Framing: A frame is a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives that organize experiences, support perceptions, and may guide the thinking of individuals and organizations. It is subject to selective influences (perceptions).

Deeply held beliefs will sustain conflicting frames limiting the potential for a shared vision and increase the risk of a poor outcome. As Grant and Lee sat down to negotiate the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, each held a very different view of the outcome of the war and vision for the future of the country. The use of language is central to a frame. “Restoration” was the thought model General Lee and the Confederate South fully embraced for their legacy. “Reconstruction”, resonated in the voice of the North as the path forward based on principles espoused by President Lincoln. The gravitational pull of restoration in southern communities chaffed against insufficient restraint from the federal government creating many very difficult obstacles. Exploring problem and stakeholder framing in detail for greater understanding cannot be replaced, and must be assured at the start for project success.


Ambiguity:  Doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention

A stable platform for launch, whether Agile or Waterfall, is best achieved with a close examination under a bright light.

The initiating and planning processes of project design (charter, requirements, and design) contribute to building a deep sense of collective understanding a project. The work in each of these areas is where individuals ideally develop greater intrinsic motivation and commitment. This is key to sustaining prioritization of team attention, generating incremental successes, and building confidence early in a project. Facilitation and communication tools and techniques are the essential catalysts of a solid foundation.

In any endeavor outside of a crisis, it takes time for individual thinking to evolve. We offer a reference framework to guide self-critique. Have we (project manager, sponsor, executive leadership) invested sufficient hands-on time to help the project team and other stakeholders through this process?

Facilitated PM Ambiguity Resolution Model TM

  •  Understand: Clearly present the context and facts
    • Context diagram, requirements summary, sketches, etc.
    • Test assumptions
    • Build relationships
  • Appreciate: Does this idea or concept align with my individual values and interests? How does it align with my position and organization strategy? How will it really work?
    • Framing exercise, behavioral analysis, collaborative design work, etc.
    • I see reason to take initiative
    • An approach to change management begins to come into focus, a path forward
  • Embrace: Team is firing on all cylinders
    • Crafting a winning plan that factually explores risk and uncertainty.
    • Accountability is embraced
    • Roles and responsibilities in the new model provide additional opportunities for individuals to demonstrate leadership.

Opportunities to explore ambiguity as a group are more likely to converge on a common understanding, and more quickly than without a structured exercise. Managing this challenge must include both the immediate project team and extended stakeholder community.

Best Practice: Ambiguity must be effectively managed  at each stage for a project to meet stakeholder goals.

 April 2014

More Detail: Conscious thought (what we are aware of) and unconscious thought (biological functions):

In the conscious side:

  • Applying what we already know in a systematic approach
  • When we encounter something that does not match existing knowledge, we frame our understanding.

A collection of memories and experiences, a mental short-cut, we use to filter and interpret all the input we receive.

  • How to break the frame apart?
  • And create a new frame?

Techniques to identify frame, and adopt new frame: Ability to re-frame

  • Looking to find where the ground has shifted
  • New way of finding what the new problem is (Design Thinking) that has not been fully expressed

Using the original information, the ‘frame’ surrounding the issue can change perception without altering the actual facts.

  • Personas (create a new frame around) potential end-user
  • Extreme users
  • Journey map
  • Reframe as a complete system solution in a broad context vs. a tactical point offering or activity