Situation, Target, Proposal

By , November 8, 2010 12:52 pm

by Amy Eaton

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”

Albert Einstein

Have you ever done the S-T-P? No, I don’t mean the Seattle-to-Portland bike race; I mean the Situation-Target-Proposal method for solving a thorny problem or gaining team alignment. I recently had the opportunity to attend an all day session on Change Management led by Jevon Powell of Scontrino-Powell. The session was offered to our Seattle office management team as a way for us to develop tools to help deal with the upcoming changes related to our office renovation project. One part of the seminar focused on effective problem solving and featured the STP method as a way to work through a problem.

STP is best used by a team working collaboratively. Put up white flip boards in a conference room and gather your group together. Use the flip board to write down your thoughts as you work through the process.

S = Situation

Start with a definition of the problem or issue. In this part of the process, you are trying to understand what is going on now. What is the current state of affairs? Describe the situation using facts, opinions, beliefs, hunches and feelings. Use the key words “who, what, why, where, when and how” to create single sentence descriptions.

Use your flip board to record summary statements that describe the current situation. Do not try to solve the problem at this point. This is one of the most difficult things for us to do. We immediately want to jump into problem-solving mode. Instead, take it slow and identify the situation which is causing difficulties. Once you have clearly identified the situation, you will be able to move on to the next step.

T = Target

In the second part of the process, you identify how you would like things to look in the future. The targets are values, hopes, desired outcomes, goals, objectives or visions of a better state. When identifying the target, you will use phrases like “we will achieve,” “ideally,” and “I want.” Creating a vision of what the problem will look like once it is solved will help you clarify the issues involved in solving the problem.

P = Proposal

You have now identified your Situation and your Target. Solving the problem means bridging the gap between S and T. In this last piece, you will focus on developing proposals which will help you bridge this gap. Proposals are actions, approaches, strategies, tasks, methods and steps. Brainstorming can often be an effective way to develop possible solutions. Determine your next step; ask yourself what is your action plan? Once you have your list of proposals, you need to prioritize them based on a list of criteria such as cost, ease of implementation, acceptability to your constituents and the likelihood that the proposal will solve the problem.

I think we often overcomplicate our work lives by striving for perfection. I firmly believe there are two principles which will help you develop workable action plans to bridge the gap between S and T. First, keep it simple. If there is a simple solution, try it first. Attempting to prepare for every eventuality will bog you down in unnecessary details. My second principle is to be happy with a solution which is “good enough.” Does your proposal solve 80% of your problem? Is it cost effective and easy to implement? Then do it! Don’t worry about the other 20%. Move forward and show your boss you can make progress.

Further reading on STP:

Focusing Problem Management, Phillips, Steven R., Bergquist, William H.. Training and Development Journal. Mar 1987. Vol. 41, Iss. 3; p. 87.

Product service strategies for information services, Campbell, Corinne A. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science. Apr/May 1996. Vol. 22, Iss. 4; pg. 15.

Taking meetings by storm, Butler, Ava S. Management Review. October 1996. Vol. 85, No. 10, p.24.

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