Jennifer Coffey

Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and enjoy!

Defining the Problems at Yankee Candle

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” 

― Albert Einstein

Problems are constantly surrounding us on a daily basis. Some we barely notice, but others clearly present themselves. While watching an episode of the show Undercover Boss, I took a look at some real-world problems and put together five problem statements.

The five stages of the design thinking process. Today I will focus on the defining stage of the process.

What are problem statements?

Problem statements are the second stage in the design thinking process. These statements are important because they will guide the team to focus on the users’ particular needs. They are human-centered, broad yet narrow statements that create, define, and adapt to make the statement action-oriented

“If you have a problem and can identify the cause, it’s likely that others share your sentiment about the same issue but might not think too much about the cause or a solution.” 

Aaron Benjamin

Something to avoid is trying to look for a solution to the problem. Don’t think too far ahead because this is just the start of the design thinking process. You will have plenty of time to come up with solutions later. 

Writing A Problem Statement

There are many different ways to write a problem statement, but today we are going to focus on a single style

________ is a challenge for ________ because ________.

First, we start with an action, then the person or multiple people, and lastly, the reasons for that particular problem.

Yankee Candle started in 1969 when a 16-year-old boy created a Christmas present for his mother. Years later, the company has 550 stores and has made $730 million dollars.

Problems at Yankee Candle

For the past few weeks, I have been looking at a particular episode of Undercover Boss while assessing the various stages of the design thinking process

Undercover Boss is a CBS television show where CEOs or Chairs-people go undercover and gather insights about different positions within their company. I took a look at Season 3, Episode 8, where the CEO of Yankee Candle looked at four other locations and talked to employees to get an inside look at what is happening at all levels of the corporation.

The episode I watched was all about Yankee Candle, while the then CEO, Harlan Kent, went undercover at several key locations within the company. I specifically focused on Harlan and Jose, a factory worker, as they opened up and talked about specific things that were happening within the company. 

To practice writing problem statements, I will look at the experiences of both Harlan and Jose. 

Creating displays is a challenge for Harlan because the instructions are not clear.

During the episode, Harlan had a tough time putting a simple display together. THe mangar gave him a glass display, a photo of what the display needed to look like, and 30 minutes to complete the task. From the beginning, Harlan struggled to see all the products in the image and locate the needed merchandise around the store. In the end, Harlan was unable to complete the task due to his lack of information from the planogram. 

Finding display merchandise is a challenge for Harlan because the product is not available.

Harlan could not finish the display exactly as the planogram depicted because of the lack of product in the store. This is not uncommon in retail and can be replaced with a similar product, but not having the required merchandise from corporate is an issue, especially for seasonal items. 

Shelving product is a challenge for Harlan because the order of products is very specific.

Harlan was very slow at shelving products because he lacked the proper training and attention to detail. Yankee Candle shelves their products in a specific manner to remain consistent throughout the store. Due to his lack of knowledge, he shelved an entire bay wrong and needed to redo the whole bay. This takes time away from other tasks that need to be completed throughout the store. 

The production line is a challenge for Harlan because he lacks the quick skills to pack efficiently. 

On the production line, Harlan needed to quickly scan the product for any defects and pack approved candles into boxes. Harlan promptly ran into two problems. First, he was too slow at scanning the candles for defects. Second, after placing the candles into the box, the lids would fall off and need to be placed back on before Harlen could move onto the next set of candles. These two complications caused the production line to back up significantly. Jose, Harlan’s mentor for the day, had to step in and help out. Without the assistance of Jose, Harlan would have backed up the production line and put the factory behind for the day. 

Getting a promotion is a challenge for Jose because there is a lack of movement within the company.

While Harlan and Jose were talking on the line, Jose was very honest about the company’s lack of movement. Jose wants to move up and become a manager but is always passed up by someone new and that “kisses-up” to the boss. Jose argues that these manager positions should come from people within the factory and know the Yankee Candle production line from experience and their time at the company. 


It is not surprising to note that most of the problems came from Harlan’s experience. Throughout the episode, the CEO faced many challenges at multiple locations as he tried to blend into each place. Most of Harlan’s problems could be solved with experience or more clear instructions. At the end of the episode, Harlan knew he had plenty of information on how he could make the company better for everyone on a corporate level and the store and factory levels.

Writing these problem statements was interesting. I knew that most of the problems came from Harlan’s experience due to his lack of knowledge in each position and the reason, but I had a hard time selecting the right challenge. After rewording a few of the statements, I got the sentences to sound the way I wanted. Writing the statements also taught me that there certain levels of issues. Deciding who gets a promotion is a little more complicated than figuring out a new way to communicate planograms. Big or small, it was cool to watch Harlan take in all the information to see how he could benefit his company.

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