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Problem Children: Definition, Transformations, and Success Stories

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Bamigbola Paul

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In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the concept of “Problem Children” within the context of the BCG Growth-Share Matrix. Exploring their significance, challenges, and strategies for dealing with them, we provide valuable insights into this crucial aspect of business management.

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The significance of problem children in the boston consulting group growth-share matrix (BCG Matrix)

Understanding the BCG Growth-Share Matrix is essential for businesses aiming to strategically allocate resources. Among the four categories – cash cows, stars, dogs, and problem children – the latter holds a unique position as the triage category.

Defining a problem child

A problem child, also known as a “question mark,” represents a business with substantial growth potential but a small market share in a rapidly expanding industry. It occupies a quadrant in the BCG Matrix, where the x-axis denotes relative market share, and the y-axis reflects the rate of market growth.

How the BCG matrix works

Cash cows, stars, dogs, and problem children each play distinct roles in the matrix. Cash cows generate substantial cash with a high market share but limited growth prospects. Stars, on the other hand, have both high growth prospects and a significant market share.
Problem children, with their high growth potential but comparatively low market share, present a challenge. The BCG framework advises transferring surplus cash from cash cows to stars and problem children, while divesting from dogs in declining industries.

Strategies for dealing with problem children

Problem children pose a unique challenge as they consume more cash than they generate. Management faces the crucial decision of whether heavy investment can transform a problem child into a star or if it risks becoming a dog.

Assessing growth potential

Investing in a problem child demands a thorough assessment of its growth potential. Management must accurately judge whether the infusion of capital will significantly increase market share, turning the problem child into a star.

The risk of misjudgment

Misjudging growth prospects may lead to substantial losses. A problem child, despite marketing and sales efforts, could transition into a dog. The technology sector serves as an example, with its competitive and dynamic nature often resulting in numerous problem children.

Evolution of the BCG matrix and relevance today

While matrices like the BCG Matrix were popular in the past, corporate landscapes have evolved. The 1980s brought corporate discipline through raids, hostile takeovers, and leveraged buyouts. Today, companies regularly evaluate business lines based on key performance indicators, and market share is no longer a direct predictor of sustained performance.
Adaptability to change is now a significant driver of competitive advantage. The resurgence of conglomerate corporate culture, particularly in regions like Asia, might see a revival of matrices like the BCG Matrix.
Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.
  • Opportunity for substantial growth: Problem children represent untapped potential in rapidly growing industries.
  • Strategic portfolio optimization: The BCG Matrix aids in allocating resources effectively across business units.
  • Possibility of transforming into a star: With careful investment, a problem child can become a high-performing business unit.
  • High cash consumption: Problem children often require heavy investment, posing a financial challenge for the company.
  • Risk of misjudgment: Incorrect assessment of growth prospects may lead to significant losses.
  • No guaranteed success: Despite efforts, some problem children may not evolve into stars, resulting in wasted resources.

Real-world examples of problem children transformation

Examining instances where companies successfully navigated problem children challenges can provide valuable insights into effective strategies. Let’s explore two notable examples:

Example 1: tech giant’s strategic pivot

Back in the early 2000s, a leading technology company identified one of its business segments as a problem child within the BCG Matrix. Despite a small market share, the management foresaw the industry’s potential growth.
Through strategic investments in research and development, coupled with targeted marketing campaigns, the company successfully transformed its problem child into a star. The business unit not only gained a significant market share but also became a major revenue contributor to the overall company.

Example 2: retailer’s market expansion

A retail giant faced a similar situation with a struggling business unit characterized as a problem child. Instead of divesting, the company opted for a bold strategy of market expansion and product diversification.
By leveraging its existing resources and capitalizing on emerging market trends, the retailer transformed the problem child into a star. The business unit not only captured a larger market share but also became a trendsetter in the industry, showcasing the potential for successful transformations.

Strategic considerations for modern business

As the corporate landscape continues to evolve, new considerations emerge for effectively managing problem children. Understanding these strategic elements is crucial for navigating the complexities of the contemporary business environment.

Adapting to technological disruption

In today’s tech-driven era, industries face constant technological disruptions. Problem children in sectors like finance, healthcare, or manufacturing must adapt to emerging technologies to stay competitive. Companies that successfully integrate innovations can transform problem children into tech-savvy stars.

Sustainable practices and market perception

Modern consumers place a high value on sustainability and ethical practices. Problem children in industries with environmental or social impacts need to consider adopting sustainable business practices. Transforming into a star may require aligning with evolving consumer values, ensuring a positive market perception and long-term success.


Understanding the role and significance of problem children within the BCG Matrix is vital for effective business strategy. Navigating the challenges they present requires a nuanced approach, balancing investment decisions with a realistic assessment of growth prospects.

Frequently asked questions

What criteria define a business unit as a problem child?

In the BCG Matrix, a problem child is characterized by having high growth potential but a relatively small market share within a rapidly expanding industry. The designation is also known as a “question mark.”

How does the BCG Matrix help in strategic decision-making for problem children?

The BCG Matrix aids companies in classifying and prioritizing different business units based on their relative market share and the rate of market growth. It provides a visual representation to guide strategic resource allocation and decisions on whether to invest, divest, or maintain a business unit.

What challenges do problem children pose to management, and how can they be addressed?

Problem children often consume more cash than they generate, requiring careful management decisions. The primary challenge lies in accurately assessing growth prospects. To address this, management should conduct thorough evaluations before deciding to invest heavily, ensuring realistic expectations of transformation.

Are there industries more prone to having problem children?

Industries marked by high competition and rapid technological advancements, such as the technology sector, are more likely to have problem children. However, the prevalence can vary across sectors, and the dynamic nature of an industry plays a significant role in determining the existence of problem children.

How relevant is the BCG Matrix in today’s business landscape?

While the BCG Matrix was popular in the past, today’s business environment emphasizes adaptability to change as a key driver of competitive advantage. Companies evaluate business lines regularly with a focus on key performance indicators, making the relevance of the BCG Matrix dependent on corporate culture and industry dynamics.

Key takeaways

  • Problem children are business units with untapped growth potential but a small market share.
  • The BCG Matrix serves as a strategic tool for classifying and prioritizing business units based on market share and growth prospects.
  • Successful transformation of problem children requires accurate assessments of growth potential and strategic resource allocation.
  • Real-world examples demonstrate the viability of turning problem children into high-performing business units through strategic initiatives.
  • In today’s dynamic business landscape, adapting to technological disruption and aligning with sustainable practices are key considerations for managing problem children.

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