Because in complex systems no plan survives contact with complexity, we mitigate the impact by first, seeking to understand principles and then tailoring our methods; and second, by identifying which specific context we find ourselves. Then we can tailor our approach for that context.

We know of a person in Austin, Texas who has a black belt in a martial art called Taekwondo. He reported that his Sensei had mastered multiple types of martial arts, had achieved mastery over each, earning the highest belts, and only then did he begin to modify the art and teach our friend. If we get the principles and theory behind the various Agile methods we observe others using, we can adjust appropriately for our context, which may be different. Just like mastering a martial art, this takes effort to see behind the method and look for the principles and theories. It takes study, reflection and practice rather than following the loudest or most repeated consultant. This is why Lean-Agile is a big skill.

The recent gains in the science of Complex Adaptive Systems, or complexity science, offer new understandings since the days of yore with Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory as a companion tool to Lean-Agile. David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework [1] provides a helpful tool for choosing responses that are appropriate to the context for viewing a multi-dimensional and dynamic reality. Interestingly, David’s history of his framework [2] describes his early thinking about this framework as an ontological model for knowledge and learning. And we’re applying the framework to decision making in pursuit of improving learning experience development.

The following figure shows the Cynefin Framework diagram.

Cynefin
Figure 1. David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework [3]

The Cynefin Framework is another tool in our tool bag, that informs our Lean-Agile efforts, as does the Theory of Constraints.

Why does this apply to learning experience development team troubleshooting?

A [learning experience development] team is a complex adaptive system because it consists of parts (people) that for a system (team), and the system shows complex behavior while it keeps adapting to a changing environment. [4]
— Jurgen Appelo

Troubleshooting Lean-Agile problems in the Obvious domain of the Cynefin Framework typically means a list of recipes for solving common problems. The right action is obvious to the whole team, so just assign someone to do it. Examples include the 5 Whys. The cause and effect are linear and traceable.

Troubleshooting Lean-Agile problems in the Complicated Domain of the Cynefin Framework typically means advanced problem solving analysis. Assign the problem to an expert to analyze and propose action. Examples in this context include Kanban Boards, Six Sigma and Statistical Process Control.

Troubleshooting Lean-Agile problems in the Complex Domain typically means experiments and tests. Collect coherent hypotheses and ideas about what to do. Propose safe-to-fail experiments. Set boundaries. Use what Nicolas Taleb describes as optionality to amplify successes and dampen failures. The right answer is only clear in hindsight. Feedback from visual management changes the whole system.

The Chaotic domain is only a temporary transition state. Avoid chaos if possible. If you can’t, assign a leader and act immediately to restore order. Troubleshooting is delayed for a bit while leaders respond.

We see value in the Cynefin Framework as a way of better understanding where our systems are situated and orienting to make decisions about the most appropriate learning and development strategies and interventions. It provides a way of discussing what participants are see or intuit. The Cynefin Framework also helps in troubleshooting projects and even when facing a gap between actual performance and desired performance. This is an emerging framework, so further monitoring, application and learning is needed.


1. Reproduced from Wikipedia article "Cynefin Framework," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cynefin_Framework&oldid=698757685 (accessed January 12, 2016) under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
2. Read David’s history of his framework at http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/part-two-origins-of-cynefin/
3. David Snowden’s 2014 image of his Cynefin Framework is reproduced from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
4. Reproduced with permission from Jurgen Appelo, http://www.slideshare.net/jurgenappelo/complexity-thinking.
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