Problem Solving 4: How to Come Up With a Plan

How do you transform an idea into a plan?

This video takes a look at Step 4 of the Decision Making Process: Implementing the Decision. It focuses on the Six “Ts” of planning – Task, Time, Talent, Team, Treasure, and Tiller, and explores how each can be developed as part of an overall plan.

Along the way, we hear about how a group of Girl Scouts saved some people in trouble up near the summit of Pikes Peak, introduce the idea of “Amoeba Ball” and why it’s not such a great approach to planning, and follow a group of eight people as they plan how get a cooking fire lit before the sun sets and they are overwhelmed with hunger.

Watch the video, or read the transcipt below to learn a simple method for taking that idea you have and turning it into a plan you and your team can actually execute.


I’m standing here on the rocky, barren slopes of Pikes Peak in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Back in 1806, Zebulon Pike led an expedition that was unable to reach the top of this 14,000 foot mountain that now bears his name.  In fact, it wasn’t until 14 years later that the first European-American, Edwin James, a young college graduate, was able to successfully climb the peak.  That tells you something about the tough conditions that can exist up on these high altitudes.

Now fast forward almost 100 years.  In late August, 2014 three Girl Scouts, Rebecca, Jordan, and Tristin set out to climb this same mountain.  With them they carried backpacks that contained all the gear they thought they might need, including water, sleeping bags, and fire building supplies.  The climb was tough, but eventually they successfully summited, which is a significant accomplishment.  However, their biggest challenge came after they headed back down.

Not far from the top they came across two teenage boys who were in trouble on the exposed slopes.  One was showing signs of altitude sickness, he was light headed and throwing up, while the other was becoming hypothermic – his clothes had become soaked when his water bottle accidentally opened, it was windy and cold and he was shivering.  They had no food, water, shelter, or spare clothing, they were inexperienced, and they were running out of options.

The story ends well – the Girl Scouts had come prepared.  They built a shelter out of tarps and ropes, gave the boys food and water, and built a fire for them to warm them up.  And next thing you know there’s an article in the local paper about it.  Great job, girls!

Playing Amoeba Ball

I wasn’t there to watch what they did, but I’m guessing that when the girls went into action, it wasn’t a game of “amoeba ball” – you ever see a game of soccer played by five-year-olds?

Everyone clusters around the ball and follows it wherever it goes, like a big amoeba, sometimes even the goalie is in the scrum.  There’s no strategy or organization, and if they actually make a goal, it’s probably by accident as much as anything else.

I’d like to think that once the Girl Scouts decided that they had to help, they came up with a plan and were organized about it.  One of their decisions was to build a fire. Now, I’ve seen amoeba ball applied to fire building

There’s a decision to build a fire, then everybody clusters around a fire pit, and tries to get a flame going.  Even if one of them succeeds, there’s not enough tinder or kindling for it to catch and grow into a fire because there is no plan, no teamwork.  72 matches later, you may or may not have an actual fire.

How could this all be done differently?  What they need to have is a plan to turn that decision into action.  That’s step 4 of the problem solving process – implementing the decision.

The 6 Ts of Planning

For most jobs, a simple framework can help you get organized and focused on using all your resources wisely.  I like to look at:  Task, Time, Talent, Team, Treasure, Tiller.  Let’s say you have a group of eight people and you have decided that you need a nice cooking fire within the next hour before the sun goes down.  How do you come up with a plan and keep from starting another game of “Amoeba ball”?

1. Tasks

Begin by thinking of what the key tasks are that must be accomplished to have a healthy cooking fire safely roaring in camp.

Well, of course you’re going to need to collect some fuel wood, and there’s the fire itself, that’s got to get started, plus you’ll need some of that really small fuel called tinder to help the flame take hold.  But you can’t go straight from tinder to fuel wood, so you’ll need to gather up some medium-sized kindling to help the fire grow.  And I’ll bet at some point someone will remember that for this to be a safe fire, you’re going to have to build a fire ring, and get a way to put the fire out.  And then of course, if we’re cooking over the fire, then we’ll have to come up with some way to hold the meat over the flame. OK so those are the key tasks: Fire ring, fire lighting and tinder, kindling wood, fuel wood, and cooking gear.

2.  Time

After TASK comes TIME, and backward planning is the method I like to use.  You start by figuring out what you want everything to look like at the end, and then work your way backwards to the present.

Before you start cooking, you’re going to need those fuel logs burning for at least half an hour to build up some good coals.  You’ll also need something to hang your chicken on, so someone is going to have to put together a spit.

Before those fuel logs can catch, you’ll need some kindling to help get the flame big enough, and before that, you’ll need to have that fire started in the first place.  And don’t forget that fire ring – that will have to come before everything else.

