Set the problem statement just right

At the start of the Five Sketches™ design process, each member of the group has to fill the problem space with ideas. Similar ideas. Different ideas. Variations on ideas. Standard ideas. new and creative ideas. Strong ideas. Weak ideas. Lots of ideas.

It’s difficult to come up with five distinct ideas. The right problem statement makes this easier. You want to make it clear, but not limiting.

More limiting: Fly from A to B as fast as possible.

A limiting problem statement
Fly from A to B by cannon, carrier pigeon, hot-air balloon, airplane, or arrow.

Less limiting: Get from A to B as fast as possible.

A less-limiting problem statement
Get from A to B: if we’re not limited to air, then by tunnel or train. If we’re not limited to a specific object, then by telephone, telegraph, fax, internet, or satellite.

The right scope

Here are some examples of problem statements that are from projects that used Five Sketches™.

    • Add a custom legend to the bottom of a mine plan, before it gets printed.

This was a nice, concise problem statement that the participants understood.

Sometimes the initial problem statement needed to be split into separate tasks. For example:

    • Let a dog owner buy or renew a dog license, online.

This could become two problem statements: one for buying the initial license, and another for renewing the license. Online renewal must consider dog owners who lost their license details, while keeping those same details private from others.

    • Replace a text-based scheduling system with a graphical, drag-and-drop user interface that has a clear workflow.

This became five problem statements, one for each function of the software. One nice thing about this project: once the Five Sketches™ work was complete, the Development Manager said: “This has saved us months of work.”

Confirm everyone’s understanding

Once your problem statement is defined, ask one of the participants to restate it in their own words. Make sure everyone’s understanding of the problem statement is the same. If not, refine the problem statement until its meaning is clear to everyone.

Once the problem is understood, if the participants know how to sketch, you can send them on their way, to separately prepare five sketches, not fewer, for their upcoming Five Sketches session.