Make the Most of Change with Solution Focus. Now!

“Organizations need to be nimble so that they can better manage and adapt to the changes that are going to happen anyway” Kevin Aguanno

A while ago I wrote that we have to not only adapt to change, but get in front of change. I advocate that Solution Focus is the way to do it. It’s not the only way, but the best way to make things happen.

As Kevin Aguanno says, change is going to happen anyway. We don’t have much of a say in that, do we! Or, do we?

Solution focus is the smart way to change. The approach is surprisingly simple, if counter intuitive. But, by leveraging our intuitive and our rational mind we can achieve a lot in a shorter period than we expect. How?

Two of the founders of the approach, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer noticed the following approach (not necessarily in this order), helped people’s problems better right away:

What’s already working (that we don’t have to change)

Suppose the problem we face went away, what would be happening instead?

Suppose we were successful, what small steps would we see ourselves taking right way

While there is nothing startling about these ideas, it’s the application of them without stopping to examine the problem that makes the difference. Overlooking the problem is often the hard part. But, by setting aside our curiosity about problems in favour of these three perspectives we open up great possibilities.

Where can we apply this in business? Unless the building is burning down, it is a stable platform for progress everywhere we seek to deal with change.

Join us November 10 (details available soon) at SFBiz to look at how this approach works and where we might apply it in our day-to-day practices.

Meantime, more on Solution Focus

White papers

Applying Solution Focus for Creating Sustainable Businesses

Challenges for Sustainability v3.0 in businesses:

Guest blog post by my colleague: Venkat Subramanian Somasundaram BEng,MBA, Business & Sustainability Consultant and a supporter of Solution Focus.

My latest paper on Sustainability v3.0 attempts to define the forthcoming Sustainability initiatives in businesses organizations, Sustainability 3.0. The paper also identifies the three anticipated key challenges for Sustainability 3.0 and initiates discussion on how can we collectively solve them using Solution Focused change techniques.

Sustainability v3.0:

So, how does Sustainability 3.0 look like? It is a state in which all employees in the organization realize the importance of sustainable business practices and make decisions while coordinating with all relevant stakeholders. The key challenge for Sustainability 3.0 is Engagement.

After analyzing global reports and white papers during 2011, the three key challenges for sustainability 3.0 were identified:

1.  Creating Change Leaders (tribal leaders) for total engagement:

Building an enduring corporate culture of sustainability in the business organization, where all employees are totally engaged in the formulation and implementation of sustainability initiatives, is the greatest challenge for sustainability in businesses. How can we create change leaders or influencers at all levels of the organization to promote sustainability?

2.  Communicating the Value Proposition to businesses

How did companies end up embracing “Quality” as an organization wide norm “Total Quality Management (TQM)”? How can thevalue proposition of “sustainability” be communicated so that it becomes a cultural norm or policy within businesses?

3.  Co-creating policies that promote Good Growth:

How can the businesses, governments and all related stakeholders co-create policies that promote good growth (financially, socially and environmentally sustainable)?

Need for Solutions Focus Change:

It’s high time we stop speaking about problems faced by companies, environmentalists, consumers, and governments in the field of sustainability. The repeated recession strikes on the economy should accelerate our actions in making the world more sustainable and arrive at comprehensive solutions quickly.

My question: How do we solve these 3 key challenges for sustainability initiatives in businesses using solution focus change techniques?

For an in-depth version of Venkat’s blog post click here

How not to handle stress

Here’s a way to make a difficult situation worse. I came across a web page titled, “Work related stress – together we can tackle it”.

What do you think is wrong with this typical to-do list?

It’s clear they are trying to be helpful, but nothing will get better:

  • There’s no room for knowing what people want to be better
  • There’s no attempt to find out what doesn’t have to change
  • It’s not structured to find solutions
  • If anything, it’s designed to institutionalize the problem
  • Risks have to be minimized, just not this way

As I say in my short video about analyzing problems

Leadership in an organization should be looking for alternatives.

How do we get to solutions? We have to be counter-intuitive to what you see in the to-do list:

  • Ask people what they would want instead of the problem
  • Ask them about times when the problem didn’t exist (might have to dig a little at first)
  • Ask them which part of the problem they’d like to get better
  • Ask them to suppose that the problem diminished and things were better, what would be happening?
  • Ask them what small steps might get them moving towards what they wanted to happen.

More about making solutions happen

What to do when you facilitate change, strategy or a meeting!

When I wrote the book ‘Fry a Monkey. Create a Solution’ I had only one idea in mind – that it be useful to people who facilitate (today, that’s most of us). I had no desire to write a bestseller.

I wasn’t worried about the books title; there’s been demand for answers about business monkeys for a while

What’s exciting is hearing from the book’s readers/users about the areas that have been helpful for them.  Here’s what they have said…

‘I keep it on my desk and use it when I’m developing a meeting or a presentation and I’m giving copies to my business colleagues.’

‘I used the approach in a meeting with a senior head-office executive. Afterwards my boss told me that the exec was impressed…that he wanted me to consider moving to head office’

‘We need a copy for each of the session attendees.’

