You know that big problem you have right now that you don’t have a solution for? You know the one. The task where you keep saying to yourself “I just don’t know how to get started” or “I don t know what to do.”  Well, how would you like a simple 4-step system you could apply to any situation to help you make progress? Would that be useful? If so, read on…..

Take a moment to think about the issue you are dealing with that has you stumped …. Got it? Good.

The system I am going to introduce you to was given to me by a mentor over ten years ago when I was in command of a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat, HMAS Bendigo. At the time, the Boats were the workhorses of Northern Australia, responsible for patrolling the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone and apprehending any foreign vessels fishing illegally in Australian waters. To achieve this I was responsible for leading a crew of 25 of the Navy’s best men and women. The crew and I came across many complex and difficult situations during our time. At our disposal were a number of planning methods we could use to assess situations and then take action.  These methodologies were taught in a variety of leadership schools and staff colleges around the country and all had their pros and cons.

One process, however, I kept coming back to time and again, purely because of its simplicity. The irony was, it was not formally taught and, as far as I know, you won’t find it in any manual. I have no idea where my mentor got it from; perhaps from his mentor in days past or perhaps he developed it himself from his own experience.  I found it useful at those times when there was difficulty in taking the next step or there was a perceived lack of information to make decisions. It is also a process I’ve adapted for use with my coaching clients when they say, “I don’t know.”

There are four simple steps that you need to take. Let me walk you through each of the steps and you can overlay your own problem or task.

Step 1: What do you know? Plan for that.

Whether you realise it or not you will have certain information about your situation already. For example:

    • You may already know what resources you need, financial, materiel or people. You may even know where they are or where they need to be.
    • You’ll have a deadline. This tell you how much time you’ve got and what urgency you need to place on tasks.
    • You may know who’s involved, at least at the initial stages and you may know who else needs to be involved down the track.

These are just a few things you may already know.

Take some time to brainstorm and write down everything that you know about the situation at this point. Take some time now and do it. Go on. This blog will still be here when you get back.

Once you have finished, start forming an initial plan of attack based on what you know. Set up meetings for those you need to talk to. Start allocating resources and requesting additional ones? Generate a timeline if that’s what is required.

The important thing here is to take some time to understand what you know right now and generate that plan for the first step or steps. This will help you generate that initial momentum which is important at this phase of the project.

Oh, and here’s beauty of this part of the plan; it may be that at this time you start to understand what you don’t know and that leads us on to step 2.

Step 2: What don’t you know? Ask questions.

At this stage you will be starting to identify information gaps

    • How much capital will I need?
    • Is this person or that person available?
    • What are the market conditions?
    • Where other resources do I need?

It’s time to start asking those questions. It may take some time to get the answers but, as my kids would say, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Ask lots of questions. Get curious about the task. Seek second opinions. You will feel like you are making progress because you will be gathering new information.

Now that you’ve formulated your initial plans, what are the questions you need answered? Take some time now to write them down.  What questions did you come up with?

Time for the next step.

Step 3: As new information comes in, adjust the plan.

You’ve asked all the questions that come to mind and soon the answers come rolling in.

Look at your initial plan. Look at your new information. How does the new data, answers or information affect your plan?

Take some time now to adjust your plan.

At this point, you may find that you will be moving back and forward between steps 2 and 3 – asking questions, getting new information, adjusting your plan, taking action…repeat.

Now, there is one final step ….

Step 4: Consider the ‘What ifs….?’

This is the step where you can let your imagination and experience run for a little.

    • What if this person does not come on board?
    • What if we don’t get all the investment that we need?
    • What if growth in the first year isn’t as predicted?
    • What has happened before that I didn’t plan for last time? 

This is a brainstorming phase where you consider contingencies. The benefit of stretching yourself here is that you start to anticipate the unexpected. What are the risks? How will you mitigate them?  This is your chance to get ahead of the game.

It is important here to not go too far. Don’t scare yourself so much that you paralyse yourself through fear of failure. What we are trying to do here is to just anticipate some pitfalls and be ready for them.

Oh, and one last question in this step: “What if I succeed in this plan? What then?” Too often we don’t plan for that contingency.

What are your “What if?” scenarios?

So, what I want you to do is ….

If you’re feeling stuck with a project give this simple planning tool a work out.

There are a number of very useful planning tools taught in military colleges and business schools around the world. They all have their place and will, with time and effort, yield the results you are after.

This process, however, is useful when stuck with a problem and you’re feeling a bit stuck about the next steps. I know several of my coaching clients have found it useful. The good thing about this process is that it is easy to remember, can be applied quickly and to any aspect of your work or life.


    1. What do I know? Plan for that.
    2. What don’t I know? Ask questions.
    3. As new information comes in, adjust the plan.
    4. Consider the “What ifs…?”

So, now that you have given it a go, what do you think? What worked for you? How would you modify it? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Do you know someone who could use this tool? Feel free to share this blog with them.

If you need some assistance, or have any questions, feel free to get in contact with Campbell Leadership Solutions who can work with you to refine your team or individual planning strategies.