Inspiration

Validate your problem before it is too late…

We all use a platform or a framework every day without realising it or consciously thinking about it. It might be Facebook; Google Docs or WhatsApp, the list is endless. Have you ever taken a moment, stopped and asked yourself why? Why you use them?

You use a product because it is solving a particular problem at a specific time, like that time your date cancelled on you on WhatsApp, the problem solved was communication. When you had to write sad poetry after the breakup, you did it on Google Docs because you needed a word processor solving the problem of creating a document. You can bring to life the most unique, shiny product that has features that are out of this world, but if it does not solve a real problem, then it is useless. [1]

Let us first understand the nature of problems. What is a problem? It can be a lot of things. We all usually know when we have a problem. Whether or not we can put into words what a problem is, that is another problem. You may feel uncomfortable in a given place or about some situation, but you are not able to articulate why. A problem probably is just the feeling that something is wrong and should be corrected or the situation alleviated. Our understanding of a problem then comes down to it being the difference between what is and what might be or should be. 

Are all problems the same? Some problems are more grave than others; the problem of child hunger in Kigali is a much more severe a problem than the fact that you do not have stable internet to attend a Zoom class, although both are problems that can and should be addressed. [2]

Before you define the problem, start by going over everything you know surrounding the problem. First, elucidate the problem. This can be done why writing down what you know. Go through a brainstorming session to get to understand the problem better. After this, find out the missing information. Information is essential to effective decision making. If you are fighting child hunger, do you know which children are going hungry? When do they face hunger – all the time, or at particular moments of the year or the month?

When all the gaps have been filled, start finding more critical information about the problem. Most commonly, what you collect will fall into one of the following categories: 

  • Facts (20% of kids in Kigali do not have anything to eat)
  • Inference (A significant number of kids living in Nyamirambo, Kigali do not have anything to eat.)
  • Speculation (Many kids in the low-income areas of Kigali do not have anything to eat.)
  • Opinions (I think the reason why many kids in low-income families do not have anything to eat is that their parents are unemployed)

These types of information will, later on, be used in optimising the solution.

With the information available to you, you are ready to define the problem. Two general standards you need to remember: You should define the problem in terms of needs, and not solutions. If you define the problem according to possible solutions, you’re closing the door to other, possibly more effective solutions. “Low-class attendance is unacceptable,” offers space for many more possible solutions than, “We need more random quizzes to ensure students show up.” You should also define the problem as one everyone shares; avoid assigning blame for the problem. [2]

Now that you understand the problem, let us get into figuring if this is the right problem for you to try to find solutions for or if it is even a problem. The purpose of validating a problem is to make sure you are not dealing with a made-up problem situation or a non-existent problem. This shields you from the most common problem of them all, investing time and resources into a solution that nobody wants. Have you ever come across a product that failed? The chances are that it was based on an idea that the founder was enthralled by or found cool and exciting, rather than something that solved a real pain point for real people. 

Problem validation starts with building data—start building upon the information that you collected when clarifying the problem. Get hard facts about the problem. Take some time to do research and collate the data. Make sure you stay open to contradicting information; this might be difficult because we tend to be unintentionally biased towards certain facts. 

The next stage is to look for existing solutions to the problem and the different ways the problem is being tackled. Ask yourself, Are there available solutions in the market at the moment? If there are, what is good about these solutions? What are the downsides to the market-ready solutions? Are people willing to give up these solutions for a better option?

Now it’s time to talk with users and see if they mention your problem on their own accord. Try to answer the following questions.

  1. How do they talk about the issue when you describe it?  
  2. What words do they use? 
  3. How do they see it? 
  4. Do they see it as inevitable? 
  5. Are they satisfied with their current solutions?) 
  6. How do they frame the problem?

Interviewing users helps you to get a better understanding of the needs of your user. Get to know:

  1. What do they care about? 
  2. What are their frustrations? 
  3. What are their dreams?  

If you know how people view your problem, you also know how to frame the solution. [3]

Once you have validated the problem, get on to the process of developing a solution. You have successfully defined the problem, identified an audience, spoken to potential users, and you have confidence that you have an idea worth being addressed, then start thinking of developing a solution.