‘Why have you not yet done a version specifically for project managers?’

‘This is great!’ (Holding the book tightly) ‘I can tell it’s written in your voice.’

I’m totally confident that you will get value from the book. Still, click on the monkey below to hear more reasons to get this easy-to-use handbook for speeding up change and progress and reaching better outcomes.


Get a free download of the first chapter

5 ways to envision a project positively… and reach solutions faster

Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga,

Traditionally, project managers tend to be very risk-focused and heavily assess the risks in a project, ranging from those that are most likely to cause system failures (integration, security, etc) or have a huge cost impact (licensing, outsourcing, etc), to those that might push the schedule back in failed scenarios (resource related risks). So eventually a lot of time gets spent in looking at ways of de-risking situations and analyzing what could go wrong.

  • How can we shift the focus of a project manager from ‘Failure and Risk Management’ to ‘Envisioning projects with risks and failures removed’?
  • Suppose a team does that, what benefits would they notice? How will that help the team in getting guided towards successful execution of the project?
John Nicol, Transformation Manager

John Nicol, whom I interviewed recently, helps answer these questions and explains how Solution Focus (SF), due to its collaborative and facilitative nature can be a very powerful tool to enable project discussions with failures removed.

John is a SF professional and a Certified Scrum Master. As a SF professional, he has been successfully applying the approach in different types of businesses. As a ‘ScrumMaster’, he has been practicing Agile project management techniques in numerous organizational transformation programs.

1. Look at successful methods of doing things to enable progress:

The greatest advantage of using SF tools is that it is forward-looking – teams look for strengths and opportunities going forward, they look for indicators of what’s working. For instance, in an effort to centralize software tools within an organization, project managers can begin by answering following questions and use that as a platform for getting to solutions in the future.

  • Where have we centralized the tools already?
  • Which parts of the organization have succeeded in this effort?
  • Which integration steps are already in place?

In a SF approach, project managers do not ignore that things could go wrong. They acknowledge the risks and the failures, but turn the question on its head by asking

  • “What could we do instead?
  • What could we do that would make the situation better?

2.  Apply SF “future perfect” tool for better project planning:

Using SF tools such as future perfect and scaling before the development starts, imagine a project with risks and problems removed. Answering questions such as the following will help teams to list out the activities that they must get right.

  • Suppose the project is X months ahead. The project is over; it is delivered on schedule, and has met all the objectives.  On looking back, what were the useful things we did to get there?

3.  Leverage SF coaching to self-organize teams: Scrum projects (an Agile project management methodology) are delivered by self-organizing teams and it puts a lot of emphasis on coaching and learning from each other. The ScrumMaster is often challenged by the maturity of their team to self-organize in order to address the risks and rearrange the work activities as needed. What SF adds to the picture is that it enables the ScrumMaster to better coach their agile project teams who, when faced with cost-driven and time-driven risks, can remain on a positive note by asking questions such as the following

  • Where do we already have examples of on-time delivery from past projects or project phases?”, “What did we do then to keep the work on schedule?
  • Which free or low cost alternative solutions are available or in use in other parts of the organization or project?”, “Are there existing contracts in place that are cost effective?
  • Suppose a cost-effective licensing solution was already available, what would it look like?”, “What else would help?

4.  Acknowledge and reward your team to promote solution-talk:

With more and more virtual teams operating, project managers need to work harder at acknowledging their teams and communicating the rewards and successes (an area where most managers suffer!). There are a lot of people in businesses who don’t feel heard – many of them have very smart ideas but haven’t really gotten the opportunity to bring them on the table. SF is a very powerful way to give these people the acknowledgement that they are looking for by acting as a mirror to their language and using their words while talking to them.

5.  Maintain transparency in communication with the Business Partners to create visibility:

In Agile, the Customer or the Product Owner is part of the project team. They need to know that the development team and the Agile project manager agree upon a common solution, and maximize their investment by equipping them with the critical information they need to know.

In conclusion and to summarize John’s comments, I think Scrum is well-aligned with SF tools. Both systems of thought and practice share a strong grounding in delivering quick results through self-organizing teams, having openness and transparency in communication with product owners and customers, and encouraging coaching to empower the staff to think for themselves.

A definition of ScrumMaster that I came across supports the views mentioned here quite strongly.

“A ScrumMaster is a servant leader helping the team be accountable to themselves for the commitments they make”

Some of the significant characteristics one associates with a servant leader are trust, collaboration, listening, empathy, and foresight. They do not manage the team, because the beauty of Scrum is that teams are self-managing. Instead, the ScrumMasters coach their team to help them achieve outcomes on their own.

What are your comments on the proposed SF approach to project management?

Four ways to win-win conversations

How many people do you know who wouldn’t understand a win-win conversation if their life depended on it?

What do we mean by win-win? Both parties know how to assert their respective needs. They know that they can never fully align their goals, but try to help themselves while the other party also gets satisfaction. They know that they may not agree on the process of getting there, but want similar outcomes. Their strongest asset is the ability to listen and they don’t see win-win as a feel-good opportunity – they see it as a value building, fairly concrete exercise. They can be as tough as nails and still want the other person to benefit.

