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critical thinking and problem framing

Grounded Curiosity

Problem Framing, and Why It Matters

critical thinking and problem framing

“If I had an hour to solve a problem ,  I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  – Albert Einstein

Have you ever implemented a solution to what you thought was the problem, only to realise that you had solved the wrong problem?

When it comes to finding solutions, how we frame the problem will determine the right context for how we solve it. Problem framing is the art of finding a better problem to solve. It means interrogating and analysing the context to establish a more precise problem framework. In a complex world, solving problems isn’t easy to start with, but it’s made harder when we aren’t sure exactly what we’re trying to solve.

Importance of Framing to Solving

Framing helps us understand what we’re trying to achieve, to view the problem from multiple angles, and avoid making mistakes or creating new problems. Problem framing is an important part of military professionalism, as we must regularly solve complex problems in difficult circumstances. It applies on operations, in barracks, in capability procurement and even in non-military scenarios, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be found in many military planning processes that exist today, such as the Individual Military Appreciation Process. However, problem framing isn’t easy.

In the real world, it is rare to find a problem that is pre-framed in a nice way. Often, what we do find, are problems with insufficient, contradictory, or ambiguous information that we have no idea how to frame.

It is also a necessary element of the Intellectual Edge . It helps to inform, direct, and apply our intellectual capabilities to produce the right effects to the right problems. Understood well, it can become a self-reinforcing cycle, individually and as part of the collective culture , to produce better outcomes.

A Recursive Process: The Relationship between Framing and Solving the Problem

The relationship between framing a problem and solving it may appear to be linear. You typically begin by framing a problem, i.e. determining the relevant variables, their relationships, their relative importance, etc. Having done that, you might then continue to determine possible solutions, and implement the best one.

However, this linear model ignores the value of re-evaluating your original context as new information becomes available. This transforms relationship between framing and solving a problem from a linear one to a cyclic and recursive one.

Understanding this relationship matters because we tend to rush through the framing process to focus on finding the solution. Although we all start with contextualising the problem, we often focus more on solving it than framing it.

By not spending enough time and effort on framing the problem, and by not re-assessing how you’ve framed it, you risk missing valuable information and perspectives for solving a perceived problem. In the worst case, this could lead to solving the wrong problem.

To help in understanding how to frame problems, I’ve covered some key concepts and challenges below.

Finding a Better Problem

A key challenge in problem framing is finding the right problem to solve, rather than the most obvious. Often this means finding a better problem to solve.

One way to do this is to apply what is known as first principles thinking . This technique breaks the problem into its most foundational components and then examines the problem from the ground up.

One tool that is very useful to first principles thinking is the ‘5 Whys’ . This tool repeatedly asks why an issue occurs, where each answer forms the basis for the next question to determine the root cause , instead of the proximal cause .

The proximal cause is what we see on the surface, but as we dig deeper, we get closer to discovering the root cause. Interrogating the problem to reveal the root cause not only helps to solve the immediate problem but help us to find 2nd and 3rd order solutions. In other words, finding a better problem can solve current and future problems.

Finding a better problem, one that is focused on solving root rather than proximal causes, is crucial because it forces us to spend more time framing the problem to clarify what needs to be solved and prevents fixation on particular solutions.

Defining a Problem by its Solution (or Absence of)

How we frame a problem can be defined by the presence or absence of a solution. Often, this is because we tend to find the solution before we’ve adequately explored the problem. This creates a risk of framing the problem around our assumptions of the solution, which is often shaped by individual and collective biases.

Sometimes, previous experiences with a problem can lead us to view the familiar solution as the only solution. Alternatively, we define the problem by the tools and solutions immediately available. Both cases suffer from a fixed mindset . We become dependent on the familiar or obvious solution. But that doesn’t mean they are the best solution for the job.

This concept is known as functional fixedness . It refers to having a mental block towards thinking about an object in a new way to solve a problem. It’s the classic case of Maslow’s Hammer . By overcoming functional fixedness, we can see the possibilities in objects and solutions and can focus on correctly framing and solving the problem, rather than letting assumptions about the solution decide what the problem is.

The Einstellung Effect (and Seeking Other Perspectives)

Another challenge to problem framing is known as the ’Einstellung effect’ . This effect describes our tendency to stop seeing alternatives once we think we’ve found the right answer. Where functional fixedness prevents us from seeing new ways of problem solving based on our experience, the Einstellung effect limits our ability to entertain alternatives once a solution has been found.

This can affect us at any point in the problem framing cycle. It can pre-emptively force us into the problem-solving phase before we have adequately framed the problem. And in doing so, we lock out alternatives that may in fact be better suited to the problem.

