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TBM 25/52: In Defense of Frameworks (and Process)
In this post I am going to defend frameworks and processes.
“That’s unlike you,” remarked a friend. “I thought you were all about flexibility and inventing your own frameworks!”
You have a process—no matter what. It may be flexible. It may be implicit. It may involve a lot of spot-judgment. But it is a process.
Similarly, you use frameworks-—no matter what. Even if you think you don’t! Implicit frameworks, meta-frameworks, subconscious frameworks, franken-frameworks, and anti-framework frameworks…they are still frameworks.
Our brain runs on pattern-matching frameworks and “processes”. In fact, they help us reduce cognitive load, and focus our energy expenditure on things that matter.
But frameworks and processes get a bad rap—for good reasons:
A lot of frameworks are poorly designed. They are not safe. They don’t come with prerequisites, warning labels, and/or expiration dates. They are context-free and lack mechanisms to make them context-aware. How many frameworks do you know that explicitly mention when you should stop using them? Not many.
It is tempting to make “adopting the framework” (or selling the framework) the goal, instead of using the framework as a tool to achieve a goal. Companies talk about Doing X as the goal, not about what Doing X will enable. Time passes, and the company forgets the Why, and it is all about process/framework conformance. Whole cottage (and in some cases mega) industries emerge to support specific frameworks. Oddly, they don’t turn away customers!
Most frameworks weren’t designed for broad use. They were designed for a particular context, with lots of implicit context. This partially explains #1.
Combined, #1 + #2 = danger; especially when combined with profit motives and professional identity. There’s a lot to be said for being highly skeptical of framework/processes. #3 is a bit more nuanced. Should people creating frameworks for their local context worry too much about people copying what they are doing? Probably not, but it happens.
But here’s the problem.
We’re hypocrites! All of us.
Consider when someone says you just need leadership, experience, humility, and trust, not frameworks. But then proceeds to put people in boxes, create deterministic models for leadership, come up with a bevy of handy three category models, and talk about a tiered product manager performance framework. Whoops. There it is! It turns out we deride frameworks and processes when we didn’t invent them, and when they are imposed on us.
We’re highly rational and first-principled when it comes to our own models. But that other stuff sucks. We laugh when other people latch onto a framework and copy it. And in the same breath, take a luminary's words as gospel. It is copy-paste when others do it. And inspiration when we do it.
Consider the person who is told they aren’t “leadership material”. When asked what leadership material is, or how they accumulate said material, they gave a half-assed answer. In many cases, it turns out leadership material is people-who-act-and-think-like-me-and-share-my-values material. Turns out there was a framework/model! It was implicit and rife with bias.
What a privilege it is to say that all frameworks suck. That you should just vibe your way into anything you do. And first principles? Funny how many first principles are built on top of certain worldviews. They aren’t first.
Critically scrutinize all frameworks and processes
Do your best to understand the intent and surrounding context
Be highly suspect of anything sold. Work to understand motives
Imagine frameworks and processes as tools. Are they doing their job?
Surface implicit frameworks and models
Consider the experience of people who are not like you
Co-design frameworks and working agreements with your team
When sharing frameworks, do your best to share context
Put an expiration date on anything you try
Make your environment as accessible as possible to newcomers
Talk openly about the implicit biases ingrained in the models you use
Frameworks, models, and processes help us learn, collaborate, lighten cognitive load (when appropriate), and pay attention (when appropriate).
Better and safer frameworks!