General Engineering Introduction/Problem Statement

A Problem Statement is a concise description of a problem solved by engineers. A project proposal is a more general version of a problem statement. A problem statement is also a contract negotiated between the engineering and the client or instructor.

Another name for problem statement is project proposal, but this context is vague and doesn't sharpen the focus on context, specifications, and outcomes.

Many students make the mistake of talking about solutions instead of making a problem statement. You should avoid talking about a solution. Instead, you should focus on the actual problem at hand.



Context refers to the unspoken assumptions, unknown facts, the beginning situation, the definition of completion, the people involved, the customers, and the institutional processes affected. Establishing the context is one of the most difficult tasks associated with the project at hand.

Ask a thousand questions from the most creative part of your mind. Keep the words flowing and people talking. Spend time with the people the project is being financed by and the people that are going to be affected by the changes it makes. The terms "Scope, Scale and Specifications" are more formal ways of describing project context.



Specifications are a short, ten-second explanations that describe what the project is about. Everyone should agree on specifications. The goal is to be as precise as possible. Good specifications outline the engineering requirements for the project, and help people involved better understand what is needed to progress in the project.

The goal here is to gather what specifications exist. Don't refrain from starting the project until everything is clear. Nothing is ever clear enough. For example, a PI (Client, principal investigator) did not know what physiology of the body to measure in order to figure out why bones shrink and fluid builds up in astronauts. The engineer started the project by purchasing generic A/D converters and instrument amplifiers rather than forcing the specification of the transducers.



Describe, visualize the change. How much more efficient? What will the customer have to do? Will training be required? Will nobody notice but profit increase?

Convince the customer to change.

Describe a test procedure that can measure value to the customer.

If outcomes can not be done, a justification may be needed.

Successful Project


Projects are judged as successful in relationship to their problem statement. Did the team solve the problem they attempted? Success can be making significant progress on a difficult problem, or it can be completely solving the problem.

Problem statements can evolve or change during the project. However, negotiate changes with your client or instructor. They may not agree to the changes.