Use Cynefin to help bring clarity to your projects

In which domain is your project or problem?

Cynefin was created in 1999 by Dave Snowden (IBM Global Services) – and can help make sense of any project / situation you are in (note: Cynefin isn’t a contrived acronym, it is Welsh for “Habitat”).

In which domain is your project or problem?

There are five domains in Cynefin:





Disorder (black hole)

Complex Cynefin

Most projects are complex, which means there are unknown, unknowns – i.e. you don’t have a 100% clear path from where you are to where you need to get to. Along the way problems will arise (you don’t know what they are yet) which you will have to solve.

Complicated Cynefin

Complicated projects are typically in the domain of SME’s – such as Surgeons and Lawyers – where the work is complicated but based on underlying truths and processes. For example, heart surgery is complicated, but generally well understood in terms of what has to happen in an ygiven operation.

Obvious Cynefin

This is the domain of “best-practice” where it is well known and understood what has to happen. That said, it should be noted that if everyone always takes the obvious path, new solutions may be overlooked. This dovetails nicely into Edwards de Bono’s “Challenge for Change” which I’ll cover in a future article.

Chaotic Cynefin

This is a domain where there is no cause and effect correlation. A domain where it is very difficult to predict outcomes. The way to attack a chaotic project is to try to find even the most simple pattern or truth in the chaos.

Disorder Cynefin

Finally, in the middle of all this is the black hole of disorder. Your project is in this domain if no other domain fits.

Snowden says “”The way out of this realm is to break down the situation into constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four realms. Leaders can then make decisions and intervene in contextually appropriate ways.”

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