We can overcome this by deliberately continuing to search for options even after we find an adequate one to question if there is a better problem or solution available. As World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker puts it, “when you see a good move, look for a better one.” By entertaining multiple perspectives, even after we think we’ve found the right one, we open our minds to solve the problem in more creative and effective ways.

Problem framing is a critical skill to practice and develop in a complex and ambiguous world. The first problem we try to solve isn’t always the right problem.

Seeking out root causes rather than proximal ones and recognising the impact of functional fixedness and the Einstellung effect on our thinking will help make us better problem framers, and ultimately problem solvers.

Problem framing forms an integral part of applying the Intellectual Edge. As military professionals, we should seek to improve our ability to frame and solve problems so we can make the best decisions possible, whether in the field or in the barracks.

Chris Wooding is a Trainee Officer at the Royal Military College Duntroon. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and a Contributing Author for Grounded Curiosity. You can continue the discussion on Twitter  @cr_wood1 .

Problem framing

Problem framing is a problem-solving method that’s designed to align the entire team with one solution for a project by structuring the issue’s details in a digestible and collaborative way. So, when your team can’t agree on a solution, use this play to take a step back and align on the problem you are solving for.

Prep Time 5 mins

Stopwatch icon

Run Time 30 mins

Connected people icon

People 3-10

people floating

Problem Framing

people floating

Problem Framing in action

Confluence template

These software developers use Confluence to work through the problem statement at the end of the Play.

Trello board

This in-house legal team uses Problem Framing to understand the issue driving their overdue workload.

Sticky notes

A sales team used the Problem Framing Play to clarify their challenge with performance in big box stores.

What you'll need

Video conferencing with screen sharing, digital collaboration tool (see templates), sticky notes, optional templates, atlassian templates, instructions for running this play, 1. prep 5 min.

For remote teams, create a collaboration document using one of the templates above if you’d like. Share the document in advance with your team.

For in-person teams, book a room and prepare sticky notes and markers. Divide the whiteboard into four quadrants: who, what, why, where.

Send any relevant supporting data you have in advance to the team.


If the problem is around your customers, prepare the team by gathering and sending them as much relevant customer information as possible.

2. Set the stage 2 MIN

Let your team know that the goal today is to understand and define the problem, not to solve it.

3. Brainstorm 10 MIN

Ask the team to take a step back and think about the problem as a whole from the perspective of the people affected by it.

Set a timer for 10 minutes for the team to add their ideas to the collaboration document or on sticky notes to the whiteboard.

Who is experiencing this problem? How do we know that they are experiencing it? What feedback have we received from them on it?

What is the nature of the problem? What signs point to there being a problem?

Why is the problem worth solving? What's the impact on the people experiencing the problem? What happens if we don’t solve it?

In what circumstances is this problem occurring? In what circumstances does it not occur?

4. State the problem 10 MIN

Using the ideas generated by the team, craft one concise problem statement that sums up the issue from the customer’s perspective. 

The problem statement should include who is affected, what is affecting them, why it needs to be solved, and where the problem is happening.

Confluence template


Here are some problem statements that various teams formed at the end of running the Problem Framing play.

Make it visible

Post your problem statement somewhere highly visible to the team - in your online space or in your physical workspace. This will keep the problem at the top of everyone’s mind.

Now that you’ve clearly defined the problem, assemble the appropriate team members together to create a plan for solving it. Running a Disruptive Brainstorming Play to generate ideas is a good place to start.

Craft a customer

If the people affected by your problem are your customers, have each team member build a persona for a customer prior to the session. During the session, have them embody that persona and explain the problem as that customer.

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Still have questions?

Start a conversation with other Atlassian Team Playbook users, get support, or provide feedback.

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Explore other Plays

Disruptive Brainstorming

Disruptive Brainstorming

Use this team brainstorming technique to generate fresh ideas.



Explore a problem space and organize your ideas for solutions.

Experience Canvas

Ensure your project or service is feasible and strategically sound.

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From our team, to yours

Stay up-to-date on the latest Plays, tips, and tricks with our monthly newsletter.

