What Makes Profitable Frameworks Rise Above the Relaxation

Frameworks are all over the place in enterprise. Some, such because the BCG progress share matrix, Porter’s 5 Forces, and SWOT evaluation, have had an enduring affect on enterprise technique and apply. And lots of managers have created frameworks associated to their very own work. However why do some frameworks change the world whereas others … not a lot? And the way can enterprise leaders finest assess and strengthen the analytical frameworks they use?

What’s in a Framework?

Any type of coherent considering entails some type of conceptual framing. Conceptual frameworks are psychological representations that order expertise in ways in which allow us to understand it. Whereas philosophers and cognitive scientists dedicate a great deal of thought to those constructs, few of us ponder the matter a lot, regardless of how usually we use a specific framework.1

Take the ever-present revenue (P&L) assertion for example: It’s a easy but highly effective solution to make sense of the myriad transactions that happen in a enterprise. As soon as we’ve framed monetary exchanges as both revenues or bills, we will start asking and analyzing vital questions concerning the enterprise (equivalent to “Why are we shedding cash?”). By including an additional dimension of property and liabilities — utilizing a steadiness sheet framework — we will derive an enormous vary of ratios and relationships that present additional perception for managing and valuing the enterprise. These ideas — income, expense, asset, legal responsibility — are so acquainted that we could not even acknowledge them as conceptual buildings. But there’s nothing inherent on this steadiness system, and it’s attainable to think about different accounting techniques.2

Whereas all frameworks are primarily arbitrary methods of sorting knowledge, some are so highly effective and pervasive that they form how we see the world. What units the very best ones aside? Beneath is a rubric of seven standards for evaluating enterprise frameworks.


To be efficient, a framework should cowl a broad spectrum of the area it seeks to clarify. Such frameworks are both empirically complete (encompassing a wide selection of parts that statement and expertise have proven to be vital) or logically complete (structured in a method that makes them full by definition).

Take the instance of McKinsey’s empirically complete 7S mannequin of organizational effectiveness, which has proved to be an everlasting administration assemble.3 The mannequin was developed within the late Seventies to explain how a number of organizational “levers” should be aligned to allow excessive efficiency.4 On the time, most organizational technique targeted on a single s, construction — the formal hierarchical and reporting relationships in an organization’s org chart. By increasing the evaluation to incorporate different parts of organizational context — technique, techniques, expertise, type, employees, and shared values — the 7S mannequin represents a extra full and helpful account of inner components affecting efficiency. There may be not, nonetheless, an a priori cause there must be precisely seven parts of the mannequin (moderately than, say, 5 or 12), not to mention a cause they need to all begin with the letter s. It’s attainable that there could also be one thing lacking from this mannequin.

In distinction, the Eisenhower matrix of time administration is logically complete. On this framework, purportedly developed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and popularized by Stephen Covey, all attainable duties could be organized into considered one of 4 containers created by the intersection of two axes: the significance of the duty and the urgency of the duty.5

Consultants famously love 2×2 matrices, used to signify all the things from product portfolios to situational management methods. The explanation for his or her recognition could be summed up by the acronym MECE: mutually unique, collectively exhaustive. A framework is MECE whether it is composed of distinct, non-overlapping classes (mutually unique) and if these classes collectively cowl all attainable parts (collectively exhaustive). As a result of well-constructed 2×2 matrices are at all times MECE, they’re logically complete. (Credit score for the idea of MECE goes to Barbara Minto, McKinsey’s first feminine MBA rent in 1963 and an influential determine within the historical past of administration consulting and the event of analytical frameworks.)6

Whereas comprehensiveness is vital, it’s not sufficient by itself. At worst, complete frameworks are merely tautological. Think about a mannequin that proposes that there are two varieties of individuals: those that consider that there are two varieties of individuals, and those that don’t. True, however not useful. We’d like extra standards for evaluating the standard of analytical frameworks.

