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Solution Focussed Approaches

This lesson is a part of an audio course Creative Problem Solving by Ross Maynard

Bright Spots Analysis is an example of a solution-focussed approach where we seek to identify what works in one context and then apply it more widely. The field of coaching also provides us with other solution-based tools that can be used by Problem-Solving Teams.

These tools are not complete methods in themselves, but approaches that can be built into discussions and analysis to probe what resolving the problem might look like:

  • The Miracle Question.

  • What does Good Look Like?

  • Exceptions Analysis.

  • Scaling Questions.

We'll look at each of these in turn.

The Miracle Question is well-known in coaching where the coach will ask the person he or she is supporting – "what would it be like if you woke up tomorrow and this problem had disappeared?".

Problem-solving teams tackling the complex and multi-faceted problem can also take a similar approach.

The Miracle Question is a future-focussed tool, the aim of which is to move beyond the often pressing, constraints of a problem to a time when it is resolved. Spending time visualising a future without the effects of the problem helps build the optimism of the team members and, more importantly, visualise how people, processes, and other aspects of the organisation would operate without the problem. The team can then work to "reverse engineer" that future state to see if they can begin to develop solutions that start to implement the conditions necessary to reach that positive future.

The "What does good Look Like?" exercise that some of you have probably come across in workshops gives some structure to the Miracle Question, which can help clarify the thinking about the future state.

One of the problem-solving tools we talked about earlier in this course was the Problem Statement and the Goals Statement. The "What Does Good Look Like?" exercise is an extension of this and gives some structure to the discussion of what the future in the organisation might look like when the problem is resolved.

The Problem-Solving Team should discuss what solving the problem would mean for the organisation and its stakeholders in concrete terms covering the following elements:

  • Business processes and methods.

  • People and skills.

  • Management and Organisation Structure.

  • Regulation and Rules.

  • Performance measurement and monitoring.

  • Communication and Culture.

  • Assets and Equipment.

  • Customers.

  • Suppliers.

  • Other stakeholders.

Another useful tool for the Problem-Solving Team is exceptions analysis. This involves examining if there are any circumstances in which the problem does not occur.

The following questions may help prompt the discussion:

  • When does this problem not arise?

  • What is different when the problem doesn't occur? Circumstances, environment, people/ skills, processes/ procedures.

  • Is there anything that stops the problem getting worse?

  • Are there any occasions when the problem is less serious? What is different about those circumstances?

  • Has this problem occurred before? How did we deal with it then? How well did that work?

  • What have we learned about the circumstances that make the problem arise, or make it more serious?

  • What have we learned about the circumstances that prevent the problem from arising, or reduce its seriousness?

Scaling questions are used to help a Problem-Solving Team analyse the contributing factors to the problem and identify which are its main drivers.

The approach is to discuss a subjective score for the problem, or elements of it, and review what actions or changes might "improve" that score.

The following questions may help prompt the discussion:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how serious is the problem right now? When has it been worse? When has it been better?

  • What was different about the times the problem was more serious? And less serious? Review any differences in circumstances, environment, processes and procedures, people and skills, and so on.

  • How could we act on the problem to reduce its score by one point? List the actions/ changes necessary to do that.

  • How could we act on the problem to reduce its score by two points? List the actions/ changes necessary to do that. Continue this approach until the group run out of ideas.

  • What would be different about the problem if we were able to reduce its score by two points? Use the "What Does Good Look Like" tool here. Repeat the questions for a four-point reduction, six points, etc.

  • What level of the score for the problem would be acceptable as a temporary solution? How could we reduce the impact of the problem to that level? What actions/ changes would be needed to get the problem to that level and keep it there? Again, use the "What Does Good Look Like" tool.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we cover what you can do to become a change agent.

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Written by

Ross Maynard

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