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Muhammad Muneeb

Nov 29, 2019

Problem Solving & Critical Thinking Skills Necessary For Everyone

Problem solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. This doesn’t mean you need to have an immediate answer, it means you have to be able to think on your feet, assess problems and find solutions. The ability to develop a well thought out solution within a reasonable time frame, however, is a skill that employers value greatly. Critical thinking is the process of critically judging the validity of information while using a specific set of criteria that help you to better understand your outcomes, thereby enabling you to make better and more educated decisions about the problems confronting your reality.Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following: understand the logical connections between ideas solve problems systematically identify, create and evaluate arguments reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning identify the relevance and importance of ideas “The better critical thinker you become, the more effective your decisions will become, and the more likely you are to achieve your goals and objectives.”
You must first understand and structure the problem. This stage involves observation and inspection (looking carefully at things), fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem. Gain more information about the problem to increase your understanding. You might need to do some analysis — looking at history and/or numbers and/or a variety of sources of information. You may need to do some research if the information you need isn’t available. “Employers say they need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic to grow their businesses. These skills include critical thinking and problem solving” , according to a 2010 Critical Skills Survey by the American Management Association and others. Often, if you start with the same definition of a problem that everyone else has, your thinking will be the same and you will come up with the same solutions. Therefore, you should take time diagnosing and exploring and perhaps redefining the problem. “You needs critical thinking skills to be the best problem-solver” Another way to tackle this is to be clear about your goals — What are you trying to achieve? What would be a good outcome if the problem was resolved? What would good look like? The more complex the problem, the more information you will need to obtain. Sometimes you will find that there are several parts to the problem and each requires a different solution. Breaking things down might make a complex problem easier to solve. Once you’ve determined the problem, analyze it by looking at it from a variety of perspectives. Is it solvable? Is it real or perceived? Can you solve it alone or do you need help? Sometimes by looking at it from many angles you can come up with a resolution right away. You may also reveal a bias or narrow point of view that needs to be broadened. You may have had some ideas about how to solve the problem at the beginning, but just list these ideas along with any others — don’t dismiss them too quickly. Problems can be solved in many ways. Brainstorm a list of several possible solutions. Put down anything that comes to mind and then go over the list and narrow it down to the best possibilities. Having several viable options leads to obtaining the best results. Getting other people involved in considering solutions may reveal issues or factors that you are unaware of, allows you to tap into the expertise of others and may make people feel more committed (buy in) to the final solution agreed. You must consider all the possible solutions and evaluate each one. You might decide on the pros and cons — or advantages and disadvantages — of each solution. You may use some sort of scoring or rating system to rank the different solutions. Then you have to decide which solution is the best one — even if it is not perfect. This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other issues like time constraints or budgets. It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem — sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas. Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take — decision making is an important skill in itself. You may have to negotiate with people here and persuade them about the chosen solution. This stage involves accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action. Sometimes, during implementation more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out fully. This may require you to go back to an earlier stage or even start again. This is what we call an iterative process. In some situations — for example, in new product development — we call this prototyping. Producing a “near enough” solution so further work can be done to finalise the product. The final stage is about checking and reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes. It is good practice to keep a record of decisions (and the reasons why they were made) and the outcomes and any additional problems that occurred. This will improve future problem solving activities. Critical thinking is an essential habitual thought process that is imperative to cultivate and grow on a daily basis. Without it, we will struggle to make sense of reality. However, with it, we will open new doors of understanding about the events and circumstances of our lives. Asking the right kinds of critical questions helps us to gain new knowledge, perspective, and understanding about the state of our current life circumstances. As a result of acquiring this knowledge, we gain the confidence we need to overcome the obstacles standing in our way.
By learning to ask the right kinds of questions in order to break down each angle and avenue for new answers, we expand the possibilities of the reality we find ourselves in. With this unique outlook, we are better able to reach new solutions and find the answers that will help us to overcome our problems and challenges. Effective critical thinking goes hand-in-hand with problem solving and creativity. When you think critically about a problem, you essentially open the floodgates to new insights, encouraging deeper and more creative thought about your circumstances and predicament.Each of these three methods will help you gain perspective about your life, and will lead you to the answers you have been searching for. An outstanding critical thinker has a set of character traits that are essential for effective and efficient thought. These traits help them to think more proficiently about the problems they are confronted with. As a result, they are able to gather unexpected insights and understandings that help improve their decision-making abilities. An outstanding critical thinker is always open-minded to all possibilities, interpretations, and perspectives. They understand that unless they keep an open mind at all times, that they may essentially miss important cues and pieces of information that will provide them with new insights and understandings to successfully overcome the problems confronting their reality.A critical thinker understands that a flexible and fluid thought process is required at all times in order to successfully gain new insights and perspectives about events and circumstances. An outstanding critical thinker’s vocabulary is focused on breaking down the problems and circumstances from a multitude of angles and perspectives. Their words help bring clarity and understanding to situations that at first may seem foggy and misdirected.
The following is a list of words that outstanding critical thinkers use to formulate questions to the problems confronting their reality: Meaning, Reasons, Example, Prejudice, Evidence, Reliability, Viewpoint, Credibility, Explanation, Consequences, Assumptions, and Relevance. Each of these words can be formulated into insightful and thought-provoking questions that will help you to break down any problem or situation from a critical perspective. Becoming an outstanding critical thinker requires the cultivation of a number of key traits and qualities that will help instill a specific set of habitual thoughts and patterns of behavior that are essential when working through life’s daily problems. Of one thing we can be sure: The quality of our life will be determined by the quality of our thinking . — Edward de Bono Critical thinking allows us to see things from unique perspectives that under normal circumstances we might not have been aware of. They are fully aware that there are always a variety of ways to look at a situation, and that there are an endless amount of possibilities and perspectives available to them at any one moment in time. They, therefore, maintain their flexible nature and change course with their thinking, decision making, and actions whenever an opportunity presents itself to move them forward in a more proficient way. The critical thinking process for problem-solving will help you to gain a wider perspective of the events and circumstances of your life. These insights will stimulate new ideas that will help you to find solutions that would not have been possible when using standard patterns of thinking. As you progress through this section you will discover a simple step-by-step process of critical thought that will improve your ability to overcome the obstacles and challenges confronting your reality in the most efficient and effective way. You will also be presented with some key insights and perspectives of the critical thinking process that will become indispensable to your growth as a critical thinker.

