Frameworks to Keep in Mind

This article is cross-post with PM101, a product and program management blog written by Thaisa Fernandes. A big thank you to Thaisa for sharing her time and knowledge. If you like this article, there’s tons more over at PM101!

My name is Thaisa Fernandes, I’m currently a Program Manager at Twitter working with the Platform Solutions team. During my free time, I write about the product and program management world at PM101 and record episodes for Latinx in Power which is a podcast with the goal of demystifying tech interviewing Latinxs leaders around the globe.

I wanted to share about three frameworks that I enjoy and help me to be a better program manager. They’re the 80/20 rule, cone of uncertainty, and also the SBI (Situation Behavior Impact) framework.

80/20 Rule

It’s also called the Pareto principle or the law of the vital few. The framework came from Vilfredo Pareto who was an Italian economist and noticed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. After researching a little bit more about it, he found out this pattern repeated in many different areas. This principle is about the universal truth about the imbalance of inputs and outputs.

I know it might sound complex, but the fact is that you won’t need to do complex math to be able to use this framework. It’s much more simple than that. Although the name is 80/20, it doesn’t mean the numbers should always be 80% and 20%, the Pareto principle is more about finding imbalance than the numbers per se. Think of those two numbers as a baseline.

After I studied more about this framework, I could see those imbalances more easily with that I was able to see my priorities, features to be launched, and programs differently. The goal of the framework is to help you identify what is bringing you and your team where the majority of results/impact are coming and start tackling them first. It will help you to focus and also ask questions you might never have asked before.

How this framework can help you

  • Find the small things (20%) that give you the biggest results (80%). Work smarter and prioritize what will deliver better results and value.
  • Understand typical distributions no matter what the numbers are (the point isn’t the ratio but the imbalance).
  • Apply the 80/20 rule to almost any situation if not all situations since 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
  • Change the way you plan and accomplish your projects, you’ll probably get some insights and thoughts about how you should prioritize specific features, for example.

Steps to apply the 80/20 Rule

  • Identify your key tasks based on your goals.
  • List what’s standing in the way of your priorities.
  • Clarify the tasks that are currently blocked.
  • Come up with a plan to unlock those tasks with your team.
  • Use the 80/20 rule to find out which tasks will bring you 80% of the results.
  • Work smarter and hopefully you’ll start to see the results faster.

Cone of Uncertainty Framework

I heard about this framework when I did the test to get the Product Owner certification by The cone of uncertainty is a framework for the estimation process with a high-low range of probabilities to help to determine the most likely course of action. That could be calculated using formulas and also empirically based on previous project estimates.

We usually have more uncertainties at the beginning of a project since there’s a lot of unknowns when you’re starting something new. As more work is finalized, the uncertainties will gradually reduce. Using the Cone of Uncertainty will help your team to understand the unpredictability ranges especially in software development where the environment is constantly changing including the business objectives and technologies available.

Empiricism is a great ally of this framework because it’s incredibly easier to measure something based on previous and similar experiences to predict the most likely scenario. Agile helps develop the estimate, and of course the team constantly estimates as more is learned. The goal is not the estimation per se but more importantly to evaluate if the targets proposed are realistic enough to be controlled.

How this framework can help you

  • Decrease ambiguity by calculating a high and low range of probabilities.
  • Have a better understanding of the amount of risk the team is comfortable taking.
  • Help to determine the most likely estimate range and incremental funding needed.
  • Reinforce the importance of additional research needed.

Steps to apply the Cone of Uncertainty framework

  • The best way to estimate is empirically that asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known.
  • Include a range of uncertainties in your estimate and variabilities that will decrease as the project develops since the beginning has a higher amount of risk usually.
  • Keep in mind that early commitments will account for more uncertainties and risks to your project. It’s important to manage the stakeholder’s expectations and include this framework in the discussions with the team.
  • Estimates need to be reviewed and rechecked regularly as more is known about the project.

The Situation Behavior Impact Framework

This year I have been exploring the subject of feedback and how to ask for it since we’re always interacting with people in meetings, during 1:1’s, and also providing input and feedback in documents. During my research, I came across the situation behavior impact framework. In my opinion, the great thing about the SBI framework is that you can use it in different scenarios including for positive and negative feedback as long as observations.

SBI stands for the Situation, Behavior, and Impact. The situation is where it happened, the behavior means you’ll describe the behaviors you want to address without any judgment, you’ll only describe the person or team behavior, and lastly, the impact which means the effects of that behavior you’re talking about.

Who never experienced a situation where you thought everything was going well and everyone knew what was decided and what they were supposed to do, but in fact, they had different points of view of that situation? I think the SBI model can help to deliver more effective and better feedback since the framework is straightforward and simple to implement. Sometimes it happens with everyone and we start to create stories in our heads based on insecurities or past experiences, so I feel this framework can help make everything more clear.

How this framework can help you

  • The process of having a framework to follow helps the team member to deliver better, clear, straightforward, and action-oriented feedback that will help you stay focused.
  • Encourage the team member who received the feedback to ask questions so you can clarify misunderstandings and understand better the intentions.
  • Ask open questions about the intentions since they can be super different from the actions. This can be an important moment to clarify things.
  • Giving and receiving feedback is a moment that can bring people together, understand different points of view and collaborate so take advantage of that.

Steps to apply the SBI framework

  • Situation: Describe the situation that happened clearly and concisely. Stick to the facts and do your best to not include any type of judgment.
  • Behavior: Describe the behavior with a curious point of view and simplify you want to know more. Again, don’t make any kind of assumption.
  • Impact: Describe how this action might have affected the team. It’s important to quantify this impact so people will have a better understanding of the situation. Think about an impact that can be measurable.

Thanks, David Cai for the partnership and invite to share some thoughts here with your audience. If you want to chat more and recommend a book or article, feel free to send me a tweet.

Additional Reading from PM101


I put together a 9-part course on algorithms designed for non-technical readers that's a great, gentle introduction to thinking like a programmer. Get the course for only $5, or download the first chapter.