A heart with the word “problem” written over.

Challenge, mission, need or problem. Love the problem.

Håkon von Hirsch
4 min readApr 28, 2020

One thing that often comes back to me in my job as a product developer is people talking about challenge, mission and need, instead of problem.

Challenges, missions, needs and problems are things that you talk about at the beginning of product development. This is where you start, and therefore it’s critical to get it right.

Imagine that you are practicing at the shooting range, and your target is 200 meters away. If you don’t take the time to aim you won’t hit your target. If your rifle drifts a few centimeters to the side before you fire it will have a huge impact on your performance.

When I ask “what’s the problem you are solving?” it often leads to trouble. “We don’t talk about problems! No, in this company we talk about challenges.”


You can convert problems into challenges but in my opinion it’s better to use the word challenge like this: “our challenge in the coming months is to solve problem X”. A challenge is something you take or get, and usually it’s not easy to accomplish.


If you give somebody a mission it should be because you’ve observed that something doesn’t work properly. Having a mission is good, but missions usually don’t include a reason why the mission is important to accomplish. At least describe what will happen if you decide not to do the mission. If you do that you talk about the problem. Good. I’ll get back to it.


If you talk about someone having a need, that’s also good, but you miss something. Maybe you just heard that “they need this or that”.

In product development you shouldn’t listen to what your customer say he or she wants. You’ve probably heard this Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

You have to dig deeper than needs.


Now we’re getting there. In product development we say that we test or implement solutions. If there is a solution there has to be a problem at hand before you start.

A problem is an unwanted situation. There are small problems and big problems. There are important problems and less important problems. There are also luxury problems, but we don’t talk about luxury needs or luxury challenges.

In fact, humans solve problems all day long. Think about what happens if you don’t brush your teeth (solution). Your teeth will look bad and eventually rot (problem). What happens if you don’t eat (solution)? You’ll starve and eventually die (problem). What happens if your kids don’t go to school (solution)? They won’t get smarter (problem). What happens if you don’t have any days off (solution)? You’ll get miserable and probably unhealthy (problem).

When you dare to talk about the problem you stay away from talking about the solution too early in the process. Talking about a mission or a need may lead to talking about the solution too early. In the context of mission: “Make a system that does this and that” or in the context of need “the customer needs an app that does this and that”.

When you dare to talk about the problem you can drill down to the real reason why a situation or something isn’t good enough. You can drill down to the root cause of the problem.

If your boat is leaking you can pour the water out of the boat as more comes in but it’s better to patch the leak. The leak is the root cause. Search for it!

You may choose to pour the water out, but be aware of what it is you’re doing. Tell your stakeholders that you’re not working on the root cause (problem) and why that is the right thing to do.

Maybe you’ll discover that the problem is unimportant. Maybe you should spend your time on something else. Are you working on the right thing? Maybe the problem is too big for you and the team? What happens if you don’t solve the problem?

The problem statement

Whatever your job is, always ask the question “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?” Write a problem statement. Remember that a problem statement doesn’t say anything about the solution! Make the problem statement as concrete as possible. If you can’t make a concrete problem statement you can’t make a concrete solution. To make a good problem statement you’ll need a lot of insight.

The vision statement

When your problem statement is done consider writing a vision statement: A vision statement says something about what the world will look like when your solution hit the market. What has changed? What has improved? In the vision statement, don’t say anything about the solution!

About half of all startups fail (so I’ve heard). I think the lack of insight and a clear problem statement is one of the reasons why this happens.

A successful product or service is a proof that a problem exist.

Love the problem! Always.



Håkon von Hirsch

Stolt medarbeider i Oslo Origo. Produktutvikler og teamleder med designprosesshode.