By thinking of things this way, you can also see you don’t need everything all at once – we’ll need the fire ring, tinder and kindling pretty much right away, but we have a little time before we’ll need the fuel wood, and it’s at least an hour before we’ll need the spit.  So once people are done with an early task, they can shift their focus to another one.  Now it’s easy to see how you can match teams of people to each of these lines of effort.

3.  Talent

After TASK and TIME comes TALENT.  The goal here is to match the skills your people have to the tasks you have to accomplish. So let’s remind ourselves who is on the team.

You and your assistant leader are both pretty experienced with the outdoors, building fires and using ax and knife.  You have a couple of older guys – one is bigger guy and very good with the ax; the other is your best fire starter.  Then you have a couple others with some experience, and two new guys who are enthusiastic but unskilled.

So now match the people with the skills to the task that needs to be done.  If Jimmy is your best fire starter, maybe tag him for that task.   Building fire rings and getting water might involve some heavy lifting, so put a stronger, knowledgeable person in charge of that, maybe your big veteran.  Gathering kindling is light work but requires someone who knows what to look for, especially in a wet or snowy environment, so another experienced person should be in charge of this task.

4.  Teams

Once you have the TALENT in place, use the rest of your guys to form TEAMS.  Depending on what the task is, you might want to give one team a little extra help.  Also try to ensure that nobody has to work alone.

5.  Treasure

Now that you have TEAMS for each task, the next thing to think about is TREASURE.  This could mean money if the task calls for it, but it’s other resources, too.  The Fire starter team will need a way to produce a spark, whether that’s a bic lighter, flint and steel, or a box of matches.  They’ll probably also need a sharp knife or hatchet to produce the tinder.  The fire ring guys will need a shovel, a container for the water, maybe some work gloves.  The fuel wood guys may also need to be able to cut some wood down to size, so axe and saw, plus rope to mark off a safe chopping area would be important.

6.  Tiller

Now that everything else is in place, the Last step is TILLER – I needed another word for leadership that started with a T and this is the best I could come up with, so we’ll go with it – as you know, the tiller is the handle that attaches to the rudder that steers a boat.  You’re at the tiller as the leader, but where should you be and what should you do?  Start the fire yourself, right, since you are pretty good at it, right?  Actually no.  You have to lead the entire process.

If your head is down in the smoke trying to bring the flame to life yourself, then you are not going to notice that no one is getting the kindling wood, or that the guys are breaking all kinds of safety rules over in the ax yard.

As the group leader you should be where the most critical action is so you can stay aware of what is going on and make good decisions at the right time.

For building a fire, it looks like it might mean deciding where the fire ring goes and seeing that the fire starter has all the help he needs; so that’s the place for you to start, and as long as you are there, you can lift some rocks yourself.  Your second in command should be where the next most important thing is happening, and that’s probably the fuel gathering process, so put him in overall charge of that.  Now you are in the right position to make good decisions and make sure your teams move on to their next task when they are done with the first.

If you are the next General MacArthur, maybe you can come up with all of this in your head, but it helps to talk it out with the group first if you have the time, and get their input.  You can run through these planning steps together, then you can wrap it all up and get to work.  It might sound something like this:

OK, Steve, you and Joe are in charge of putting together a fire ring and having something to extinguish the fire.  We’ll probably set up over near those trees.  Better grab a shovel and some work gloves, and a bucket.  Jimmy, you’re gonna be in charge of getting the fire started; Bobby will work with you.  George, you and Fred need to get the kindling; we want to have a good flame going in the next 15 minutes, so we’re gonna have to hustle; once you are done with kindling, you guys start building a spit for the chicken.  Steve, once you’re done with the fire ring, take your guys and get the fuel wood – we’re going to need enough to last the night.  Don’t forget to put up a safety rope if you need to do any wood chopping.  I’ll be with the fire ring guys until we get a good flame going.

Planning – The Takeaway

So there you have it.  You figured out what TASKS had to be accomplished, managed your TIME by backwards planning and sequencing the TASKS, you matched your TALENT to the key tasks, built TEAMS around them, and then you gave them the TREASURE they need to get the job done.  All the while, you will be at the TILER leading the group

As the leader, your job is to make sure your plan gets implemented, make corrections when it gets off track and, very importantly, think ahead to what’s coming next.  After all, you have a good plan to get the fire going, but who’s going to get the chicken ready?

Looks like you have another plan to put together – and you don’t want to start looking like an amoeba, especially if the Girl Scouts came by.

Thanks for watching.


Photo of Pikes Peak 30 Sept 2006, 2592×1728, view to the northeast from the summit of Pikes Peak used under Creative Commons license; no changes were made; credit to:

Girl Scouts Save Boys Hiking Pikes Peak, 28 August 2014,, Emily Allen

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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