Strategy & Planning

BSMS 51 - A simple problem solving framework

A simple 4-step approach to get your goals back on track:
  1. Define the problem. Write it down—be specific. Make sure everyone agrees on the problem. This step is incomplete until everyone interprets the problem in the same way.
  2. Uncover the ~real~ root cause. People often jump too quickly to conclusions and favor obvious explanations for symptoms. Most problems are nuanced with many contributing factors. Try to unpack all of the potential causes.
  3. Document all possible solutions. Once you’ve uncovered the root cause, go from theory to execution. List out all of the things you can do to move the needle.
  4. Build the plan and execute. Prioritize your to-do list and get after it. 
Links shared in this episode:

Episode Transcript:


Welcome to episode 51. I'm Mike Northfield. I lead go-to-market and product marketing at Kalungi and T2D3. And I'm together again with Kalungi co-founder, Stijn Hendrikse, serial SaaS marketing executive and ex-Microsoft product marketing leader. And today we are doing a little mini one. It's an excerpt from another recording session Stijn and I did back when we were talking about OKRs and goal setting.

And it's a really quick four-step framework for getting your goals back on track. We're almost a full third of the way through the first quarter of 2024, which is wild. But this is the moment when you kind of start to collect enough data to look back at your original goals and determine realistically if you're on track or off track.

So we thought that this would be a pretty timely topic. Something worth noting in lecture 13 of the T2D3 Masterclass shares a lot more advanced mechanisms for reporting analytics, managing weekly and monthly team meetings, and this topic or the topic of this podcast, which is using systems thinking to kind of make sure you're measuring the right things and also recover from lagging numbers.

All right, let's get into it. 


So when you do these four simple steps and you actually pick a couple of options that you can act on and then do that and act on it, it will take all that off the table. People will feel good about being in control. They're doing something. And they feel they're moving forward.
Even if it's in the wrong direction, you know, they're doing something.


Okay so I know we've done a full episode on more in-depth problem solving approaches, but we're kind of, a lot of people are maybe looking at their OKRs now, and maybe they're not performing as well as they, as they could be on, on certain projects and initiatives and programs.

And I was wondering if you have any, any ideas or thoughts on like a simple kind of approach that you can use to kind of correct the ship, right the ship in some ways. 


I do, Mike. And it's interesting. Yeah. We have a, there's a Masterclass , I think, on T2D3 where we have a talk about this whole large framework.

It's called problem solving with an A3 document, which is a large document with a whole bunch of sections. But when, when you ask the question here, I think it's, we can dumb it down a little bit. And there's really four very simple steps that I think if everybody keeps in that in mind when they're going through, "Hey, this OKR is not going as well as I had expected or as I wanted it to go." The first thing is to really define what the problem is that you're really trying to solve for. So if you have a really strong OKR, it should not be that hard, right? Your key result will be written up relatively crisp. So describing the problem, it might be as much as, " Hey, our MQL volume in this channel is not performing at the level that we expect it to be. But a lot of people skip the step of really making sure that they're, especially when you're discussing it as a team, that they all understand the problem the same way. All right? And so it's stupid, maybe, but do that. Write it up. And writing things down is very helpful. And then the second step, really crucial, is what is the possible root cause, right? And the A3 format is done much deeper with fishbone diagrams and things like that. But you just ask yourself, " What do we think are the possible causes of this problem?"

Most of the time people jump to a conclusion really quick. And they kind of think of an obvious explanation of why the symptom that they're suffering from, right? The MQLs are not being at the right level. That there is a really easy way to explain that. And just pausing, what could be the multiple reasons why that's not happening, is, I think, super helpful.

Because it could range from automation issues, content quality, conversion related things, website not being available, wrong audience, wrong ICP, you know, the list is long, long, long.

So being very thoughtful and thinking, " What are the possible root causes?" And we've talked about this in the past. And we did our kind of your, your plumber analogy: don't go wipe the floor if you have closed the valve. Don't close the valve if you don't know if that's actually the the problem. But then the third step, what are the possible solutions, right? And write them all down after you've discussed with your group what you really think is the cause. And then pick one and go do it. Also pretty important. Go from theory into execution. But doing that, setting, let's say, an hour aside, in this kind of third month of the quarter, early in the third month of the quarter, to talk about one of the things or two of the things that are not to your satisfaction on your OCRs, and talk about what is the real problem?

