Solving Problems With The FOCUS Model

Are your business processes perfect, or could you improve them?

Nothing stays the way you want it to for very long and perfection is something that is always short-lived. To stay ahead of your competitors, you need to be able to refine your processes on an ongoing basis, so that your products and services remain efficient and, most importantly, your customers remain with you.

The FOCUS model is valuable in problem solving because it uses a team-based approach to business-process improvement which works well for solving cross-departmental process issues. The approach also encourages staff to rely on objective data rather than on personal opinions which increases the quality of the outcome.

The FOCUS model has five steps:

  1. Find the problem.
  2. Organise a team to deal with the problem.
  3. Clarify the problem.
  4. Understand the problem.
  5. Select a solution.

Step 1: Find the Problem

Start with a simple problem to get the team up to speed with the FOCUS method. Then, when confidence is high, turn your attention to more complex processes.

To get the ball rolling and, very importantly, to generate some energy and confidence, try looking at the following issues to stimulate some debate:

  • What would our customers want us to improve?
  • How can we improve quality?
  • What processes do not work as efficiently as they could?
  • Where do we experience bottlenecks in our processes?
  • What do our competitors do that we could do?
  • What might happen in the future that could become a problem for us?

Step 2: Organise a Team to deal with the problem

Where possible, bring together team members from a range of disciplines – this will give you a broad range of skills, perspectives, and experience to draw on.

Select team members who are familiar with the issue or process in hand, and who have a stake in its resolution. Enthusiasm for the project will be greatest if people volunteer for it.

Keep in mind that a diverse team is more likely to find a creative solution than a group of people with the same outlook.

Step 3: Clarify the Problem

Before the team can begin to solve the problem, you need to define it clearly and concisely.

Working on a very big problem or issue can be an attractive process but, due to the size and scale of the topic, positive results can be hard to record relatively quickly. Far better to break down large problems into smaller pieces so that some quick gains can be realized, which will them help increase motivation and application.

Writing a Problem Statement effectively anchors the activity and gives some direction – written as an objective statement.

Key questions to ask in the process are:

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What has happened?
  • Where is it occurring?
  • When does it happen?

Step 4: Understand the Problem

Once the problem statement has been completed, members of the team gather data about the problem to understand it more fully. It is here where you will identify the fundamental steps in the process that, when changed, will bring about the biggest improvement.

Consider what you know about the problem. Has anyone else tried to fix a similar problem before? If so, what happened, and what can you learn from this? It is important at this stage to identify any bottlenecks or failures in the process that could be causing problems.

As understanding grows and develops, potential solutions to the problem may become apparent. Beware of jumping to “obvious” conclusions – these could overlook important parts of the problem, potentially creating a whole new process that fails to solve the problem.

Generate as many possible solutions as you can through normal structured thinking combined with a rule that no ideas are out of scope. The richer the mix of potential solutions the better!

Step 5: Select a Solution

The final stage in the process is to select a solution.

Use appropriate decision-making techniques to select the most viable option, making sure that they link back to the Problem Statement in Step 1.

Once identified, carefully consider the possible consequences of moving ahead, always remembering that one option might be to leave things as they are currently and wait for more information/clarification on the issue at hand.

Good Luck!

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