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.

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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?

Published by

Alan Kay

Alan Kay. Speeding up Change - Strategy. Customer & Stakeholder Co-creation. Solution Focus. Author & Speaker. Book: Fry the Monkeys - Create a Solution.

7 thoughts on “Project Management: What’s the opportunity in Solution Focus (SF)?”

  1. By applying a solution focus approach, you help all project participants have better conversations about how they ‘feel’ the project scope, budget and schedule is progressing – e.g. Are we all getting the added value we have planned and expected ?

    By shifting the meeting focus towards discussing the value of the ongoing and completed work, the project manager will still get information about the time, resource and financial budget reviews (as in traditional project reviewss). However, he or she will get much more besides. The PM enjoys more openness as the project team propose ways to leverage what is working well and, on the other hand, describe how to stop what is not working and try something else.

    This helps increase energy levels in a project team and, with more energy, projects get more productivity per resource per hour.

  2. I definitively agree on everything mentioned here so far.
    It is natural, that most changes materialize and have their focus in projects, which in fact can be a big opportunity, because then a focused group of (hopefully) authorizes and competent experts may lead it. Project managers often get desperate, because according to their understanding of their role they are only responsible for developing a sensational new solution but not for communicating the change… Sometimes the “wrong person” is chosen to be PM, sometimes the focus is reduced to the technical problem, very often the corporate culture is not mature for SF (actually top management)…
    SF avoids long explanations, rectifications, counter attacks on others… and helps getting on much faster which much more motivation…

    1. Thank you Hansjoerg, you raise a very good point here. Blame is probably the strongest factor that affects teamwork. SF can help a team move from blame to shared responsibility. The SF framework gears up a team to understand the desired outcomes for the customers and communicate the message effectively. This creates room for a focus on solution building, and results in happier and more productive teams.

  3. SF and project management are very different from each other (at least traditional project management as I know it and have practiced it for years before coming across SF). I totally agree with your comments (and other comments posted here) of the value SF adds to project management. In my view, it can take it a few notches up and help ensure projects actually get done.

    We need to be aware of one key difference in the basic assumptions behind both approaches – Project management comes with the assumptions that one can plan the steps required to complete the project (e.g. GANTT chart, Stakeholder analysis etc.) and then execute the plan with as few deviations as possible. Deviations from the plan are regarded as ‘problems to manage away from’.

    SF starts with having a vision of how things would look like when the project has been completed successfully and then start with the smallest step we can take, leaving a lot of space and flexibility to emergence. In that sense, it is much closer to newer approaches to project management such as agile and rapid prototyping.

    These days, I much rather use SF (and appreciative inquiry, but that’s another story…) when I run projects. It makes the journey a lot lighter and faster removing many sources of stress!

    Thank you for trying to bring project mgmt and SF together! It has a great potential.

    David.

    P.s. I, myself, have been working on bridging strength-based approaches with Lean and Six Sigma (both used to be my line of work). If you are interested, join my group on LinkedIn (called ‘strength-based lean six sigma’)

    1. David, thank you. Appreciate your comments and glad to hear that you successfully use SF in your projects.

      We had the same thoughts that SF integrates better with the agile and iterative development project management methodologies such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP). The increasing adoption of Agile in organizations, especially in the delivery of IT projects, confirms that they are looking for achievable short-term goals, and developing adaptability to changing business requirements.

      Like you mentioned, SF can help to envision the project goals with more clarity and identify the next small step towards it. The real value lies in the practical usage of the SF techniques to make the most effective use of the existing project management methodologies. For example, asking SF questions in the daily scrum meetings to enable progress, SF workshop and discussions to influence the project life cycle methodology to better use. Even in the traditional environments, SF can bring in agility in the mindset of the project participants, making them more flexible in their approach.

      In sum, by following SF approach to the existing project management techniques, teams can expect to be benefited through quicker results, satisfied customers, increased team productivity and confidence, and flexibility to be able to react to changing requirements.

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