What Is Solution-Focused Agile? Clues--Part 2

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. In Part 1 of this three-part series we looked at the Basic Position of the Practitioner. Today we’ll look briefly at Tools or “what it tends to look like.”

“Remember, this is not a check-list – not all of these need to be observed.”

We will look, in particular, at four of the 10 tools that are at the heart of Solution-Focused ways of working, including Solution-Focused Agile:

  • Promoting descriptions in specific, small, interactional and positive terms (presence of solutions rather than absence of problems, start of something new rather than stopping something)
  • Helping the clients build a description of their own “preferred future” using the miracle question or other “future perfect” oriented questions
  • Establishing elements of the “preferred future” which are already happening using scaling questions, exception questions, coping questions, counters questions and other methods
  • Helping the client identify and take small constructive steps in the direction of the desired change

And we will not look at them individually but, instead, will look at examples of how they work together. That said, I do want to focus briefly on the first one because it is so foundational to everything: 

Promoting descriptions in specific, small, interactional and positive terms (presence of solutions rather than absence of problems, start of something new rather than stopping something)

“Specific,” “small,” and “interactional” are well understood in the Agile world. But “positive” is not. To some extent we create our own realities and outcomes by specific attitudes that translate into specific words that translate into specific actions that translate into specific cultures. Experienced Agilists understand the importance of culture but seem to know little about how to create or change it. More to come on this in future posts but, for now, suffice it to say “positive psychology” is a very important component of Solution-Focused Agile. 

What is not so straight-forward, however, is a linear path or even a correlation between problems, solutions, and outcomes in complex working environments. The Cynefin Framework teaches us that problem and solution talk might be helpful when doing simple work such as a bug fix. But in complex working environments our solution often doesn’t fix the problem and too often digs the hole deeper. 

As Steve de Shazer, the father of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, put it: “Problem talk creates problems; solution talk creates solutions.” We don’t avoid problems. But we’re not looking to solve them; instead we’re looking for “clues” that help us define the “miracle” of our “preferred future perfect.” 

We’ll explore the “miracle question” in future posts. For now imagine the following scenario: We’re launching a new Agile team and, by way of a miracle, it’s the perfect team! What does that look like? Using Design Thinking techniques we first diverge to ideate. Here’s a real example from a recent coaching engagement: 

  • AWESOME Enthusiasm
  • No task / context switching
  • 100% process flow efficiency
  • Zero defects
  • Etc. 

Next we converge to cluster, prioritize, and ideate further on a single cluster.

Then each member of the team anonymously decides where we are today, on a scale of 0 to 10, if 10 is the miracle. (There are multiple ways to do this—to be explored in future posts—and, yes, the scale intentionally looks like the Net Promoter Score scale.) Like planning poker, the team discusses their individual scores and reach consensus as a team.   

The next step, as a team, is to ideate and converge on small actions to reach not a 10 but just the next level—from a five to a six in our example. This will become an “intangible” (Kanban class of service) epic in our backlog. And one “intangible” must be always in scope, which requires slack in the system—the subject of future posts.  

Imagine using the same tools for Customer Experience Design or Product Roadmapping, etc. 

Here is an example from a recent Solution-Focused Agile Retro-spective. We began with what is / is not working well today, then defined our "future perfect," before scaling and determining next, small steps. 

I'd love to hear your feedback and questions! In Part 3 of this series we'll explore Background. 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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