The power of designing in frameworks

Every team needs and wants to move fast. One way to speed up is to maximise the use of frameworks to manage information and decision-making.

The power of designing in frameworks

Every team needs and wants to move fast, especially at the front end of a product pipeline where objectives are urgently needed and dependent teams may face redeployment if sitting idle.

One way that teams can speed up is to maximise the use of frameworks instead of presentations to manage information and decision-making. For Path, this means creating diagrams, lists or maps that give us detailed catalogues of disparate topics, constantly evolving our working knowledge through managed assets rather than point-in-time conversations. We use such frameworks to help stakeholders navigate evolving work so they can make rapid decisions. Rapid, rigorous decision making is key to helping teams move faster.

Examples from recent projects include a visual index of all the ways we could create value exchange between a proposition and a consumer, or a catalogue of the customer service jobs-to-be-done by an organisation.

These frameworks are visually accessible packages of knowledge that allow the team to research and refine concepts, creating clear surveys of a particular body of knowledge. Packaging knowledge so explicitly and carefully allows us to separate the work of refining ideas from the communication of those ideas.

This separation helps us focus on the work without spending effort polishing it to make it presentable to stakeholders. We can communicate from the work, sharing it as it stands, in much the same way we showcase software as it evolves. The key here is insisting that the work remains an evolving artefact and avoiding the premature synthesis that so often accompanies stakeholder communication. We can focus on working the work and talk about it as a tangible artefact in a way that’s not always easy to do with ideas.

This is particularly helpful in embedded teams where you may be advancing multiple streams of knowledge simultaneously. Delaying to polish the communication of a single stream at a single point in time often carries an undesirable opportunity cost elsewhere.

This may be describing what your team does already. Design prototypes are a framework of interactivity. An experience map or service blueprint are frameworks of concepts and journeys. Software releases are frameworks, made up of libraries of code. We actually manage the evolution of our frameworks as semantically versioned “releases” in the same way as software.

There are some principles we’ve found make for more powerful frameworks.

  • A framework should contain mutually exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive (MECE) components
  • A framework should help you understand those components as a holistic pattern
  • A framework should help you (or a separate team) to decouple and focus on a group or a single component
  • A framework should help you manage the detail within each component
  • A framework should help you understand how your components relate to components in other frameworks
  • A framework should be visually accessible

The advantage of thinking of your knowledge production explicitly in this way is that it allows you to be upfront about the way you intend to organise and communicate your work. That explicitness allows teams to accelerate by being clear about the way they will work together.

Working this way helps you create both discipline and pace as you collaborate on research ideas, customer needs, product features, system components or design principles. Used comprehensively, they can create a powerful eco-system of knowledge that is both mutually interdependent and can be decoupled and worked on independently. We have created powerful systems that allowed research, product design, technology and business process teams to work at pace independently whilst collaboratively refining an aligned vision.

It helps if you can nurture a shared cultural commitment to work in this way by making your work as visually accessible and appealing as possible. This is surprisingly possible even when you are working in spreadsheets. Visual management offers well-understood advantages to all types of teams and even in a remote work environment, tools are emerging that make this kind of work easier.

Collaborative, online databases can turn your framework into a knowledge product available to the whole team. Services like Airtable, Notion, Miro or even Google Sheets can make your framework a live source of truth, integrated with your other tools. When your product feature framework integrates with your collaboration, research and project management tools you have powerful ways to look at both what you are creating and how you are doing it. We expect this type of integration to advance in leaps and bounds over the next few years.

Get all of this right and you have a culture that is able to easily scan an entire landscape and consider all possibilities fearlessly, whilst at the same time maintaining radical focus on current priorities. In our experience, the ability to balance those two perspectives, at scale, is the key to operating with both pace and ambition.

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