Organizational decision-makers can benefit from taking lessons from other disciplines, such as complexity science and systems theory. Using the Cynefin Framework, or “Cynefin” for short, leaders can determine which organizational context they are in, so that they can make better decisions and avoid problems that might arise if they continue with “business as usual.” Dave Snowden first articulated the Cynefin Framework in the late 1990s. Cynefin takes its name from a Welsh word which has no equivalent in English, a word that signifies that many factors are at work in our immediate environment, and that those factors interact in ways that we often struggle to fully understand.
In Cynefin, there are five contexts (domains), and cause and effect relationships differ in each of those domains. The first four domains are simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic, where each one suggests a particular approach for leaders to take to better understand the situation and to act in ways that are appropriate for that context. The fifth domain is disorder, in which case there is a lack of clarity about which of the other four domains is predominant. In many organizations, more than one domain may be operational at the same time; for instance, there might be a web development business unit in an organization which focuses on product development and is in the complex domain, while in the same organization there might be Operations functions that are best characterized by the complicated domain.
To help with understanding the Cynefin Framework and its potential application, agility often fits in the complex domain, while lean often fits in the complicated domain. Consider what Jonathan Smart says in the book Sooner, Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility: “Software benefits from both an agile and lean approach. The software binary is agile-created and the path to production is lean … Periodically there will be step-change agile experimentation in the path to production and then back into lean again. Software is an agile-created box on a lean conveyor belt.”
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Authored by Philip Rogers
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