More from Muhammad Muneeb

A student, artist, developer, programmer, writer & have a creative mind. In short I am a multitasker.

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critical thinking and problem framing

Problem Framing

Use customer insights to inform your strategy and make better decisions

Find alignment across your leadership team to identify the best path forward. Hire us for a 1-day Problem Framing workshop.

What is Problem Framing?

Problem Framing is a tool to help you identify and pursue the right business opportunities.

Executives spend 80% of their time making important decisions—while relying on incomplete data and tight deadlines.

We created the Problem Framing Workshop to give you a better way to make those key decisions.

In just one day, your entire stakeholder team will find alignment, gain a shared understanding of the context of a problem (based on data and customer insights), and make informed decisions when and where it matters most. It all starts with learning to frame the problem properly.

critical thinking and problem framing

When do you need Problem Framing?

When your business problem is not clearly articulated

When you don’t understand your customers and their needs

When your team is stuck

When traditional approaches don’t work anymore

When you want to discover new opportunities

When there is no alignment between stakeholders on what to do next

Problem Framing Workshop hosted by Google, San Francisco

critical thinking and problem framing

One workshop to eliminate months of stakeholder meetings

Through years of helping organizations apply design thinking principles at work, we’ve found that one challenge occurs more often than any other: Most people don’t take the time to accurately define a problem before diving into solutions. In our Problem Framing workshop, you’ll follow a structured process, manage conversations, and visualize the data to inform decision-making. Every voice will be heard—especially the voice of the customer.

Here’s what you can expect

(before the workshop)

A Problem Framing Workshop requires careful planning and preparation. We ensure that stakeholders have everything they need to make decisions. That starts with setting outcome and goal expectations with your team before the real work begins.

1. Identify stakeholders

Recruit and select all internal and external stakeholders who can make or influence decisions about the problem at hand. These stakeholders are not your customers/users. Most often they are part of the senior leadership team, business parners, collaborators, providers, etc. who have the authority, power and interest in solving the challenge.

2. Interview stakeholders

To understand what they know about the problem, as well as understand their expectations. In most cases, they will have very different points of view that need to be aligned later, during the workshop.

3. Gather data

This includes but is not limited to customer research, stats, analytics, and competition analysis. We are looking for facts and anything that could help us understand the root causes of the problem. We capture all this information in a Sprint Brief.

4. Visualize data

Data in raw format will overwhelm stakeholders and hinder decision-making. Before the workshop we will visualize it (e.g ecosystem maps, customer journeys, process blueprints) to help capture a full story and give stakeholders better context for making decisions.

The Problem Framing Workshop

Once the groundwork is complete, we will facilitate the Problem Framing workshop with a group of six to eight key decision-makers , following a 4-step agenda:

Groundwork includes the following steps.

Contexualize the problem

Justify the business need, understand the customers, problem statement, step 1 contextualize the problem.

First priority is finding alignment. Stakeholders will consider the data and work together to arrive at a shared understanding of the problem, providing each person the context to see the big picture.

Step 2 Justify the business need

Stakeholders often have different visions for a project. In this step, we will align their points of view to define success and create a shared metric for measuring when we hit that goal.

Step 3 Understand the customer

With a clear shared vision, we need to ensure there is value for the customer too. The stakeholders will engage with customer data, drawing their own conclusions about what’s important for customers.

Step 4 Problem Statement

Finally, in this step your decision-making team will connect the customer’s problems to the business goals and strategy. They will create well-defined problem statements that, when solved, will generate value for both the business and the customer.