It’s reciprocity through enlightened self-interest. They know reciprocity isn’t just a North American place name (there’s 4 of them)!

So, what about the non win-win folks? They simply are trying to tell others what they want, (sometimes, what they don’t want), but without caring much for the other party’s interest. Why? Because people who don’t understand value building reciprocity generally have low self-awareness and think less of the person they are dealing with. They impose their thinking in the hope that compliance will happen. When it doesn’t they assume the other simply isn’t listening (when it’s they who are not listening).

What to do? What are the four ways to win-win?

Here’s a 2-step approach using solution focus that gives you questions to help the non win-win folks move to a better place..

1. Download the win-win PDF and then…

2. View this video

Don’t expect overnight miracles. Patience and showing them you are listening will help move them – and you – closer to win-win!

More about solution focus

For more tips on getting to win-win try my book, Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution

3 ways organizations can manage marketing programs effectively

Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga,


Efficiently planning a complex multi-modal marketing plan, executing the plan on time and on budget, measuring and evaluating the campaign’s effectiveness, and ultimately driving higher ROI on the campaign budget can be quite an overwhelming task for most marketing departments.

How can we manage the marketing program in a way that helps us keep pace with today’s consumers? How can we achieve improvements in marketing campaign effectiveness and profitability? What aspects of marketing program management would we like to see develop and improve in the future?

To help answer these questions, I interviewed Douglas Long, a leader in marketing of technology solutions to businesses. Douglas has over 15 years of experience in planning, building and executing marketing strategies that significantly improve the sales performance of companies. He talks at length about his views and experience in the areas of marketing program management and project management.

The following are 3 suggested areas that organizations should focus on. Steps forward in these areas can enable marketing teams to meet their strategic goals.

Effective marketing campaign planning and management

Running a marketing program is really about running a series of project management steps. It cannot be over-emphasized that the success of the project depends primarily on the planning; executing the marketing strategy is the easier part. Managers need to ensure that all elements of the program are simultaneously well-managed for a successful campaign. They also need to focus on aligning the upstream and downstream marketing activities strategically, with the business goals. Likewise, it is crucial to include all teams during the planning phases. For example, they need to involve the sales team in the planning, as they are close to clients and will be having valuable inputs.

Role of HR in helping the marketing teams achieve their strategic goals

As people become the competitive advantage for organizations, it is important that HR goes beyond its administrative support function and play a more strategic role. The role of HR should evolve such that they become involved with the functional managers and the business functions, and parallel the needs of their changing organizations.

I agree with Douglas and would like to add that if needed, HR can help reshape the marketing efforts by bringing change in the organization culture through education and training, people development, etc.

Improvement in the performance measurement tools and methodologies

Marketing managers need access to sophisticated performance measurement and performance review tools and methodologies, to understand the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns. From a project management perspective, this is one area that needs improvement for accurate analysis of the effectiveness of marketing initiatives. As someone said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

To further elaborate on Douglas’ comment, I think it is also crucial that the marketing metrics used should be an indicator of the business performance and align with the business outcomes.

Here are some Solution Focused questions marketers might want to ask:

  • Suppose all elements of a marketing program are driven by planning, and aligned with the business goals, what would organizations see themselves doing and achieve as a result?
  • Suppose organizations are able to accurately measure the impact of their marketing initiatives, how would that make the marketing programs more effective?

What are your views and comments?

If you are interested in reading more, please download the entire interview here.

Ujjwal Daga is an MBA student at Schulich School of Business. Ujjwal has an engineering background and spent several years in software development before signing up with Schulich. Ujjwal is also learning about how Solution Focus fits with the world of project management.

Project Management: What’s the opportunity in Solution Focus (SF)?

Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga, a fine MBA student at Schulich School of Business. Ujjwal has an engineering background and spent several years in software development before signing up with Schulich.


Most organizations have a comprehensive Change Management Plan to address the changes to scope, schedule or budget of a project. Using this framework, the Project Managers try to quantify the impact of the changes and make decisions accordingly.

However, to succeed, they also need to have a clear picture of what is it they want to accomplish, engage the customers in the process, and address the ‘human side’ of change management. Steps forward in these areas will supplement the existing change tools and protocols and utilize the best of already working change approaches within the organization.

Projects initiate change and Project Managers can be considered as the change agents. We are seeing many examples of organizations collaborating with change partners, also known as ‘change management experts’ to facilitate the changes required to deliver projects. Solution Focus (which is the approach in ‘Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution’ can be used to accelerate the Project Management changes – both strategic and human. It can help on a number of fronts:

  • Help the Project Managers create a vision of the preferred future by asking the right questions
  • Identify the elements (strengths, abilities and resources) of the desired future that are already present
  • Help them take the small steps in the direction of the desired change, and achieve visible progress right away
  • Seek innovative ways to engage the customers and external stakeholders
  • Enable the individual groups of silos to discover the common goals, collaborate on the key priorities and arrive at shared solutions for change

What are your thoughts and comments on the emerging opportunity?