Problem Tree Method

Problem Tree is an analytical method for teams to hierarchically illustrate the causes and effects behind a design challenge and collectively generate potential solutions.


A Problem Tree is a visual tool that analyzes the root causes and effects of a problem by structuring them in a tree-like diagram. By identifying underlying factors, interconnections, and consequences, it provides a comprehensive understanding of complex issues. Problem Trees are valuable in project planning, policy analysis, and social research, where dissecting problems into manageable parts guides targeted interventions, strategic planning, and collaborative problem-solving.

Suitable for

  • Thorough description of the problem,
  • Understanding the context of the problem being solved,
  • Finding compromises with stakeholders.


Problem Identification

Identify and define the main problem or issue that needs to be addressed in the project or design process. This should be a clear and concise statement of the problem.

Problem Branches

List all the specific sub-problems or causes that contribute to the main problem. These sub-problems form the branches of the problem tree and help to provide a more detailed understanding of the root causes and factors affecting the main problem.

Relationship Mapping

Determine and illustrate the relationships and connections between the sub-problems, showing how they are interrelated and how they contribute to the main problem.

Root Causes

Identify the underlying root causes for each sub-problem, ensuring the deeper factors contributing to the problem are analyzed and understood. Root causes will form the base of the problem tree.

Validation and Revision

Review and validate the accuracy and completeness of the problem tree with relevant stakeholders, revising when necessary to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its factors.

Opportunity Mapping

Identify potential solutions or interventions that can address the root causes and sub-problems, creating a map of opportunities to guide the design process and decision-making.

Prioritization and Selection

Evaluate and prioritize the identified opportunities based on their potential impact, relevance, and feasibility, and select the most appropriate solutions for further exploration and implementation.

Problem Tree Visualization

Create a visual representation of the problem tree, showing the main problem, sub-problems, root causes, relationships, and opportunities, in order to effectively communicate the findings of the analysis to stakeholders and team members.



Identify the Core Problem

Gather your research team and stakeholders to discuss and agree on the core problem that needs to be addressed. The core problem should be clear, concise and specific.


Create a Problem Tree

Draw a tree structure on a whiteboard or large piece of paper. Write the core problem in the middle of the tree, which will become the trunk. The tree structure will consist of roots (causes), trunk (core problem), and branches (effects).


Identify Causes

Discuss and brainstorm the underlying causes of the core problem. Write each cause on a sticky note and place them as the roots of the tree. As you identify more in-depth causes, you can create sub-roots that branch off from the main root.


Identify Effects

Now identify the consequences or effects that result from the core problem. Write each effect on a sticky note and place them as branches on the tree. Sub-branches can be added for secondary or tertiary effects that arise from the main branches.


Establish Connections

Draw lines connecting the main roots to the trunk, and then connect the branches to the trunk. This visualizes the relationships between the causes, core problem, and effects. Ensure that the connections and relationships make logical sense.


Analyze the Problem Tree

Review and analyze the completed problem tree, looking for patterns, trends, and areas for further investigation. Encourage discussions to gain insights, prioritize causes, and identify potential user pain points that need to be addressed.


Convert to Objective Tree

Once the problem tree is complete, you can transform it into an objective tree by rephrasing negative statements into positive ones. This process helps to create constructive, solution-focused objectives for your project.


Develop and Prioritize Solutions

Using the objective tree, the team can now brainstorm, develop, and prioritize potential solutions that address the root causes and effects of the core problem. This sets the stage for designing and implementing effective UX improvements.

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