What to use for startup products: problem statements or user stories?

by | Jan 2023 | Build a Product

What’s the difference between a problem statement and a user story?

A problem statement is a concise description of a problem or issue that a product or service is intended to address. It is used to define the scope of the problem and to guide the development of a solution. It is typically written in the context of the target market or user and addresses a specific pain point or need.

A user story is a tool used in agile software development to describe the desired functionality from the perspective of an end user. User stories are used to define and prioritise the features and requirements of a product. They are typically written in the following format:

“As a [user], I want [functionality], so that [benefit].”

In an early-stage startup, it is important to validate the problem being addressed by conducting user research, talking to potential customers and gaining a deep understanding of the target market. A problem statement is a better fit for this stage of product development, as it helps to define the problem and guides the development of a solution that addresses the problem. Once the problem is clearly defined, user stories can be used to define the features and requirements of the product.

However, if you have a clear problem statement and a sense of the target user, you can also use user stories to define the product’s features. These stories give the team a clearer and more concrete idea about what you want to achieve and how the user will use the product in real life, which can help you design a better solution.

Understand the user journey before developing software products.

Can problem statements evolve into user stories?

Sometimes problem statements can evolve into user stories. The process for doing this typically involves breaking down the problem into smaller, more specific parts and identifying the desired functionality or outcome from the user’s perspective.

For example, let’s say a problem statement for a startup is:

“Farmers in rural areas have limited access to market information, which makes it difficult for them to make informed decisions about crop prices and yields.”

This problem statement can be broken down into smaller, more specific parts and then turned into user stories. Some examples of user stories that could be developed from this problem statement are:

  • As a farmer, I want to be able to access market information on my phone, so that I can make informed decisions about when to sell my crops.
  • As a farmer, I want to be able to compare prices for different crops at different markets, so that I can make the best decision about where to sell my crops.
  • As a farmer, I want to be able to access weather and crop yield information, so that I can plan for potential crop losses.

These user stories provide more specific, actionable, and testable details, which can guide the product development team to prioritise certain features and functionality. They can also help you test whether or not the product solves the problem.

Here’s another example of how a problem statement can be turned into a set of user stories:

“Small businesses struggle to keep track of their finances, especially when it comes to keeping their books in order.”

This could be turned into the following user stories:

  • As a small business owner, I want to be able to enter my financial transactions into a simple, user-friendly interface, so that I can keep track of my finances.
  • As a small business owner, I want to be able to categorise my transactions, so that I can see where my money is going.
  • As a small business owner, I want to be able to run reports on my financial data, so that I can make informed decisions about my business.

In both examples, by taking the problem statement and turning it into user stories, it allows the team to have a clearer understanding of the problem, and to have a clear picture of what they are building in order to solve that problem.

In summary

If you’re building a tech product for an early-stage startup, your process should improve both problem statements and user stories. The problem statement should clearly define what pain point your product solves, while the user stories help you understand how it solves it, and how the solution maps to the different elements of the problem from the user’s perspective.


Image credits

– Lego image by Slon Pics on Pixabay.
– High five image by Kulbir on Pexels.

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