Dave Snowden

Boundaries as domain shadows

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I’ve been teaching a masterclass her in India to a mixed group and took the opportunity to push myself to get the boundaries as domains version of Cynefin to a point where it could be published for comment and start to develop. I’ve been playing with it for around three months now which a fairly typical gestation time for any new framework or idea. It’s a matter of making sure it passes the napkin test; is coherent to the theory and provides utility for sense-making. I managed it today by drawing the framework then simply adding or extending existing lines and it all came together in two stages, one before and other during lunch; Twitter followers will have seen the iterations.

I’d been thinking about creating a version of Cynefin in which the complex-complicated boundary becomes a domain. The reason for that is a lot of techniques, for example a sprint within Scrum, are boundary transitions rather than domain techniques. In general any linear iteration or experiment is such a transition rather than a domain technique. Complex is about shorter cycle parallel probes. Maintaining a project within the boundary domain is important to prevent premature convergence, so it needs to be more than a line. Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking of it less as a domain more as a gradient or shadow – which is how it is drawn here.

So the convention is fairly simply, we have three new elements:

  • A dark shaded area generally clockwise of the boundary which is effect is a holding space, a shadow, a period where you have crossed the boundary but are not fully committed.
  • Green shaded is narrower, steeper, such transitions need a change of practice.
  • Red is a danger sign, a cross only if you really mean it.

Then within the shadow areas themselves:

  • Complicated to complex is a shift from linear to parallel experiments for example.
  • Shifting from best practice to good practice (Obvious to Complicated) opens up to governing constraints with variety not one way of doing things  ….
  • …while a transition the other way can be done more experimentally, withdrawal is still possible.
  • Entering Chaos is a definitive decision, working on the edge of chaos in the complex domain means the patterns are sort of there, far from clear but starting to form and formal safe-to-fail experiments should be more transitory in nature.
  • The Obvious to Chaotic boundary should be a barrier. climbing back up the cliff is hard.

Disorder is interesting, working on that

So open for comment ….

… and just to be clear, this is a Cynefin extension, not a new Cynefin




PS: My resolution to write a daily blog post stimulated by whatever came in from Gaping Void didn’t survive an accumulation of back email to 800+ and a pretty punishing travel schedule. But I like the idea and may return to it in June and use the weekdays for that leaving the weekend, where there are no mailers for other material.