Everything You Need to Know about the Cynefin Framework by@williammeller

Everything You Need to Know about the Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework helps leaders to make decisions in context, distinguishing different domains to match the reality before applying the right management tool. The framework offers five decision-making contexts or domains: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and a centre of confusion or disorder. This enhances communication and helps executives rapidly understand the context in which they are operating.
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William Meller

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The Cynefin Framework helps leaders to make decisions in context, distinguishing different domains to match the reality before applying the right management tool.

Cynefin (pronounced kuh-nev-in) is a Welsh word for habitat that signifies the multiple, intertwined factors in our environment and our experience that influence us (how we think, interpret and act) in ways we can never fully understand. 

To be simple, it is a conceptual framework used for decision-making. 
Created in 1999 by Dave Snowden when he worked for IBM Global Services, it has been described as a sense-making management tool.

The tools and the approach we use to quickly solve a fire cannot be the same as what would be used to build a bridge. Just as the methods we use to make french fries cannot be the same as the methods we use to build software.

The Cynefin Framework Explained

Cynefin offers five decision-making contexts or domains: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and a centre of confusion or disorder.

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Simple: this is "the known" environment, where we’ve seen this a million times and as such can categorize and respond according to established best practices. The relationship between cause and effect is well known.

Complicated: this is "the knowable" environment, where we don’t immediately know what is needed with all details, we can analyze the situation and come to a conclusion of what must be done and (normally) a specialist in the area can find a way to solve it following a structured plan. We can enlist experts to analyze, set up constraints and a process addressing resolution.

Complex: this is "the unknowable" environment, where we’re not able to determine what will cause a particular result or even don't know what is going to be the solution/product in the end exactly. The best course of action is to conduct experiments and check if any or all take us in the correct direction, pivoting solutions and using feedback to know what is going to be the next steps.

Chaotic: this is "the incoherent" environment, where the situation is very unstable. We don’t have time to experiment or probe since the situation is dire, and we need to act right now and fast.

Disorder: this is the confusion or "not determined" environment, anything whose domain has not been determined falls into this domain. The relationships between cause and effect are impossible to determine because they shift constantly and no manageable patterns exist, only turbulence and chaos.

"... In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty..." - David J. Snowden

Different environments and problems to be solved, need different approaches, different tools and different methods. That's why in management we have different methodologies and frameworks because we can't just try to use a silver bullet to solve all types of problems.

Using the Cynefin Framework

Using this approach, leaders learn to define the framework with examples from their own organization’s history and scenarios of its possible future. This enhances communication and helps executives rapidly understand the context in which they are operating.

"... Business schools and organizations equip leaders to operate in ordered domains (simple and complicated), but most leaders usually must rely on their natural capabilities when operating in unordered contexts (complex and chaotic). In the face of greater complexity today, however, intuition, intellect, and charisma are no longer enough. Leaders need tools and approaches to guide their firms through less familiar waters..." - David J. Snowden

Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes.

Good leadership requires openness to change on an individual level. Truly adept leaders will know not only how to identify the context they’re working in at any given time but also how to change their behavior and their decisions to match that context.

This Framework should be always considered! So, next time you go through these crazy conversations discussing if agile or waterfall methodologies are better or worst. There's no comparison needed, just the right or wrong environment.

I hope you enjoyed!

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