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Any decision making is simply chaotic process — You should learn Cynefin
Created in 1999 by Dave Snowden when he worked for IBM Global Services, it has been described as a “sense-making device. The Cynefin…
Created in 1999 by Dave Snowden when he worked for IBM Global Services, it has been described as a “sense-making device. The Cynefin framework is a conceptual framework used to aid decision-making.
I first met the Cynefin Framework back in 2005. I had been appointed to be the project manager for a US$ 3 million manufacturing project. Although I already had experience with other projects of significant investment value, this particular project featured numerous new variables.
Many of which I did not know, or even I did not know if I could control them. Yes, I was worried and excited at the same time by the new puzzle (challenge). Fifteen engineers, four programmers, ten technicians, one controller and one BI analyst; this was the project team, all this, plus three different nationalities (languages). A new product with a new technology.
For this project, I decided that we would use PRINCE2 as a project management method. Why I choose PRINCE2? I answer that question in this other article. ( PRINCE2 ® = PRojects IN a Controlled Environment)
Different Problems Need Different Solutions
How often have you seen someone try to handle a complicated situation in an overly-simplistic way and then be confused when it failed? I had it before. That why I was looking for a new method to support myself and my team for the project.
And why did I needed Cynefin? In a simplified way, the Cynefin framework exists to help us realize that all situations are not created equal. It also helps to understand that different problems require different responses to navigate them successfully.
Any problem can be dissected into variables. Identifying variables is the basis for solving the problem. Sounds obvious, but it is not. Identifying what a problem variable is can be a daunting challenge for anyone. Complex or complicated problems hardly have a single variable.
The variable of a problem is not necessarily its cause, but a factor that directly affects the solution of the problem. It is important to remember that a variable may or may not be controlled.
The five domains of Cynefin — Introduction
Cynefin offers five decision-making domains or “contexts”; they are: obvious ( simple), complicated, complex, chaotic, and the centre is disorder.
The goal of the framework is to help us in the decision-making process by using the domains. Therefore, a “sense of place,” or rather a “sense of belonging” is important for analyzing behaviour and making decisions.
There is an order, a sense among the domains. The goal is to navigate between them. So if you identify your problem in the complex domain, the challenge is to understand it so that you can take it to the complicated domain and perhaps even the obvious.
Obvious is the domain of the best practices.
Characteristics: Solving the problem requires minimal knowledge. Call centers are the best demonstration of this domain; most issues addressed are handled through pre-written scripts. The problems are known and have already been resolved it by you or others. The solutions are obvious.
Approach: Problems here are well known. The correct approach is to sense the situation, categorize it into a known bucket, and apply a well-known and potentially scripted solution.
Complicated is the domain of good practices.
Characteristics: You probably know the questions you need to answer, and you know how to get them. Assessing the situation requires expert knowledge to determine the most appropriate solutions. Over time, you will be able to identify risks and devise an effective action plan reasonably. Prior knowledge (experience) is required, but the work is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Approach: Sense the problem and analyze it. Apply expert knowledge to assess the situation and determine a course of action. Execute the plan.
Complex is the domain of emergent solutions.
Characteristics: There are unknown unknowns — you don’t even know the right questions to ask. Also, beginning to understand the problem requires experimentation. The final solution is only apparent once discovered. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but it was not apparent at the outset. No matter how much time you spend in analysis, it is not possible to identify the risks or accurately predict the solution or effort required to solve the problem.
Approach: Develop and experiment to gather more knowledge. Execute and evaluate. As you gather more knowledge, determine your next steps. Repeat as necessary to move your problem into the “Complicated” domain.
Chaotic is the domain of novel solutions.
Characteristics: As its name suggests, this is where things get a little crazy or fun (depends on you). Anything could happen, things got off track, and the immediate priority is to contain the problem — for example, production defects. Your initial focus is to contain the problem. Your initial solution may not be the best, but as long as it works, it’s good enough. Once you stop the bleeding, you can catch a breathe and determine a permanent solution.
Approach: Triage. Once you have a measure of control, assess the situation and determine the next steps. Take action to remediate or move your problem to another domain.
Disorder is the space in the middle.
Characteristics: Many people confuse chaos and disorder. The big difference is that in chaos, you can still find palliative solutions to your problem. Now, if you don’t know where you are, and you’re completely lost, welcome to “Disorder.” The priority in this domain to get out of it, move it to a known domain.
Approach: Gather more info on what you know or identify what you don’t know. Get enough info to move to a more defined domain.
Moving across domains
At first glance, it may seem complicated to use Cynefin, and honestly, it is. Like any new knowledge, there is a valuable learning curve.
I’ve been using it for over ten years, and today it’s already embedded in my day-to-day decision making. As you start using it, you will gain new knowledge not only of the framework but also of the problems that will “solve” with it. Start with simple problems, use them in your daily life and incorporate increasingly complex situations.
There is a “clockwise shift” from chaotic to complex and complicated to obvious. Similarly, an “accumulation of bias,” complacency or lack of maintenance can cause a “catastrophic failure”: a clockwise movement from obvious to chaotic, represented by the “fold” between these domains.
Counterclockwise movement can also happen. The best-known example is when a person who has a unique knowledge deceased, therefore this exclusive knowledge is forgotten. So you will go from the obvious to the chaotic in the blink of an eye.
Cynefin can be applied to countless situations, projects, processes or simply in our daily lives. The key is to match the right approach with the situation so that you will achieve the best results.
I hope I have helped and shared something handy to me. I will share more about Cynefin soon.
You Can Read More
Cognitive Edge: The Origins of Cynefin
Harvard Business Review: A Leader’s framework for decision making
IBM Systems Journal: The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.