The Situation-Target-Proposal Model for Problem Solving
Usually when confronted with a pressing problem, we attempt almost immediately to generate solutions to the problem. This is the classic deficit-based model of problem solving: discover the deficit and immediately try to reduce or eliminate it. While at times we have all experienced the gratifying feeling of rapidly producing a solution, we have also all undoubtedly experienced the frustration of repeated failure, or we find that our “solution” has created other unexpected problems that are even more difficult to solve.
One approach to problem analysis and solution that seems to avoid these pitfalls is to emphasize the concrete specification of desired outcomes. The management-by-objectives (MBO) approach to administrative problem solving, for instance, places great emphasis on the specification of outcomes or objectives. The assumption is that problems are often not fully understood, analyzed, or solved because they have not been formulated in terms of goals, objectives, or outcomes. Without such guidelines, proponents of MBO would argue: We have neither a direction for solution of the problem nor a basis for evaluating our actions.
However, this approach still lacks a full appreciation of the problem and of the current state in which the problem is being experienced. Therefore, any objective we might establish runs the risk of being unrealistic. Or, when achieved, the solution selected is the cause of yet another, unexpected problem. Furthermore, it is often difficult to establish a realistic objective without first understanding the resources and resistance inherent in the current situation.
John Wallen and Fred Fosmire offered a model of problem analysis (the S-T-P Model) many years ago that can be of great value to an organizational coach who is assisting a leader to empower her team. It models a dynamic process that allows the discovery of the current state, the image of the future as well as the solutions being considered to inform each other continuously during the discussion, while emerging ideas are still organized in a clear fashion.