Puppet Proposal In Problem Solving

When we need a solution that is temporary but effective, we can use the so-called puppet proposal; this is an interesting strategy used by the American military in the 1970s.
Puppet proposal in problem solving

The puppet proposal (literal translation of the English straw man proposal ) is a method for solving problems increasingly used in the organizational field. It is a useful strategy to stimulate ideas starting from a prototype; it allows you to exploit the human and creative potential of a work group and, above all, of each individual member.

It should be noted that we are not dealing with the classic brainstorming. The purpose of the puppet proposal is to find a temporary solution while working on something better. Different ideas from the whole group, proposals that can be integrated or deleted at a given time to revert to the original draft.

This technique was first used by the US Department of Defense in 1975. The air forces needed an urgent action plan to respond quickly, albeit temporarily, to a challenge. At a later time, the puppet would be replaced by a man of stone and, finally, of iron  in order to provide greater coherence and solidity to that precise strategy or plan.

Working group making puppet proposal.

A simple and collaborative strategy for solving problems: the puppet proposal

The puppet proposal is a strategy that has become popular in recent years thanks to the well-known consulting firm McKinsey & Company , which specializes in solving problems. He has collaborated with large companies, institutes and even governments around the world.

The fact that they use this strategy as a response to high-level challenges already gives us a hint of its usefulness. It has the advantage of being easy to implement, favors the synergy of all group members and facilitates the gradual construction of an action plan that is each time more sophisticated and effective.

What is the puppet proposal?

The puppet proposal makes it possible to solve a problem in any collective context. The aim is to initiate, model and define a preliminary action plan in the form of a draft. This will later be redefined or demolished by the group, until a more effective response is found. This passage is called “passing from the man of straw to the man of steel”.

What are the advantages of this strategy?

As we said, this is not the classic brainstorming. In this case, in fact, we start from a preliminary draft. Afterwards, the group will be invited to meet and each member will be able to contribute with ideas, criticisms and proposals, but always starting from the draft. This strategy offers several advantages, namely:

  • It is a problem solving model that increases the cohesion of the work group.
  • It allows each member to contribute their expertise and creativity.
  • It favors feedback and making better assumptions, eliminating the ones that don’t work.
  • Improve brainstorming as it starts with a preliminary plan (draft or puppet).
  • Avoid the group from getting bogged down. He does not immediately seek perfection, he proceeds in stages: man of straw, man of stone, man of steel, etc.

What steps does the puppet proposal involve?

The puppet proposal consists of specific steps. Adapting to them allows the group to know what awaits them and how to proceed. At the same time, each member must know that the reasoning behind any proposal must be debated and refuted.

All points of view will be taken into consideration to define, finally, a first applicable and logical but temporary strategy. Later there will be other meetings to refine the action plan.

Create the draft proposal

Each member of the group individually creates their own puppet proposal. In other words, a strategy for approaching the problem.

Presentation of conceptual proposals

The second step is to submit all drafts. Each person presents his proposal for action to others. The group analyzes it, discusses it, eliminates the not very useful ideas and takes note of the valid ones.


After selecting all the interesting proposals, each idea is discussed to sift, eliminate or accept the useful parts. With these elements a man of common straw will be built.


At this point, the puppet proposal is already being defined. Parts are still demolished and others added but, little by little, more or less valid conclusions are reached.

Final decision

The puppet is now built. A final (albeit temporary) decision has been reached which can be implemented if all members agree. However, the aim is to refine this strategy later to create a more robust, safer and more effective action plan.

It is a very interesting work dynamic that involves the entire human capital in the phased resolution of a problem. It is useful, simple and today it is used in many work contexts.

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