The FOCUS Model

A Simple, Efficient Problem-Solving Approach

The FOCUS Model - A Simple, Efficient Problem-Solving Approach

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

In an ever-changing world, nothing stays perfect for long. To stay ahead of your competitors, you need to be able to refine your processes on an ongoing basis, so that your services remain efficient and your customers stay happy.

This article looks the FOCUS Model – a simple quality-improvement tool that helps you do this.

About the Model

The FOCUS* Model is a structured approach to Total Quality Management (TQM), and it is widely used in the health care industry.

The model is helpful because it uses a team-based approach to problem solving and to business-process improvement, and this makes it particularly useful for solving cross-departmental process issues. Also, it encourages people to rely on objective data rather than on personal opinions, and this improves the quality of the outcome.

It has five steps:

  1. Find the problem.
  2. Organize a team.
  3. Clarify the problem.
  4. Understand the problem.
  5. Select a solution.

Applying the FOCUS Model

Follow the steps below to apply the FOCUS Model in your organization.

Step 1: Find the Problem

The first step is to identify a process that needs to be improved. Process improvements often follow the Pareto Principle, where 80 percent of issues come from 20 percent of problems. This is why identifying and solving one real problem can significantly improve your business, if you find the right problem to solve.

According to a popular analogy, identifying problems is like harvesting apples. At first, this is easy – you can pick apples up from the ground and from the lower branches of the tree. But the more fruit you collect, the harder it becomes. Eventually, the remaining fruit is all out of reach, and you need to use a ladder to reach the topmost branches.

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.

If the problem isn't obvious, use these questions to identify possible issues:

  • What would our customers want us to improve?
  • How can we improve quality?
  • What processes don't work as efficiently as they could?
  • Where do we experience bottlenecks in our processes?
  • What do our competitors or comparators do that we could do?
  • What frustrates and irritates our team?
  • What might happen in the future that could become a problem for us?

If you have several problems that need attention, list them all and use Pareto Analysis, Decision Matrix Analysis, or Paired Comparison Analysis to decide which problem to address first. (If you try to address too much in one go, you'll overload team members and cause unnecessary stress.)

Step 2: Organize a Team

Your next step is to assemble a team to address 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, so emphasize how individuals will benefit from being involved.

If your first choice of team member isn't available, try to appoint someone close to them, or have another team member use tools like Perceptual Positioning and Rolestorming to see the issue from their point of view.

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.

According to "Total Quality Management for Hospital Nutrition Services," a key book on the FOCUS Model, an enthusiastic team may be keen to attack an "elephant-sized" problem, but the key to success is to break it down into "sushi-sized" pieces that can be analyzed and solved more easily.

Use the Drill Down technique to break big problems down into their component parts. You can also use the 5 Whys Technique, Cause and Effect Analysis, and Root Cause Analysis to get to the bottom of a problem.

Record the details in a problem statement, which will then serve as the focal point for the rest of the exercise (CATWOE can help you do this effectively.) Focus on factual events and measurable conditions such as:

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

The problem statement must be objective, so avoid relying on personal opinions, gut feelings, and emotions. Also, be on guard against "factoids" – statements that appear to be facts, but that are really opinions that have come to be accepted as fact.

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.

Dedicate plenty of time to this stage, as this is 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?

Use a Flow Chart or Swim Lane Diagram to organize and visualize each step; this can help you discover the stage at which the problem is happening. And try to identify any bottlenecks or failures in the process that could be causing problems.

As you develop your understanding, potential solutions to the problem may become apparent. Beware of jumping to "obvious" conclusions – these could overlook important parts of the problem, and could create a whole new process that fails to solve the problem.

Generate as many possible solutions as you can through normal structured thinking, brainstorming, reverse brainstorming, and Provocation. Don't criticize ideas initially – just come up with lots of possible ideas to explore.

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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. Decision Trees, Paired Comparison Analysis, and Decision Matrix Analysis are all useful tools for evaluating your options.

Once you've selected an idea, use tools such as Risk Analysis, "What If" Analysis, and the Futures Wheel to think about the possible consequences of moving ahead, and make a well-considered go/no-go decision to decide whether or not you should run the project.


People commonly use the FOCUS Model in conjunction with the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. Use this approach to implement your solutions in a controlled way.

Key Points

The FOCUS Model is a simple quality-improvement tool commonly used in the health care industry. You can use it to improve any process, but it is particularly useful for processes that span different departments.

The five steps in FOCUS are as follows:

  1. Find the problem.
  2. Organize a team.
  3. Clarify the problem.
  4. Understand the problem.
  5. Select a solution.

People often use the FOCUS Model in conjunction with the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which allows teams to implement their solution in a controlled way.

*Originator unknown. Please let us know if you know who the originator is.