This is an overly complex and chaotic environment, suddenly we have to eliminate all the plans, finances, work Key-Result-Areas, and capacity plans! EVERYTHING IS IN CHAOS, THIS IS COMPLEX!

Do you feel this way?

When everything changes and you have not experienced this change before – how do you lead and plan?

I’ve written before about my affection for the Cyenfin Framework, and the work of Dave Snowden. And, as we work together to make progress, I quickly put together a series of workshop slides that you can use with your team to make some sense of what is happening. Hopefully, you can determine which decisions and actions are best for the situation, your level of knowledge or expertise, and time-span to act.

Basics of Cynefin

First, a smart colleague Chris Corrigan wrote a great updated article about the cynefin framework and the updates that have happened recently. Below is my interpretation.

The framework has 5 domains, and each supports progress and use a decision making or leadership step in the best, or least bad, way.

cynefin framework from cognitive-edge

Disorder – when you are unsure, uncertain, and confused, you are in a state of disorder. Disorder is the place you stand by yourself or with your team. This is where you make sense of what is happening, then determine which domain (Obvious, Complicated, Complex, Chaos) you may be standing. 

Obvious Challenges  – there exist current best practices, and your team can find or ask others how to improve. The ambiguity is limited to the process data, and the understanding of the pieces that make the whole – optimize the parts the whole will improve. 

Complicated Challenges – there exist subject-matter-experts who have good practices, in-depth knowledge, and expertise in the control and how to affect these processes. Your team can meet with these experts, and the experts can provide some methods to improve, i.e., most IT implementations, SixSigma, Lean, or quality management. The current staff does not currently understand the ambiguity, and an outside expert helps share their steps and processes.

Complex Challenges – cause and effect are not obvious, and changes to one area will affect many other areas in unknown or unknowable ways. To make sense of progress, your team and organization have to look for patterns and attempt multiple safe-to-fail experiments. The safe-to-fail experiments happen while seeking what is working to increase and not working to decrease.  

Chaos Challenges – sudden, unexpected, unplanned shift happens internally or externally. No one expected or prepared. The potential damage to the organization, you, your team is significant. Immediate action is needed. You need to act, make sense of what you just did, and respond. In chaos, you want to get to complex as soon as you can. 

How can I use this Cynefin thing?

Some steps to take: 

  1. Identify what decision or challenge you are facing.
  2. Determine where you might be in the framework:: Obvious, Complicated, Complex, Chaos.
  3. Ask other people and gather feedback.
  4. Based on where you feel you are, ask yourself, your team, or other people:
  • Obvious – is there an obvious, written, tried and true best practice for our decision our challenge?
  • Complicated – does someone outside our immediate team have the expertise and expert knowledge of this type of challenge or decision?
  • Complex – based on our time pressure and multiple right/wrong options, how many experiments or tries can we make to understand our decision or challenge better?
  • Chaos – When in chaos What immediate action can we take to stop this chaos? Before or planning chaos When this happens, how will we best respond?
cynefin framework with questions
All challenges are not chaos or complex

When you feel overwhelmed, and your world is tilted, everything can feel chaotic and complex, and it is not. 

There are many things that you already have control over that are obvious and complicated. Listing those areas and treating them in an ordered way will help you feel some control and sustainability. 

Also, recognizing other challenges are complex or chaotic will move your team and you to approach those differently. From the difference, determine what can go wrong and what is working well to increase and not working so well to decrease. 

leading through a time of crisis - Mike Cardus