The Scrum framework, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), the .NET framework, the React framework… The world of software development is full of frameworks. But we don’t need a framework for everything.
Is DNA a framework? Is your government a framework? Is the English language a framework? I don’t think so. They are usually not described as such. Wikipedia describes DNA as “a molecule composed of two chains that coil around each other to form a double helix carrying genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known organisms”.
A government is “the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state”. And a language is “a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance, and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so.”
DNA, governments, and languages are examples of dynamic systems of rules. A system of rules enables and guides the creation and evolution of repeatable, cohesive, evolving patterns. It allows for things such as species, cultures, and books to grow and be successful or to wither and die. Many things are possible with a system of rules. The possibilities are almost endless.
Frameworks are a slightly different concept. A framework is a basic, supporting structure. The purpose of a framework is to give form to something and then to constrain how it can grow and evolve. The possibilities are more restricted than with a system of rules.
We cannot capture anything that is boundlessly evolving and changing in a framework. There are no frameworks to constraint organisms, cultures, and books. These complex systems evolve, while guided and not constricted by the simple rules of their underlying systems, which themselves are always changing. Or, to put it more simply:
A framework directs and constrains what evolves. A system of rules enables and guides what evolves.
The difference seems subtle, but it matters. Continuous transformation seems not possible with a restrictive framework. DNA, governments, and languages are not frameworks. And neither is the Shiftup Program.
Shiftup is a program for continuous innovation. It offers a dynamic set of simple rules and models for organizations to transform themselves continuously. For example, one of its fundamental rules is:
Each innovative idea that evolves into a successful business (either an individual value stream or an entire business model) follows a natural progression of lifecycle stages or maturity levels.
Another rule is:
The iterative and incremental approach to continuous innovation (promoted with Agile, Lean, Design Thinking, and Lean Startup methods) applies to all value streams and business models across all lifecycle stages.
There are more rules in the Shiftup Program, but they don’t matter for now. What matters is that we should stop talking about frameworks because frameworks put limits on what is possible. But innovative organizations should not feel constrained by frameworks. Species, cultures, and books evolve thanks to their dynamic systems of rules. We should similarly treat organizations.