The Problem Framing results

Unpack a complex problem into well-defined challenges

Reduce risks by understanding the context correctly

Remove politics from decision-making

Stakeholder alignment and prioritization

Highlight knowledge gaps, especially about customer needs

What could you change in a day?

Stop thinking about features., start talking about solving customer’ needs, stop talking about making money, start thinking about the value you will will create, stop making assumptions, start making context-based decisions, let’s work together.

critical thinking and problem framing

Here’s what our clients had to say about our facilitation style

Senior UX Designer

DSA is one of the leading organizations on bringing the Design Sprint methodology to an ever-growing audience.

They are great strategic collaborators and bring a wealth of experience from the facilitation of Design Sprints to scaled outreach and education of the broader Design Sprint Community.

The team consistently produces great work and constantly shares their recent learnings and insights with the community.

Richard Verdin

Non-Executive Director / Shareholder Representative

DSA ran the first Design Sprint I attended, and it was SUPERB. Their expert facilitation and ability to manage a creative (and sometimes challenging) group of experts in their field, all the while encouraging us along the journey, was truly first-class.

Later the DSA team trained us all to master the process. I have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone who wants to “solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days”.

Tim-Allan Schäufelin

Senior Product Manager

DSA is a highly professional team.

They helped identify the right problems, generate the context needed to find the right answers, and enabled our team to have creative exchanges and take a significant step forward in our project.

All this considered our needs and was tailored during the process.

Thanks again!

Gavriel Magonet

Fintech Creative Technologist, Strategist

Working with Design Sprint Academy, we completely unlocked the benefits of Design Sprints promised in the Sprint book.

Design Sprints are now a cornerstone of how we work, and we continue to improve them with the help of Design Sprint Academy.

Innovation Project Manager

Turner Construction Company

DSA provides an amazing training experience. John and the team have developed a professional and fun experience with just the right mix of presentation content and hands-on demonstrations.

I'm confident we can apply the methodologies taught to deliver impact!

Christine Davey

Head of Digital Business Transformation

The strongest outcome for me was the ability to scale capability quickly.

We now deliver Problem Framing sessions in-house directly off the back of the Design Sprint Certification program.

Paulus von den Hoff

Account Director

The Problem Framing provided a valuable new framework alongside many helpful techniques and resources that I could take away and use for my next workshop.

The best thing, however, was that the trainers could really speak from years of experience and answer any questions fellow students or I had.

Audrey Watanabe

Associate Manager, Inventor Relations

I recently participated in a design sprint training and it was GREAT! Design Sprint Academy was professional, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the seminar material and helped my group feel comfortable and confident as well.

The hands-on learning was excellent, and I really appreciated getting both participant and facilitator perspectives.

Mark Niel Sy

Technology R&D Sr. Principal

I attended the Design Sprint and Problem Framing training virtually.

The training course content and delivery were superb. It is beneficial to understand the problem first (embracing and loving the problem) before loving the solution -- that is one big thing I took away from the course, and there are a lot more that I will surely apply!

Thank you DSA, for delivering it smoothly.

Ivan Karacic

Innovation Manager

My super-high expectations have been exceeded by far. So much focus, a business angle, and a new level of prototypes were eye-opening for me.

Next to that, tons of facilitation learnings from guys who have experienced it

Blaize Hite

Global Product Manager

Awesome time attending the Problem Framing Workshop at Google. Great insights into how to increase stakeholder visibility into the biases that draw focus onto solutions instead of true problems.

A shared understanding of the issue(s) at hand really enables teams to focus where it is most needed.

Cameron Rouse

Innovation Manager / devX challenge

Thanks, DSA, for your energy and commitment to our virtual teams.

The DevX challenge initiative believes the biggest breakthroughs will come through emboldened teams, a deep understanding of the new criteria, and willingness to not just think outside the box … but ask should the box exist today?

The shift for business to go from best in the world to best for the planet is here.

Eugene Woon

Senior Customer Solutions Manager

Amazon Web Services

The virtual Problem Framing workshop was fun and, most importantly, packed with great content and a well-planned delivery style.

Our team learned and applied the methodology through an interactive Mural facilitated workshop.

Els Quintyn

Arteco Coolants

Both the problem framing and sprint have been done under excellent moderation. Strict on time when required, inspirational when possible, demanding and ambitious when needed!

Seamus Gavin

DSA gave me a great grounding in facilitation techniques and design sprint methodology.

The quality of their tuition and facilitation and attention to detail in how they present their approach sets them apart.

Edina Sewell

Global Public Sector Industry Business Unit, Future Cities Team

Thank you for supporting the SAP DevX Challenges in many locations in person in the past and lately also for adopting your format and carrying out the workshops virtually. Couldn’t have done it without you!

Manolis Papadakis

Head of Business Design

Vivid Vibes

Design Sprint Academy is the top-tier quality when it comes to training. Looking forward to implementing the knowledge I gained from the Problem Framing training.

Maeve O'Brien

Asia Pacific Representation / Sustainable Tourism Consulting & Communication

I loved my five days with DSA. The pace and content are organized in a way that is very accessible, and the course is applicable across so many sectors.

The atmosphere created allowed me to really get to know other participants and co-create something special.

Silke Jakobi

Innovation Expert

For me, it was my first design sprint experience, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though it was only online. The DSA team was very experienced, helpful, and supportive. My expectations have definitely been overachieved.

I would love to work with John and the team again.

Ursula Kloé

Managing Partner

Being part of the Design Sprint was challenging positive and truly inspiring. The DSA's facilitation - being focused and charming at the same time - guided us to our creative top performance.

Rene ten Brink

Program Manager

Random Studio

The Design Sprint Training was professionally led, fun to experience, and provided us with a great framework and new insights.

Looking forward to putting this into practice and adding more value to our output as a creative agency.

Nadia Eraji

Head of Product

Fit Analytics

Hands down! The best design sprint facilitators are from Design Sprint Academy!

You do not just have a coach who copies the famous book from Jake Knapp; you get a methodology tailored to your needs and optimizes your team's results!

I highly recommend DSA and can not wait to work with them again!

Luísa Bianchi de Aguiar

Market & Customer Intelligence Project Manager

An extremely experienced and knowledgeable team. I did the Problem Framing 1-day training and the Design Sprint 2-day training, delivered by John. Despite being remote live training, due to Covid, DSA delivered a nice and complete learning experience, planned to the smallest detail, with a well-balanced mix of a lot of hands-on, lecture, and case studies.

It gave me the needed confidence to start participating in and facilitating design sprints.

Diletta Giacchetta

Senior Project Manager

I attended the virtual design sprint training and found it very well-built and conducted by the DSA (Great!).

I not only gained knowledge about DESIGN SPRINT but also appreciated the MURAL platform for sharing and team working.

Very great training!!! I highly recommend it!

Manager of Project Development

This was an amazing training session.

John and his team were professional, engaging and provided a fantastic training experience!

I can't recommend them enough!

Tiphaine Saury

Global Head of Client Innovation & Scientific Community Board Member

Excellent training session, support and guidance, both from a technical / expertise and a people angle.

Brilliant team!

Changing the way we make business decisions at Which?

Learn how Which? - a non-profit organization reviewing products and services for UK customers - turned our Problem Framing framework into a go-to process for stakeholder alignment and decision-making.

critical thinking and problem framing

New Tool Release

The problem framing canvas, for new business and innovation opportunities.

critical thinking and problem framing

Problem Framing FAQs

What happens in a problem framing workshop.

Problem Framing is a strategy workshop designed for executive-level decision-makers.

The goal is to consider every business decision through the lens of adding value to both the business and the customer.

Problem Framing means what it sounds like: viewing a problem through multiple frames.

In practice, key stakeholders share the business context, their understanding, and their own assumptions about the problem. The team then determines success metrics and aligns around a common point of view.

Through a sequence of interactive activities, the decision-making team:

✓ Contextualizes the business problem

✓ Understands the customer perspective

✓ Identifies different business opportunities

✓ Decides and prioritizes the business question worth answering

Can I use Problem Framing without a Design Sprint?

Yes, Problem Framing can be used in any instance when your stakeholders need to make decisions, align with one another, or find directional clarity about a specific problem or initiative.

Read more about Problem Framing

Articles with free resources.

The Problem Framing Canvas

Today, we distilled the years of work and successful projects into a simple, accessible canvas that can be used for repeated success when framing and reframing your next opportunity. We use this tool to kick off, collect insights and data, and document outcomes and decisions throughout a problem-framing project.

Problem Framing and Design Sprints for Enterprises

You have heard about design sprints and are still struggling to understand how they might fit into your organization?

Problem Framing 101

New to Problem Framing? This article will tell you everything you need to know about Problem Framing and when to run (or not) a Problem Framing workshop with key decision-makers.

How to prioritize ideas with Problem Framing? (Part 1 — Ideas: 30>>10>>3)

How do you find the three most relevant Design Sprint topics in a company with 5000 employees?

Critical, Lateral, & Creative Thinking

Critical thinking & problem-solving, introduction.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrected. In other words, it is a thought process that involves the evaluation, assessment, and reinterpretation of your own or others’ ideas and thought processes. Critical thinking requires effort and dedication, but pays dividends for the time invested.