Utility and Validation

Maybe probably the most clear-cut criterion is that of utility: Does the framework inform us one thing helpful or attention-grabbing about one thing vital? The expansion share matrix, created by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) founder Bruce Henderson in 1970, is probably probably the most famend analytical framework in enterprise.7 Constructed on the perception that market management promotes sustainable benefit, the matrix provided a solution to reply a urgent query for then-dominant conglomerates and diversified industrial firms: easy methods to make investments sources throughout their product portfolios. The genius of the software was that it offered a easy categorization of the product portfolio in a method that enabled managers to take motion.

A second dimension of utility could be referred to as adaptability — whether or not a mannequin could be tailor-made to use in several circumstances with completely different info. Once more, the BCG progress share matrix (or BCG matrix) confirmed its utility on this regard. A rising military of BCG consultants fanned out throughout the globe to implement the matrix in several industries.8 At its peak, the framework was utilized by practically half of all Fortune 500 firms and propelled BCG to prominence.

The following criterion, validation, is expounded to however separate from utility: Is the validity of the framework supported by empirical proof and observable knowledge? Insights concerning the sustainable price benefits conferred by market management, upon which the BCG matrix framework relies, emerged from BCG’s rigorous empirical analysis of the expertise curve impact.9 One other acknowledged framework, McKinsey’s granularity of progress, disaggregates income progress into three elements (market momentum, M&A, and adjustments in market share) to determine pockets of progress alternative. The most effective frameworks produce dependable insights which might be grounded in observable knowledge. The McKinsey framework is powered by a database of a whole bunch of firms throughout a variety of industries and subsegments.

The economist and Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson famously asserted that the speculation of comparative advantage was one of many few propositions within the social sciences that was neither false nor trivial. That’s the candy spot for the standards of validation and utility: non-false and nontrivial.

Readability, Memorability, and Integration

The following three standards are linked to what could be referred to as the “magnificence” of a framework, however they have an effect on extra than simply aesthetics. These vital components contribute to the usability and distinctiveness of a mannequin.

Readability covers quite a few associated concepts, equivalent to familiarity, simplicity, and parsimony. Frameworks that use commonsense language in a acquainted method are simpler to know and use. The power of a mannequin to simplify info and relationships in a method that brings them nearer to instinct can reduce via complexity to facilitate evaluation. Parsimony refers to the concept frameworks must be economical in limiting the variety of explanatory components to absolutely the minimal. Multilevel fashions with dozens of classes, drivers, and subdrivers could obtain comprehensiveness on the expense of comprehensibility. Framework makers ought to try to observe the dictum attributed to Albert Einstein: Issues must be made so simple as attainable, however not easier.

Construction, visible depiction, or language will help make a framework memorable. The BCG matrix’s use of symbols and animals (star, cow, canine, and query mark) makes it immediately recognizable and helps individuals keep in mind the classes. Likewise, the choice to make use of seven sibilant phrases for the 7S mannequin absolutely performed a job in its enduring success. And anybody who has ever taken a advertising course will in all probability recall that there are 4 P’s and 5 C’s to think about in any marketing strategy.10 Within the crowded market of concepts, attention-grabbing phrases and photos can assist recall and make concepts sticky.

Integration evaluates the consistency and coherence of the mannequin and the extent to which it hangs collectively logically. Fashions that supply many explanatory components could endure from weak integration if how the varied parts work collectively or the relative affect of every is unclear. For instance, can strengths in some areas compensate for deficiencies elsewhere? Does the framework supply a perspective on which components to prioritize or easy methods to sequence efforts to optimize specific parts? Frameworks can even fail to be built-in if supporting concepts and buildings are poorly ordered or inconsistent with the overarching thesis.


A framework could be differentiated from others both by recombining acquainted parts in a particular method or by proposing novel parts that allow customers to see issues and take motion in a brand new method.

