Real Options and the Cynefin Framework.

Next month I might join Karl Scotland, Simon Bennett, Steve Freeman, Jospeh Pelrine, Dave Snowden and others at the Complexity, Agile and Lean Mashup Alpha or “CALM” event. The event intends is to discover where Complexity Science can be applied to plug gaps that exist in Agile and Lean. I suspect the real reason for the event is to start developing material for a “Cynefin” course as applied to Agile and Lean. Anyway, I have purchased an option to attend the event but will wait to see how the Agenda (which is already written but not public) unfolds and evolves.

I first read the Cynefin white paper in 2003 and have been following it from afar ever since. It caused a big stir at XP Day when Dave Snowden delivered the keynote several years back. Cynefin contains some really cool ideas. The problem has allways been. “What do we use the Cynefin tools for”.

Yesterday Steve Freeman and I discussed the event and Cynefin.  Steve said the ability to classify things as “Simple”, “Complicated”, “Complex” and “Chaotic” with the associated rules for how you handle them is useful. One of the warnings in the Cynefin model is that things often tip from “simple” into “chaos”.

Now consider the Real Option “model” -

“Never commit early unless you know why.” – This guides me to avoid making commitments. Whenever I start a new role I always spend time sussing out the environment. From my experience, any environment that involves other people is never “simple” or “complicated”, they are always “complex” and/or “chaotic”. Once I think I have a handle on what is going on I start testing the environment in small ways. Based on the results of the small tests, I then try bigger and bigger tests. At any point I am conscious as to whether a test is reversible (upsetting someone who is forgiving) or not (upsetting someone who is NOT forgiving) . If it is reversible, I am aware of how long it would take to reverse the test if something goes wrong. At no point do I make the decision that this environment is “complex” or “chaotic” as I am aware it can easily and speedily transition between the two. As such I see little value in the ability to classify contexts.

At CALM I a hoping to learn more about Cynefin. How does it handle transitions? Even more exciting is the prospect of getting hands on end to end experience of the “Sense making” tool.

I hope that CALM will help me understand how to turn my theoretical understanding of Cynefin into something practical I can use and promote.

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About theitriskmanager

A IT programme manager specialising in delivering trading and risk management systems in Investment Banks. I achieve this by focusing on risk rather than cost. A focus on costs can lead to increased costs. View all posts by theitriskmanager

2 responses to “Real Options and the Cynefin Framework.

  • Graham Oakes

    I tend to agree that any environment involving people is likely to be complex (or chaotic, as a transitional state). However, at a given point in time we’re probably focusing on a set of issues (subset of the total environment) that may be simple, complicated, complex, chaotic or (at the outset) disordered in itself.

    Using strategies that work in the complex state will probably also work in simple or complicated, at least, but they’re likely to be less efficient than strategies that are tailored to that state. So if I can recognise that the situation I’m dealing with is really complicated rather than complex, for example, then I can start to look for & execute “best practices” rather than focus on “probe & respond”. (Perhaps that’s when I can start to close off options and focus on a specific path? Be interesting to discuss this…)

    More often, I find the reverse situation — people are truly dealing with complex issues, but they’re treating them as if they’re complicated (or even simple). Just recognising that this is going on helps me keep centred and think about how I can intervene — what sort of probes can I execute to help shift understanding?

    Another way Cynefin helps me is in thinking about where to draw the boundary on the issues I’m dealing with. Can I redraw the boundary around the situation we’re dealing with / reframe the problem in a way that helps us probe & understand the actual situation? (I’m a big believer in trying to redraw problem boundaries a little wider than they’re initially framed — bringing in additional context may shift us from complicated to complex, but it also makes it more likely that we’ll actually understand and resolve some of what’s going on.)

    I’m still learning about how to use Cynefin. (I too read some of the white papers several years ago, but I only did the Cognitive Edge training last year.) The big value to me right now is more as a sense-check on my own mindset — am I trying to over-simplify (or over-complicate) the situation in my own mind? I look forward to learning more about it / trying it out more at CALM.

  • Gordon Ross (@gordonr)

    Nice post Chris. CALMalpha looks very, very promising.

    Graham – been a fan of your governance work for a few years and enthused by your comments that you’re contemplating Dave’s work and learning how to use it. I hope it provides you with some inspiration and new directions. I think IT governance (or intranet/km governance where I work most often), as you’ve pointed out, is guilty of using contemplating the problem domain to be simple or complicated, when in fact it’s complex.

    I like showing Dave’s birthday party video to lighten things up and remind people that we have more in common with children running around that we’d perhaps like to admit. (link to How to organize a children’s party

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