Models and frameworks


Outside the world of mathematics, George Box is probably best known for his statement: "All models are wrong, but some are useful." When he said this, he was actually talking about statistical models, but his words have been taken and applied to many other fields. So let’s take a look at what makes models useful in the world of business.

Firstly, we need to clarify that we aren’t looking here at models that describe the type of business or payment style – B2C, pay-as-you-go, franchise, SAAS, etc. – but at the models and frameworks that we use within an organisation to represent how different aspects of the business function. These include:

Ideal client profiles and avatars

Customer journey mapping

Sales process outlines

Workflow mapping

Project timelines

Reporting trees

Organisation charts

Whether we express them using visual tools such as Gantt charts, flow charts, hierarchy charts and Venn diagrams, or simply write a summary of a process, these models help us visualise information, clarify structures and follow processes.

Are all models wrong?

You may think that some of the above examples are likely to be accurate – the hierarchy chart of an organisation, for example, is probably relatively simple to map. However, once a company has grown beyond a certain size, there are likely to be departmental re-organisations, and occasional vacancies, so, while the chart is generally accurate, at any specific moment it may be lacking information or certain areas may need updating. As Box’s comment suggests, the fact that the chart is not 100% accurate doesn’t mean it should be thrown away out of hand: it still retains some value.

Similarly, however popular they are, and whether we use them to describe an ideal client or a typical customer, most of us realise that avatars are unlikely to ever describe an actual person. That’s the whole point: they are a kind of “Platonic ideal”, an average of all averages. Any real person will vary in some way from this specification. But it is still a useful exercise to define these profiles and to use them as a guide in our marketing communications.

How can models be useful?

The whole point about these models and frameworks is that, despite their inaccuracies, they give us a useful representation of something slightly abstract and help us to visualise it and draw conclusions. There are a number of specific ways that models of this type can help:

Models help clarify our thoughts

As we define our models, we have to think deeply about the process, activity or other issue that we are describing. This helps us clarify our understanding of the issue. Even when we believe we have an apparently accurate model, we should still compare this against the reality. Where we find discrepancies, we may find this sheds new light on our understanding. Then we can revise the model and start over.

Models reveal patterns

As an extension of the clarity we gain through defining and using a model, we may find that it allows us to identify patterns, to discover similarities between processes, and to isolate “routines” that are common to different activities in our organisation. An improvement or streamlining in one area can then be applied to other areas where that some routine occurs, leading to greater efficiency across the whole organisation.

Models help us pass on information

One of the big barriers to growth in a small organisation is the lack of defined processes: if all that I know is locked up in my head, it’s impossible for me to convey it efficiently to someone else: it’s quicker for me to do things myself than to explain and delegate a task or role. By defining a model that lays out the steps of the processes involved in an activity, we can pass on the baton to new staff or colleagues far more easily. This clear definition of our processes also allows us to be more transparent with clients about how we will do the work they ask of us.

Models show us as experts

It’s hard to create a model of a process that you’ve never done or of a system that you know little about. An alternative way to look at this is that if we can produce a good model of something, it suggests that we are experts, who have “done this before”. This can help to reassure a prospect that we have the experience to complete the assignment and is particularly powerful if the model is part of our organisation’s own IP – a proprietary approach to something we are well versed in.

The fact that a chart is not 100% accurate doesn’t mean it should be thrown away out of hand: it still retains some value.

Models simplify the complex

Part of the reason for the inaccuracy of models is that they are intended to show the big picture and won’t usually include every possible detail or variation. What they do, therefore, is show a simplified version of a system, process or issue. This may well be sufficient to explain a concept to many stakeholders – they may need to have an idea of what’s involved, but not everyone has to understand the nuts and bolts. This simplification should not be forgotten, of course, and those who work at the detail level must remember that the model is not a complete picture: there is room for manoeuvre and for adaptation in any specific application.

In conclusion

While you will never be able to model all parts of your organisation’s activities, finding the right models and frameworks to describe processes, systems, structures and engagement is enormously important. Having the right models, described and communicated appropriately, so that they are understood by the people who need to understand, offers the potential to support and encourage business growth and efficiency.

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.
― W. Edwards Deming

If you need help formulating and explaining your business models, processes and systems effectively to your stakeholders – clients, staff, investors… – at Tantamount we specialise in simplifying the complex and communicating unfamiliar concepts clearly through well-chosen words and careful design. Why not give us a call on 0798 661 3437?