The Cynefin Review Part 5 – The Complicated Domain

The Complicated Domain is where most people seem to think they are in modern organisations. Entering it from the Complex domain, again on the red line, is a good step for exploiting a situation. The intention is to get the best minds on the problem, plan it out, put specialists on each part of the plan, and execute to the finish.

This is the premise of Waterfall development. In the right situation it can work well.

Focus on Opportunities

Having moved from Complex to Complicated, we have a broad breadth of engagement. We are in the key players and forming space. This is the creation and execution of a plan by and for a specialist.

We are firmly on the red line here and this is a great way to solve Complicated problems.

Check for Stability

As the plan and execution progresses, to stay on the red line, we must check for stability. Are we still on a complicated problem?

If the answer is yes, we can continue, or even move elements of the problem towards the Obvious domain, first to the Constrain to Operation Process.

If the answer is no, then can move back towards Complex to try to experiment with solutions.

This would form the Stable Dynamic (Dynamic 2).

Constrain to Operational Process

When checking for stability, if the elements of the problem have become Obvious in their solution, i.e. the relationship between cause and effect is obvious, then we can put in place constraints that allow routine operational execution.

This allows rapid, organisational autonomous, execution of a solution. It is a low cost in energy for execution because it is assumed that variability and complexity are extremely low. Execution becomes habit and there is little or no mechanism to deal with significant deviation from the expected.

Many organisations try to move too fast to put in constraints that would be appropriate for Obvious problems because of the low cost of execution. The advice here is to be really sure that you are dealing with a problem and solution that really has a very stable relationship between cause and effect.

Time Wasters

Moving far off the red line at the top of the model, there is the square ‘Time Wasters’. This square is in the space of Full Exploitation, but also in Key Players Only.

This represents the mature idea or product that the creators or founders won’t let go.

In this state, the full value of the solution is tightly held and not exploitable by the organisation.

Increase Dissent and Diversity

In response to ‘Time Wasters’, the solution is to increase the diversity of the people involved. This square is in the Move to Operations space.

Define Standards and Enforce

Where the Building Agreement and Full Exploitation spaces cross, we have the opportunity to define the standards, best practices and rules that will allow a transition to the constraints that best utilise Obvious problems and solutions.

Longitude Problem

Right at the bottom of the model, in the spaces of Consent Needed and Forming, we have the type of problems that we have solutions for but no one yet believes in them. Or they are not yet deemed credible enough for mass adoption.

The name comes as a historic reference to such a solution for a common problem. The way to measure Longitude.

Pull Back and Engage at an Earlier Stage

With problems that have solutions that no-one yet deems credible, the solution is to wait. Build more case studies, gather more allies, and engage with people to take them through the process. This square is in the Building Agreement space.

Put Power at Risk

This is an interesting square because it represents a solution that has already moved to Operations, but that consent is still needed that it is the right solution. This may be because of a HiPPo who has pushed the behaviours this way to drive down costs.

The solution here is to challenge that person (the person in Power), to check again for the stability of the problem domain.

One way to do this is to increase the cognitive load forcing more data scans and less autonomous thinking. This forces a re-evaluation of the problem and solution.


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2 thoughts on “The Cynefin Review Part 5 – The Complicated Domain”

  1. Pingback: Cynefin Review Part 7 - Finding Your Place on the Framework - Adventures with Agile

  2. Pingback: The Cynefin Review Pt 1 - Adventures with Agile

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