Blog by:  

  1. Nathan Kudakwashe Kuchena
  2. Kudakwashe S. Mavuru
  3. Gerald Malik Ndungu
  4. Christian Niyokwizerwa

References

 [1]”Validate the Problem Before you Validate Your Idea”, Simpleweb, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://simpleweb.co.uk/validate-the-problem-before-you-validate-your-idea/. [Accessed: 06- Oct- 2020].

[2]”Chapter 17. Analyzing Community Problems and Solutions | Section 3. Defining and Analyzing the Problem | Main Section | Community Tool Box”, Ctb.ku.edu, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/analyze/analyze-community-problems-and-solutions/define-analyze-problem/main. [Accessed: 06- Oct- 2020].

 [3]J. Ruijter, “Problem validation – HatRabbits”, HatRabbits, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://hatrabbits.com/en/problem-validation/. [Accessed: 07- Oct- 2020].

16 thoughts on “Validate your problem before it is too late…

    1. Thank you, Maysa. I am glad we were able to communicate the process of defining a problem clearly.

  1. nice work you have done here, it explains what you have to go through to know if what you call a problem is really a problem and validate if the solution you are planning to implement is the right one.

  2. Great article, what would you say about solutions that were developed to solve a particular problem and the users turn it into something else. eg: Sharing code on WhatsApp instead of using Git and other version control solutions. Would you say they didn’t understand the problem well or it’s a coincidence that their solution is convenient to solve multiple problems more efficiently?.

    1. I think they understood the problem well, but different ways to solve the solution come up every day. What needs to happen is for then constantly been on the watch and try to innovate as time moves. I hope I understood your comment well.

  3. Reading through the article seems interesting and the approach you are trying to make, thanks for taking the time to write such a wonderful blog, I think you have helped many people to understand how to approach that particular problem.

  4. Well done guys. It’s clearly stated with good examples, however, when you talked about validating the problem, yes it is very crucial to interview the people and get a hard facts but how about immersing yourself into their situation and try to feel their feeling as well? Isn’t it one way of validating the problem as well?

    1. Thank you Fulgence. While understanding the problem, you can use different ways to get more information. We might have mentioned one, but it’s up to you to select what best fits what you are looking for.
      I hope this answers your question Fulgence.

  5. Thank you guys for the information. Adding on Bensons’ question, what does the class think we can approach situations where the product you’re creating doesn’t necessarily solve for a pressing need but is still relevant to achieve a certain goal? For example, the smartwatch, doing user research on such a product may not validate the need for one but once it’s in the market it sorts of validates itself as an effective tool.

    1. Thank you, Ian, for your response.

      To answer your question, when we were reading Don Norman’s article on human-centred design being considered harmful, his main talking point was we should design for activities. Why do these devices work so well? The basic reason is that they were all developed with a deep understanding of the activities that were to be performed: call this Activity-Centered Design. Many were not even designed in the common sense of the term, rather, they evolved with time. The users were supposed to understand the task and to understand the designers’ intentions.

      I hope this tries to answer your question.

  6. Really insightful article. Reading through left me with more questions on situations where solutions are created without taking the time to validate the problem but eventually end up successful. Is there any correlation between problem validation and the success of these solutions?

    1. Thank you, William.
      I think in such a situation it would be sheer luck or you have an out of this world product.
      If you can think of a clever new concept or solution to an existing problem in a few minutes or hours, then you should recognize that many people all over the world, many who have spent much more time thinking of these issues, will already have come up with the solution.
      In the article, we mention that the purpose of validating a problem is to make sure you are not dealing with a made-up problem situation or a non-existent problem. This shields you from the most common problem of them all, investing time and resources into a solution that nobody wants.
      You might have the shiniest solution, but just validate to make sure you are not wasting your time and resources. What do you have to lose? 🙂

  7. Thank you for this one! But I kept wondering if it is possible to exhaust brainstorming all the situations around the problem and if this might be true, how do you know that you have indeed exhausted all the situations around the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *