Problem Definition Heuristic

The Problem Definition Heuristic is an internal memo written by the student to the instructor. It represents a semi-informal thought exercise. More specifically, it’s an invention heuristic. It aims to help students


The Problem Definition Heuristic is the first exercise in an eight-week long group project. This project may be graded for completion or on a grade-scale.


One goal of this exercise is to Another goal is to , which is the next assignment in this sequence.

  1. provide an invention exercise to help students begin working on the group project sooner rather than later.
  2. help students begin thinking about the Client Proposal


Ultimately, for the final group project, you will work with a team to

  1. Identify a client and define a business need or problem
  2. Conduct preliminary research to identify potential solutions for the problem
  3. Integrate your Statement of the Problem with your research findings
  4. Synthesize the findings into conclusions
  5. Identify and evaluate solutions to the problem based on the conclusions drawn from your findings
  6. Present your solutions in a 20-30 page recommendation report directed to the client.

Presently, however, for this exercise, your focus is narrower.

For this exercise you are limited to 250 to 500 words plus a visual depiction of the problem, stakeholders, and potential solutions.

Rhetorical Analysis

For this Consulting Simulation, you are playing the role of a management, corporate, or independent consultant. Your aim is to convince the decision maker whom you work for at your consultancy firm that you have identified a real problem that has stakeholders who would be willing to pay for your advice.

Note, your consultancy firm may be

  • a highly regard external consultancy firm such as McKinsey, Bain, Booz, or BCG;
  • an internal consultancy company (large corporations often have their own internal consultancy divisions).
  • a start-up consultancy with a particular market niche.
  • a sole proprietor consultancy (i.e., you are pitching your unique skills).

Given there are numerous options, please clarify to your instructor how you are imagining your stance as a consultant. Thus, in your memo to your instructor please clarify

  • Who is your primary audience? Who else might read this?
  • What is the specific outcome you want this project to achieve? What do you want your readers to do, think, or decide after reading it?


Describe the unsatisfactory situation you propose to investigate. What specifically is unsatisfactory about it?  Supply any data needed to prove that this is indeed a significant problem. Cite your sources. 

Write a brief statement containing a single general goal. The goal must establish the general scope of your search for a solution. Avoid being overly specific in order not to narrow design opportunities, but also avoid being so broad that you have a hard time focusing your search for solutions.


Who are the stakeholders who care about the problem?

Potential Solutions

After you have fully defined the problem, brainstorm possible solutions to the problem. 

  1. Endeavor to identify at least 3 possible solutions that meet the problem definition.
  2. Identify ways to measure or quantify the benefits of one solution over another.
    1. You may want to provide a table of criteria you would use to research and assess potential solutions (see Table 1 below)

Table 1.  Solution Objectives Chart for Design Problem

ObjectiveBasis for measurementUnits
Solution # 1

Solution # 2

Solution #3

[Add rows as necessary]

Scope & Feasibility

Given available time and resources, how can you limit the scope of your investigation? What constraints would limit your ability to research the problem, stakeholders, and solutions in the remaining seven weeks?

  • Given legal considerations, regulations, policies, and guidelines, can you reasonably investigate this problem and pitch recommendations in the given time frame–about seven weeks?
  • What textual research could you consult to better understand the problem, stakeholders, and potential solutions?
  • What original research would you want to conduct? How feasible is the original research given this is a class project and not formal, IRB-required research?

Visual Representation

Provide a visual to illustrate the severity of the problem, the stakeholders, and three proposed solutions.


List any and all references you consulted in your preliminary proposal.

Suggested Schedule

ScheduleAssignments & Suggested ActivitiesRequired Readings
One Week
The focus of this week’s activity is the Problem-Definition Heuristic.

Consulting Simulation
To help you generate possible topics for an extended group project, review Searching as Strategic Exploration.

To develop ideas, to inform your efforts at drafting, you can benefit from some preliminary research.

It’s very highly you’d use a source or two to bolster the importance of the problem. Perhaps the citation would be of other start-ups or university-based research. Regardless of where it comes from, you need to remember that Information Has Value and citations are required to avoid plagiarism.

Submission Guidelines

  1. Upload the memo to the course management system.