What Is Solution-Focused Agile? Clues--Part 1

SFiO, an international network of Solution-Focused practitioners, maintains a list of "clues" that distinguish Solution-Focused ways of working. There are three sections: Basic Position of the Practitioner, Tools, and Background. We'll briefly explore each one in this three-part series on Solution-Focused Agile. Let's begin with Basic Position of the Practitioner. 

"Change is happening all the time – our role is to find useful change and amplify it"

A change orientation is at the very heart of Agile and enshrined in the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles: “Responding to change over following a plan...Agile processes harness change…” This is so fundamental that not much more needs to be said.

"Resource orientation rather than deficit orientation"

A “resource-orientation” comes from the domain of Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Similarly, “asset-based” approaches to community development are proven best practices in that field. But we’re doing what nobody has done before: applying these insights to the Agile organization. It changes the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we work. In other words, it changes us and our culture. We'll have much more to say on this in future posts.

"A stance of having as few assumptions about the client as possible and deeming clients to be the expert on their own lives and desires"

The two most important questions when beginning an Agile transformation are: 1) Should we do Agile? and 2) Could we do Agile? The answer to the first question depends on the complexity of the work: if it’s complex work we should use Agile. The answer to the second question depends on our level of collaboration with the customer because the customer must be in the driver’s seat. 

This is deeply embedded in both the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation...Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer…Business people and developers must work together daily…”

"A respectful, non-blaming and co-operative stance" 

Agile teams are not always good at it but this, too, is part of the Agile recipe. Respect is a core value of both Scrum and Kanban. And I love Norm Kerth’s Prime Directive: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand." This applies equally to the team and to the customer.

"An interactional view (inbetween not “inside” a person)"

“Individuals and interactions” is the very first plank in the Agile Manifesto. Actions are important, individuals are even more important, interactions are most important. And, as Agile practitioners, it’s important that we maintain a basic position that is neither “inside” nor “outside.” This has implications for the whole system, and we’ll explore it more deeply in a future post.  

"Working towards their client’s goals from within their client’s frames of reference, while keeping their own (external) perspective"

The first of the 12 Principles: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of [value].” Value, of course, is defined by the customer, and understanding customer goals and frames of reference is the first step towards Agile transformation. Our goals and frames of reference must not (can not) be forced upon them.

This is clearly stated by Agnostic Agile values: “I will put my customer’s interests first…emotional intelligence, understanding of customer context, and customer maturity levels may outweigh the adoption of any (aspect of a) method or framework, even though that (aspect of a) method or framework might be the more ‘agile thing to do’. I ‘pull in’ what the customer needs, rather than ‘push’ what may not be needed…I will respect the unique context of my customer.”

"Treating each case as different and developing the process according to what the client says rather than imposing a fit into a theoretical or conceptual framework-the process emerges differently each time based on what the clients say/do/want"

Again, Agnostic Agile values: “I will remember that attaining agility does not guarantee a better outcome for my customer, and that in some cases, other more traditional approaches might be better for the current climate and context…I will not be dogmatic when it comes to lean or agile frameworks or methods, because dogmatism is non-agile, does not benefit my customer…” This is why we are Agnostic Agile practitioners, and each engagement is fit-for-purpose and use. As the statistician George Box put it: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

I'd love to hear your feedback and questions! In Part 2 of this series we explored Tools. Stay tuned. 

Mo Hagar has led Agile transformations since 2005 for dozens of Fortune 500 companies, state and federal agencies, and the US military. Visit us at Solution Focused Agile and let us know how we can help you get IT done!

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