Critical thinking comes into play in a wide variety of circumstances. As a citizen of a democracy, it is important to think critically and do background research each time an election is coming up or when there is a news story about which you want to be more informed. As a student, you want to think critically about near term options, such as what courses to take, and longer term decisions, such as how to plan your degree and whether the degree you’re planning should be directed toward current employment, future employment, or your own academic interest that may or may not be related to a current or potential career.

Critical thinking involves analysis, or breaking something (a concept, an argument, a piece of information) down into its parts in order to understand and evaluate it, as a prelude to accepting or rejecting it.  You’re expected to think critically when you’re asked to analyze an article for a college assignment, for example, and offer your own opinion on its validity.  You also think critically when you analyze real-life situations such as moving your residence, changing jobs, or buying a car.

View the following videos on critical thinking, which further define the concept and offer some steps to apply in order to think critically and solve problems.

What are the key concepts of this video?

What examples do you have of the following?

The first two concepts often have positive outcomes, while the last two concepts may result in negative outcomes. Most likely you will have done all four of these things subconsciously in the workplace or other situations.

This video offers one (of many) ways to consider something critically:

Both videos emphasize the need to consider a question, problem, action, or issue consciously and planfully, breaking it into its parts and considering the parts, before putting them back together with a reasoned solution or multiple potential, reasoned solutions.

Just for fun, here’s a short video on assumptions, a concept related to critical thinking.

initial learning activity

First, read and view information on the Lateral & Creative Thinking page of this text.

Then, write a brief essay (4-5 pages) applying critical, lateral, and creative thinking skills to the solution of a real problem. Use the following format:

Submit: essay applying thinking skills

in-depth learning activity

Then, read the publication, Robot-Ready: Human + Skills for the Future of Work . (You may have read excerpts from this in other sections of this text.)

The authors of Robot-Ready assert a number of things, including that:

Consider these assertions critically.  Do you accept the evidence provided?  What assumptions, if any, are inherent in the information? What biases, if any, are inherent in the information?  Is there enough data to back up the assertion, and is that data valid?

Then choose one assertion that you feel is sound, based on your analysis.  Apply critical (and lateral and creative) thinking processes to problem-solve and project a way of enacting the concept asserted.  For example:

Related college Learning Goals

Active Learning: Assess and build upon previous learning and experiences to pursue new learning, independently and in collaboration with others.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Evaluate, analyze, synthesize and critique key concepts and experiences, and apply diverse perspectives to find creative solutions to problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.

For more information, see the College Learning Goals Policy .

Use problem framing to help solve team inefficiencies

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Problem framing is a thinking method used to understand, define, and prioritize difficult business obstacles and issues. In this article, we cover how problem framing can help keep your team in the know and solve inefficiencies.

In today’s complex working environment, it can be hard to come together as a team to solve problems. Lucky for you, there’s never been a better time to discover problem framing.  

Just as the name implies, problem framing helps teams properly understand, articulate, and frame complex business problems across departments. The result? Problem framing helps your team learn how to better comprehend and solve issues through teamwork. 

What is problem framing?

Problem framing is a thinking method used to understand, define, and prioritize difficult business obstacles and issues. In layman’s terms, it’s a way to better comprehend specific problems so that you know how to solve them in real time. 

What is problem framing?

When it comes to projects and processes, it’s common for obstacles to arise. From new stakeholders joining to last-minute changes, unsolved obstacles can turn into larger problems down the road. That’s why building your team’s problem solving skills is such a crucial first step. 

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When should you use the problem framing method?

Problem framing is useful any time obstacles occur during a project or process. This method of thinking helps you solve problems in real time so you can get your team back on track.

Here are a couple of scenarios that you might use problem framing to solve. 

Scenario 1: During a sprint planning meeting, a team member brings up concerns about not having enough help to meet their deadline. To ease stress, you reframe the way the team is thinking about the problem and offer a different perspective. That is, instead of stressing over a lack of resources, you figure out how to reorganize team priorities to ensure deadlines are met. 

Scenario 2: After a new project launch you find out that conversions are lower than anticipated. Instead of calling the project a failure, you reframe the way you’re looking at the problem by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. You realize after analyzing the website that the call to action could be easily missed. You decide to experiment with solutions by testing a new call to action.

While these scenarios are different, each one showcases the need to reframe how you think about a problem in order to find new solutions. 

Framing problem statements

A problem statement is how a problem is communicated to team members. An effective problem statement is framed in a way that provides context and relevance so it’s easy to comprehend. This is the initial step in the problem framing process. The purpose is to introduce the issue to team members to begin ideating potential solutions.

There aren’t always easy solutions to complex business problems. In those cases, it can help to reframe how you look at the problem in order to come up with an innovative solution. That’s where problem framing comes in. The first step in the problem framing lifecycle is knowing how to communicate a problem. 

