Who Needs Frameworks?

Mihai Ionescu - Senior Strategy Consultant, Owner Balanced Scorecard Romania, Author.

This is a short one, but for many fellows in need of a logical argument, it may come handy. It's certainly useful for me, as I encounter again and again people trying to solve major, strategic problems by attempting all sorts of tentative solutions, until they reach the right one. Finally.

The Trial & Error Approach

In many managerial roles, we have to solve problems, fight fires in the most diverse areas of our organization or department. That's our daily job: to spot problems, find solutions and apply them.

In small sizes, most current (operational) problems can be solved in this quick-fix way. But what about the cases when the same problem pops-up repeatedly, maybe with a different color or shape, but mostly ... the same?

Might we have a bigger, more profound root-problem, more strategic in nature, that is the cause of the effects that we encounter as more-or-less frequently occurring issues?

So, what do we do then? Take the same quick-fix approach? In most case, we can't, because the root-problem may be too big and too complex to give up in front of our quick-fix arrows. And we often have to deal with it for the first time.

That's why we take a bigger-gun approach, dealing with our root-problem like a full-blown change project, expected to produce the right solution that will solve this nightmare for good. We put together our brilliant minds, make our best guesses, remember old inspirational rules-of-thumb and give it a shot. Failed! We try again. Not really a good solution either, so we count one more failure.

But we are committed to finding the right solution and, in the end, in a way or another, sooner or later, after one or more attempts ... bingo!, we land on the right solution that cures our root-problem, in a correct and lasting way.

What a joy! We are now one inch smarter, because we've just discovered how such problem can be solved. But what we did was to take the Trial & Error route, which has costed us time, money, or even more. Was this the only path we could choose?

The Framework Approach

The question is: Have we been the first ones who ever encountered this problem?Often, that's unlikely. And exactly for this reason, some people with less pressure from daily managerial duties (usually, academics or consultants) have invested their time in studying cases like ours, synthesizing and abstracting the multiple instances of similar Specific Problems, occurring in various organizations. The outcome of their research has been a class of problems, called Typical Problem.

What they did then was to analyze the patterns of such problems and of the solutions that different people in different organizations have employed to cure them. The result is a set of principles, best practices and methodologies, that is called Typical Solution.

Great! So they've produced a coherent pair of Typical Problem-Solution construct that they call Framework. But, wait! A Framework is something that can be applied to Typical Problems, not to our Specific Problem.

So, how do we use the Framework in our case? Here comes the reversed process to Synthesis & Abstraction, which is the Customization & Application of the Framework, usually described in an implementation methodology that is, most often, part of the Framework, as well. Now, we're talking!

The case of Strategy Management

I'm quoting Dr. David Norton, one of the 'parents' of the Balanced Scorecard:

Logic says that we have to manage Strategy. But, in many organizations, there is no process to manage it, and the need for such process hasn't dawned in the minds of those executives, because they never had it, hence they can't miss it.

Question: Have you ever observed (from the inside or from the outside) an organization that struggles to find Specific Solutions to their major, strategic Specific Problems?

If they are embarked on a quest to finding such solutions by Trial & Error, what advice would you give to the executives of organizations like that?

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