4 years, 2 months ago

The Four Focus Areas


The four focus areas aren’t steps in a linear sense – they’re more like wash-cycles. Based on the dirtiness of the laundry is, it might be necessary to go around each cycle a few times. So depending on how ‘dirty’ your problem is; how complex, how big, how tangled etc. you’ll probably need to cycle around a few times. As a rule-of-thumb, for a sizeable problem, it’ll probably take at least three cycles, however, any more than five should set off analysis-paralysis alarms!


The four focus areas:
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Find: (aka Analysis)
  • Focus on finding good questions to ask; focus on the business outcomes.
  • Discover what’s wanted – listen to the stories of the user/customer/investor/requester.
  • Develop hypothetical “What If?” stories that help create more questions.
  • Ask dumb questions: don’t be afraid of asking ‘the obvious’.
Join: (aka Synthesis)
  • Join-the-dots: look for connections between things and describe the relationships.
  • Look for the interactions and cause & effect between things.
  • Explore contradictions and look for points of tension (conflict).
  • Look for more questions to ask; try to fill in the missing bits with educated guesses (hypotheses) and test them with subject experts.


Slice: (aka Partition)
  • See how the ‘whole’ fits together in logical chunks (cluster and nest concepts into ‘Groups’ of related things. Group and regroup by focus and function – look for cohesion: ask “Can we this bit be snipped out and treat as a separate component that does one thing?”, and cluster into families of components/activities/capabilities that do similar things. Put simply; find all the pieces of the jigsaw that make up the whole picture and see how they fit together.
  • Come up with a very rough idea of how the families of parts might be sequenced over time (the change journey); ask “What’s the minimum chunk of parts that will deliver something of value (aka Goodness) quickly? And what might be the sequence of following chunks over, say the next 6-9 months?
  • Start to draft ‘Principles’ and ‘Direction’ statements for each stage (‘waypoint’ in the change journey). These will be the ‘signposts’ that help ‘Are-we-on track?’ questions later.
  • Explore the ‘Knowns and Unknowns’ along the change journey: make sure you’ve based your first change step on as many ‘Knowns’ as possible and explain why these are facts or strong guesses. Also consider when an ‘Unknown’ might become a ‘Known’, and make that ‘knowing moment’ explicit on the timeline.
  • Test these ideas with the outcomes discovered in the Find cycle.
  • Test your ideas and hypotheses with the subject experts and refine, the whole, its parts, and each stage of the change journey.


This is the first ‘perfect’ conceptual design view of parts that make up the whole. Unfortunately, the perfect design is rarely achievable; realities get in the way! That’s where the next focus area comes in.


Arrange: (aka Organise)
  • Organise the parts into ‘work packages’ (these will be very rough first go around) based on team and individual ability, team size, proximity – add ’workstreams’ to the change journey.
  • Ask “Where are the resources and who will be accountable for delivery?
  • Make the case for a small inexpensive phase one along the lines of the ‘Fail-Fast, Fail-Cheap’ mantra.
  • Start to estimate a rough-order-of-magnitude cost – both overall and, more accurately for the first phase of the change journey.
  • Do a detailed risk assessment with rationale.
  • Communicate widely and listen to feedback!


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Depending on the complexity size of the change, one pass of these cycles will probably take anything from a few days, or to a few weeks if meetings are hard to schedule. And you’re not done yet! Remember I said, as a rule-of-thumb, you need to go through at least three cycles through the four focuses. The good news is the other cycles will be much faster (probably 10-20% of the first).


Warning to the reader: I’ve oversimplified this cycle a bit! What usually happens is that you’ll find yourself jumping around the focus areas and that you will find yourself doing more loops back and forth between adjacent pairs, rather than the whole cycle: for example Find & Join, Join & Slice, Slice & Arrange. However, after the first pass of all four focus areas, it’s still worth doing another two or three – even if that’s done with a smaller team of colleagues in a half-day workshop.


I plan to write a chapter on each focus area with examples, patterns and suggested tools.


Feedback these early thoughts most welcome!

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