How do we define it? What are the root causes? What can we do about it? And let's go do that, is a really useful use of an hour.


Would you say it's better to make a decision? Even if you're maybe moving in the wrong direction than it is to make no decision at all.


What do you mean with, like, ignoring the fact that you chose this as an OKR and it's not doing well?


Sure. I mean, I guess getting back to the kind of root cause analysis, like the leaky pipe conundrum, there's, there's always a bunch of things that could be impacting something, like if you're not hitting a certain target, right? And maybe you have a theory or a thesis that could be three or four things, and you're maybe not sure which of those four things it could be. Is it better to just pick one and go after it? 


Yeah, you know, now you're getting a little more in the area of psychology. When people get anxious or when they worry, when people burnout, right? When things like that happen, it's usually because people don't feel they're in control, right? And so when you go through these four simple steps and you actually pick a couple of options that you can act on, and then do that and act on it, it'll take all that off the table.

People will feel good about being in control. They're doing something about it, and they feel they're moving forward, even if it's in the wrong direction, you know, they're doing something.

And I think just ignoring it, I think in the previous role, someone called this, you know, having a watermelon problem.

You, you kind of think of it as a green, but if you cut only a little bit, you know, it becomes very red, the scorecard metric. Yeah, don't ignore those. Cut into the watermelon and deal with it and go do something about it. Because that's, I think when your team will also feel much better about things on the scorecard that are not to their liking, because usually people only feel bad about it if they don't feel they can do something.

I guess we do a last point on this. If you have to do some form of reporting to a senior leader or your executive team or the board of directors of your company, you know, the last thing you want to do is is not deal with these things, right? And ignore them. Or sugar coat them, whatever you want to, and turn it into your own version of a watermelon.

No, better to, better to address it head on. 


Fair. Probably better to just get out in front of it and say, "Hey, look, this is an issue and here's what we're doing to solve it."


When you think of accountability towards whoever the greater powers above you are, if you're the CEO, if you're bored, you know, if it's, if you're the marketing leader, it could be your CEO, your, your peers in the executive team.

What, what do people really want to hear to put their trust in you as the marketing leader or the chief revenue officer? They want to hear that you, you're on top of, of your role or you know what's happening. You also know what's not in good shape and you're okay. Okay.

Acknowledging that and not ignoring it.

And you're the best person in charge of coming up with a solution. And just these four steps, you know, defining the problem well, understanding what the possible root causes were, coming up with some solutions and do something about it are probably the only things you need to show for people to feel that you're the right person to deal with this and to, to have the role as the VP of marketing or the CMO or the CEO.

And the only, I think, moment when I've seen boards, for example, lose trust in the leader of a company. Or a neglective team in the marketing leader is when some of these things just get ignored. 


Yeah, that makes sense. So essentially, make sure everybody has the same information. Make sure everybody is interpreting the information in the same way, because there's multiple different ways to look at it.

Make sure everybody agrees on what the priorities are, and the objectives, and make sure that, which is very unlikely I think you mentioned this the last component is, make sure everybody's approaching it with the right intention. It's very rare that somebody would be approaching it with a bad intention. 


But yeah, we can now summarize it more of when you think of dealing with conflict, right?

Yeah, but people don't agree on something or feel that they're In a situation that requires intervention or resolution, a conflict, it's often one of those reasons, right? They don't have the same information, don't interpret it the same way, have different priorities. It's very unlikely that it is because people have the wrong intentions, right?


Thank you to Adriano Valerio for producing this episode and the Kalungi team for helping make this whole thing work, and of course you for choosing to spend your time with us. Really appreciate you being here. As a reminder, all the links we mentioned in this episode can be found in the show notes. And if you want to submit or vote on a question that you'd like us to answer, you can do that at

We'll see you next time.

B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks - More Episodes

Listen to more episodes

Head back to the B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks home page for more.

More episodes

Similar posts

Get notified on new marketing insights

Be the first to know about new B2B SaaS Marketing insights to build or refine your marketing function with the tools and knowledge of today’s industry.