How to frame a problem statement

When verbally communicating a problem during a team meeting, always include:

Context: The business context of the problem includes background information about when the problem occurred and in which system or process it occurred. For example, inconsistent data is being gathered during the planning stage of the process. 

Issue: The issue details what the problem is and why it’s an issue in the first place. For example, this inconsistent data is creating a discrepancy during the implementation phase .

Relevance: The relevance of the problem details how it is related to a particular system and why it is important to be solved. For example, the discrepancy then requires the team to go back and pinpoint where the issue began, causing deadline delays. 

Objective: The objective states the timeline or priority of when the solution needs to be implemented and the goal of said solution. For example, the team needs to solve the problem before the end of the quarter given it’s a high priority issue.

Including these four components in your problem statement ensures that each stakeholder understands the basic details of the problem and the general plan of action. When everyone is on the same page, you can execute work and achieve results quicker and more efficiently. 

The 4 steps of the problem framing process

When it comes to the problem framing process, there are four key steps to follow once the problem statement is introduced. These can help you better understand and visualize the problem as it relates to larger business needs. 

Using a visual aid to look at a problem can give your team a bigger picture view of the problem you’re trying to solve. By contextualizing, prioritizing, and understanding the details on a deeper level, your team can develop a different point of view when reviewing the problem with stakeholders.

The 4 steps of the problem framing process

From defining the problem to approving the solution, let’s dive into the four steps of the problem framing process. 

1. Define the problem

Analyze your problem in context with the system or process it presents itself in. Ask questions such as, “Where does this problem live within the system?” and, “What is the root cause of the problem?” 

Defining contextual questions helps place the problem within your existing processes and pinpoint what could be causing the issue. 

For example, if you’re working on launching a new marketing initiative and you run into a problem with development, you might define the problem as a lack of development resources.

2. Prioritize the problem

Next, prioritize the pain points based on other issues and project objectives . Questions such as, “Does this problem prevent objectives from being met?” and, “Will this problem deplete necessary resources?” are good ones to get you started.

These questions help rank your problems by importance so you can visualize the potential outcome of solving the problem vs. waiting until a later time. 

3. Understand the problem

To understand the problem, collect information from diverse stakeholders and department leaders. This will ensure you have a wide range of data.

Ask questions and gather details from as many different team members as possible to help diversify your perspective on the problem. In turn, this will lead you to more innovative solutions that serve the majority of team members.

For example, to fully understand why there aren’t enough development resources, it would be helpful to ask the development head to help reprioritize necessary resources. 

4. Approve the solution

Finally, it's time to get your solution approved. Quality assure your solution by testing in one or more internal scenarios. This way you can be sure it works before introducing it to external customers. 

You may also need to get it approved by leadership before it goes live, though this will depend on your unique situation. Once approved, analyze the success of your solution and continue testing new ideas until you reach your desired outcome. 

Problem framing techniques and tips

Since problem framing is a way of shifting your perspective in order to see different results, it can help workplaces thrive. By motivating your team to use this technique, you can build everyone’s problem solving skills as a whole. 

Here are some ways that you can use problem framing to discover innovative solutions in the workplace:

Frame problems using organized statements: While the method of problem framing can be used in almost any situation where a problem exists, there is a right and wrong way when it comes to reframing issues. A problem statement may differ from situation to situation, but each one should follow the basic components outlined above. This includes the context, issue, relevance, and objective. All of which help stakeholders understand how the problem relates back to the project at hand. 

Lead effective brainstorming sessions: Problem framing can be used during brainstorming sessions to encourage different perspectives and new insights. You can use this brainstorming technique by asking stakeholders to frame their ideas using a whiteboard or sticky notes. This way all ideas are supported by data.

Frame the problem with the end in mind : The technique of beginning with the end in mind involves working backward. This way you can shift your team’s mindset and encourage goal-oriented thinking. Not to mention, this technique can help your team members learn to prioritize personal development and strategic thinking. 

By using problem framing initiatives in the workplace, you can ensure that all problems are communicated effectively and solutions come from a place of research. Both of which lead to more effective problem solving. 

Use team collaboration to solve problems

Solving problems isn’t a solo job. The more team members that are involved, the more creative your solutions will be. In a world of complex decision making and ever-evolving projects, using problem framing can be a great way to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to problems worth solving. 

To ensure your team is connected every step of the way, try team collaboration software. From aligned goals to increased productivity, Asana can help. 

Related resources

critical thinking and problem framing

How decision-making processes can help businesses stay agile

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How to think more like a futurist

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Exit interview: 7 questions to gain valuable insights (with template)

critical thinking and problem framing

The ladder of inference: How to make better decisions


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