On the job, we use the term “frame” or “framing a problem” in the context of project management.
You might hear somebody ask, “what’s the frame?” or “how have you framed the problem?”
The frame is effectively how you put a picture “frame” around the problem to look at it.
When somebody “re-frames” the question or the challenge, they change how you look at it or how you see it.
Frames Help You Look at Problems More Effectively
The heart of is really the dimensions and the scope. For example, what’s included in the frame and what’s outside of the frame. How you frame the problem sets the context and helps your prioritize what to focus on.
In this way, frames help you look at problems more effectively.
I use frames a lot here on Sources of Insight to chunk bigger problems down, as well as to organize and share information.
A frame, simply put, is a lens.
What’s a Frame
My favorite definition of framing is from our EE (Engineering Excellence) team at Microsoft:
The unlimited potential of software makes program management an incredibly exciting job. The unlimited potential of software also makes program management an incredibly important job.
At every milestone of every product cycle, feature teams face an essentially infinite set of possibilities. They can build almost anything they dream up. But to succeed, the team has to make smart choices about where to focus and what to build. In the face of endless possibility, how do feature teams make these choices?
Framing is the art of identifying what is truly important and separating the “could” from the “should.” Early in the planning stages of a project, program managers work with customers, planners, and other team members to define this frame and ensure that every member of the team understands and internalizes it.
Why Frame the Space?
According to our EE team, framing is a critical exercise:
The answers to these questions paint a landscape in which a product and its features will be built. The purpose of a frame is to narrow the focus on a clear and compelling vision that fits within this landscape. This link between vision and landscape is critical. A vision without this context if fragile and fails to provide teams with the basis for making the myriad of day to day decisions they inevitably face.
According to our EE team, to create the frame, the program manager starts by asking some broad questions:
- What are the customers and what are their needs and priorities?
- What is happening in the marketing place? What are competitors doing and what are our options for responding and differentiating?
- How is technology changing and what possibilities does it offer our customers?
- What are the priorities for our business?
Here are some of the example frames I’ve created to help create, find, organize and share information:
- The Change Frame – how to know whether to change yourself or the situation.
- The Improvement Frame – how to gauge progress for yourself.
- Life Frame – how to spend your time on the right things in life.
- Hot Spots – how to organize and prioritize where you put focus.
- Hot Spots for Life – how to invest in key areas for skilled living.
If you’re overwhelmed by information overload or trying to learn a new area, consider creating frames to make it easier to deal with.
Photo by Victor Bezrukov.