision makers based on the value created.

Most wealth managers would say they have already embarked on an analytics journey; many have begun deploying digital applications in various aspects of their businesses. Often, however, the whole system is less than the sum of its parts, and people remain attached to established ways of working. To make a leap forward, wealth managers should commit to bold agendas that will support the scaling up of analytics-driven approaches.

Anutosh Banerjee is a partner in McKinsey’s Singapore office, where Vishal Kaushik and Aditya Saxena are associate partners; Fumiaki Katsuki is a partner in the Hanoi office; and Sanchit Suneja is an associate partner in the Mumbai office, where Renny Thomas is a senior partner.

The authors wish to thank Tiffany Kwok and Charu Singhal for their contributions to this article.

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