When Michael Porter proposed in 1980 that there have been a small variety of “generic methods” that firms might undertake in pursuit of aggressive benefit, this was information.11 Technique within the Seventies had been dominated by the pursuit of market share and scale in accordance with the logic of the expertise curve. Porter’s argument that firms wanted to decide on among the many price management, differentiation, and focus methods — with assistance from many new analytical frameworks — made his method extremely distinctive.

Twenty-five years later, proponents of the blue ocean technique sought to upend Porter’s aggressive technique, claiming that firms might break the trade-off between price and differentiation and render competitors irrelevant by innovating completely new market areas.12 This novel tackle technique once more required new analytical instruments, such because the technique canvas and the 4 actions framework. Whereas frameworks needn’t break completely new theoretical floor, they need to supply a fruitful perception or a helpful perspective that others don’t.

Like the principle character in Molière’s play The Bourgeois Gentleman, who’s shocked to find that he has been talking prose all his life, we could not at all times understand after we are utilizing conceptual frameworks. Nonetheless, we acknowledge them as important administration instruments. Utilizing the seven standards mentioned right here will help anybody create more practical frameworks for his or her enterprise.


1. For one of many few examinations of this subject, see J. Gerring, “What Makes a Idea Good? A Criterial Framework for Understanding Idea Formation within the Social Sciences,” Polity 31, no. 3 (spring 1999): 357-393.

2. See, for instance, a dialogue of historic accounting strategies in China in W. Yuan, R. Macve, and D. Ma, “The Growth of Chinese language Accounting and Bookkeeping Earlier than 1850: Insights From the Tŏng Tài Shēng Enterprise Account Books (1798-1850),” working paper 220, London College of Economics and Political Science, Might 2015.

3. R. Waterman, T.J. Peters, and J.R. Phillips, “Construction Is Not Group,” Enterprise Horizons 23, no. 3 (June 1980): 14-26.

4. McKinsey’s 7S is referred to by its creators as a mannequin moderately than a framework. In some technical disciplines, the phrases “mannequin” and “framework” are used to discuss with various things. For the needs of this text, I exploit the 2 phrases interchangeably.

5. S.R. Covey, “The Seven Habits of Extremely Efficient Folks: Restoring the Character Ethic” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989).

6. Barbara Minto has spent most of her profession growing and instructing strategies for structuring considering, writing, and problem-solving in line with the Minto Pyramid Precept (B. Minto, “The Minto Pyramid Precept: Logic in Writing, Considering, & Drawback Fixing” [London: Minto International, 1996]). Whereas most individuals pronounce the time period “MECE” to rhyme with “greasy,” Minto insists that it must be pronounced as a single syllable to rhyme with “niece.” See “Barbara Minto: ‘MECE: I Invented It, So I Get to Say Find out how to Pronounce It,’” McKinsey, accessed Jan. 27, 2021, www.mckinsey.com.

7. By this level, it must be evident that a lot of the frameworks cited on this article have “been across the block.” The intention was to decide on examples that may be acquainted to many readers and level out among the parts which have led to their profitable use and endurance. Whereas not all of those frameworks rating excessive throughout all factors of the rubric, probably the most profitable constructs hit the mark on most of the analysis standards.

8. Within the decade of the Seventies, BCG grew from 62 consultants in two places of work to 277 consultants and 7 places of work.

9. The experience curve concept, first launched by Bruce Henderson of BCG, holds that an organization’s unit manufacturing prices falls by a predictable quantity for every doubling of “expertise,” or accrued manufacturing quantity.

10.The 4 P’s are product, worth, place, and promotion; the 5 C’s are firm, clients, collaborators, competitors, and local weather.

11. M.E. Porter, “Aggressive Technique: Methods for Analyzing Industries and Rivals” (New York: Free Press, 1980).

12. W.C. Kim and R. Mauborgne, “Blue Ocean Technique: Find out how to Create Uncontested Market Area and Make the Competitors Irrelevant” (Boston: Harvard Enterprise College Press, 2005).