Cynefin exercise about Agile software development - 2 Sense-Making

This post is the second of the series co-authored with Michael Podvinec where we write about the exercise and some of the insights gained:
1 - Intro
2 - Sense-Making
3 - Categorization
4 - Our exercise
5 - Key learnings

Michael is a molecular biologist by training, and is convinced that agile methods have a place in all domains where we're commonly dealing with complexity and uncertainty, such as biomedical research. 
He really promises he will soon publish more regularly on topics like these on his blog. Until then, he suggests you to follow @mpodvinec on twitter.







Cynefin  as a Sense-Making framework
The Cynefin framework is often applied as a tool for Sense-Making. This describes a shared process in which a common awareness and understanding of fragmented realities is created from multiple partial views of individual experiences. Sense-Making deals with uncertainties and inherent ambiguities in information and with incomplete data. It can be used to make strategic decisions and build the capacity to respond to unexpected or unknown situations.
 


Sense-Making is an a posteriori activity: The capturing of the data precedes the framework. This prevents the perception of the data being subtly altered to make it fit into preexisting categories. This approach is illustrated well by the 1975 Oregon Experiment: When faced with the decision where to build footpaths between newly erected student housing, the architect let the authorities first plant grass between the buildings. Students were left free to walk on the grass. Later, the footpaths were placed on the paths the students’ feet had traced on the lawn (see also the concept of Desire Path).
 

The four-points method is a Cynefin Sense-Making activity, and perhaps one of the best-known methods of the framework:
At the beginning, the facilitator asks participants to put four narratives at the corners of an empty sheet of paper. When talking for instance about a software development project,
narratives could be requirements if we were to focus on a congruent product vision, instead narratives could be the collection of issues and 'war stories' if we were to focus the session on improving product quality and internal processes.

The facilitator provides basic instructions for the next steps without revealing the framework yet:
  • Narratives are collected, and noted on individual pieces of paper.
  • The attendees are now asked to select and pin in the bottom-right corner of the sheet the simplest narrative: A narrative where the relation between causes and effects are obvious and self-evident.
  • For the top-right corner, attendees select and pin the most complicated narrative: A narrative where only matter experts are able to make out the relations between causes and effects.
  • Into the top left corner, the most distinctly complex narrative is selected: No stable cause-effect relationships can be discerned, repeating the same actions likely results in a different outcome.
  • Finally on the bottom-left corner, attendees are asked to select and pin the most chaotic narrative: No cause-effect relationships are discernible, and it's only possible to try actions somewhat at random to move the problem into another, less chaotic state.
Once the four exemplars are placed on the extreme corners, the next step consist of pinning the remaining narratives on the area of the sheet of paper relative to the four exemplars (of simplicity, complication, complexity, chaos).

After this fist step "define exemplars" the exercise continues under the guidance of an experienced facilitator with the following steps:
  1. position items in balance
  2. define boundaries
  3. emergent framework
as described in the following picture.








Print | posted @ Saturday, November 10, 2012 10:12 PM

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