This article provides you with a practical explanation of the Straw Man Proposal. After reading, you will understand the basics of this powerful and creative problem solving method.
What is the Straw Man Proposal?
The Straw Man Proposal is a McKinsey method for problem solving. Because this method is often applied to solve customer problems with a more structured approach, the McKinsey consulting firm developed it over the course of several years. Within companies, the Straw Man Proposal allows for a brainstorm-like approach to discussing any deficiencies that may lead to problems. From there, new and better proposals can be introduced. A Straw Man Proposal is a concept version of something the team can discuss, break down, and improve. It is based on hypotheses and makes it easier to introduce increasingly better solutions and proposals in subsequent processes.
The origin of the term straw man is unclear. It is often used in a rhetorical sense, and refers to a human figure made of straw, such as a military training doll or scarecrow. Such straw men are easy to pull apart, destroy, and rebuild. This is also the underlying idea of the Straw Man Proposal; it concerns a proposal for potential improvement, with room for additional innovations and/or adjustments.
In partnerships, the Straw Man Proposal can be an important tool for problem solving in all phases and at every level of, for example, customer involvement. The Straw Man Proposal can also offer solutions for other problems within an organisation. The most common example of where a Straw Man Proposal can be used is when coming up with an initial hypothesis based on a potential overarching answer to a problem. One important condition here is that every team member must be prepared to make a contribution and be willing to critically asses other’s contributions and discard them if necessary. It is about arguing and refuting the reasoning of an informal logical fallacy. This creates a spontaneous mindset for all involved and allows one to examine and take a closer look at all sides of a problem.
The Straw Man Proposal is a way of discussing a problem with a group of people and developing a draft version. However, you should never expect a Straw Man Proposal to provide the ultimate answer. Instead, it should be considered a useful aid when trying to come up with the best possible answer. Arguments and ideas that arise from the Straw Man Proposal do provide valuable feedback in a solution-oriented process, however, and lead to successful adjustments and improvements. It is often the counter-arguments that lead to the eventual solution. By working with the Straw Man Proposal, you can create temporary solutions. From there, people can start to think more creatively and enter into discussions.
The Straw Man Proposal can be effectively applied to different problems. For example, it can be used to halt falling revenues, discover potential causes, and make suggestions for improvement. In such a situation, the following steps should be followed:
1. Concept proposal
To realise a revenue increase, a concept proposal is made for the introduction of two additional offices. This is the Straw Man Proposal that will form the basis of the management consultation.
The concept proposal is subsequently discussed with the management team. Team members who are in favour provide detailed arguments and list all the advantages. The opponents, on the other hand, gives their objections and mention the potential disadvantages. By considering the Straw Man Proposal as merely a concept, all team members are free to respond and give their honest opinion. At this stage, their input has no direct impact yet. All team members are given the opportunity to provide open feedback and suggestions. One important condition here is that the team must be aware that the proposal is merely a Straw Man Proposal. All criticism and ideas for improvement are welcome. After all, this is just the concept stage.
All input and suggestions are collected, and the proposal is analysed on the basis of its strengths and weaknesses. Subsequently, the assumptions and decision-making criteria are clarified, on the basis of which a new and refined proposal can be made.
4. Final decision
A new proposal is created and presented, with the aim that it will lead to a final decision.
By presenting the Straw Man Proposal as a rough sketch, all team members are free to provide feedback. Moreover, they know they are expected to critically look at the proposal. Not every team member should have to assume that they know the ultimate answer; the solution will gradually become clearer. The Straw Man Proposal is a provisional and incomplete concept that can be broken down and rebuilt. It is a continuous process that involves removing, improving, and adjusting ideas.
Because the Straw Man Proposal is just a concept, one shouldn’t spend too much time on it. It is mainly intended to bring about discussion between team members. Turning it into a detailed plan will come later. The Straw Man Proposal is about the quantity of ideas – quality shouldn’t be considered yet.
Team members should realise that it’s not wise to stubbornly hold on to their thoughts and ideas. By taking a step back, they are open to the ideas of others. This will make it easier to brainstorm together freely. The idea is to attack the straw man and break it down, before the process can be improved again.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the Straw Man Proposal method? How do you apply the Straw Man Proposal in your environment? Do you have any tips or additional comments?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Carmeli, A., Gelbard, R., & Reiter‐Palmon, R. (2013). Leadership, creative problem‐solving capacity, and creative performance: The importance of knowledge sharing. Human Resource Management, 52(1), 95-121.
- Friga, P., & Rasiel, E. (2001). The McKinsey mind: Understanding and implementing the problem-solving tools and management techniques of the world’s top strategic consulting firm. Chicago: McGraw-Hill
- Treffinger, D. J., Isaksen, S. G., & Stead-Dorval, K. B. (2005). Creative problem solving: An introduction. Prufrock Press Inc.
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