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Cynefin Framework Template

Navigate different types of problems and guide your decision-making. Use the Cynefin Framework to see things from different viewpoints and make conceptual decisions.

About the Cynefin Framework Template

Complex problems leave even the most experienced decision-makers unsure where to even begin or what questions to ask. The Cynefin Framework, developed by Dave Snowden at IBM in 1999, can help you navigate those problems and find the appropriate response.  Managers and executives in numerous different industries use the Cynefin Framework to devise sound strategies. You can apply this Decision-Making Template to all types of challenges, especially unexpected challenges that require a swift response.

What is the Cynefin Framework?

The Cynefin Framework allows you to think through a situation and understand the appropriate response to it. It outlines five domains — Obvious, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic, and Disorder. 

  • The Obvious domain encompasses situations you’ve seen before and for which you have best practices. 

  • The Complicated domain applies to situations in which you don’t know what’s happening, but you possess the skills necessary to analyze the situation and figure out what must be done. 

  • The Complex domain has elements that are novel and may be unknown at the outset. Probing via questions and experimentation is required just to understand the problem. The solution comes through iteration.

  • In Chaotic situations, the environment is unstable, and you must act quickly. 

  • The Disorder domain describes any situation in which you cannot determine the nature of the environment. The framework provides a model for a leader’s behavior in each domain. 

How is the Cynefin Framework set up?

There are five domains in the Cynefin Framework: obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder. Obvious problems are well understood, and their solutions are evident, so they can be solved by applying a well-known, potentially scripted solution. 

With complicated problems, you generally have a sense of the questions that need to be answered. To solve these types of problems, you can apply expert knowledge and decide what to do next. 

With complex problems, there’s a lot you don’t know—you aren’t even sure which questions to ask. To solve complex problems, you’ll need to experiment, evaluate, and gather more knowledge. 

With chaotic problems, your immediate priority is to contain them and then find a long-term solution. 

Disorder refers to the space in the middle of the framework. If you don’t know where you are in the framework, you’re currently in Disorder, and your priority is to move to one of the other domains.  

When would you use the Cynefin Framework?

The Cynefin Framework is a powerful, flexible model of behavior. You can use the template any time you need to categorize a problem or decision and figure out the appropriate response. Many organizations use the framework to aid in product development, marketing plans, and organizational strategy.

The framework is also useful in responding to a crisis or any unforeseen event. Use the template to train new hires on how to react to such an event or to run through worst-case scenarios.

What are the benefits of using the Cynefin Framework?

Here are some reasons why the Cynefin Framework is so popular and how it can help you.

  • The Cynefin Framework is an excellent training tool for virtually all industries. It’s ideally suited to developing critical-thinking skills in future leaders or otherwise honing the thought processes of existing leaders. Working with the Framework ultimately creates leaders that are comfortable when faced with expected and unexpected challenges.

  • The Cynefin Framework assists leaders in thinking outside of the norm, helping them avoid a “one-solution-fits-all-challenges” mentality. It keeps minds fresh and keeps approaches dynamic.

  • The Cynefin Framework is the perfect way to focus a group into the correct mindset. It can effectively be used as a jumping-off point in broader projects, allowing for a swift, organized approach.

  • The Framework can be used to bring order to an unexpected turn of events. Simply walking through the steps is a good way to calm what could otherwise be an environment of panic. 

  • General communication between leaders and staff is improved due to a proper understanding of any given situation. The same applies when a unified team walks through the Cynefin Framework looking for the best approach to a group project.

  • The method takes into account the past behavior of the leader and staff and the organization’s history of dealing with challenges. In this way, the proven solutions of the past are brought to the table, examined, and used as a mirror for a new set of circumstances.

  • The Framework is easily adaptable and may be adjusted as a challenge continues to evolve. Tweaking the approach is as simple as adjusting applicable factors on the fly.

How to use the Cynefin Framework Template

The Miro Cynefin Framework Template is divided into four sections that correlate with each domain. The text boxes can be assigned to Complex, Complicated, Chaotic, and Obvious. If you aren’t sure where to start, the initial section would be Disorder. Steps can be taken to move from Disorder to another, more defined section.

Your first step is to decide where the current challenge resides. For example, it may be an Obvious challenge, meaning that the solution is well known and easily applicable. If this is the case, write your challenge on a digital sticky note and add it to the Obvious quadrant. Feel free to add additional information, such as previously-used solutions.

The problem may otherwise be Complicated, meaning that it is a challenge with unanswered questions. In the Complicated section of the template, you can apply the necessary expert knowledge to determine the appropriate course of action. 

With more information provided or sourced, the Complicated challenge may start to become more approachable, and a solution can be settled on.

If a challenge falls into the Complex category, experimentation, analysis, and evaluation are necessary. Based on this deep analysis, the goal is to move your problem into the Complicated domain. This will pave the way to an appropriate solution.

If a problem falls within the Chaotic quadrant, the initial challenge is to control the problem. Taking swift action to contain the issue and finding a rapid solution that’s ‘good enough’ is the priority.

Use case of the Cynefin Framework

The world has faced numerous unexpected challenges and changes in the past few years. Business leaders have had to act fast and make decisions not just in an emergency but also in the wake of unprecedented events. This is an excellent example of where leaders can benefit from the Cynefin Framework.

Using the Cynefin Framework to make decisions in an emergency can help make sense of a situation and outline the way forward. When an emergency arises, it usually falls into the Chaotic section, and the Act - Sense - Respond format is followed. There is no relationship between cause and effect, so the primary goal is to create order and stability.

When the pandemic arrived, businesses had to act fast. Decisions such as closing up shop or switching to remote work were taken almost instantaneously to address the most pressing issue — creating social distance. 

Once these measures were in place, there was a need to make sense of the situation. In some cases, this meant reopening key areas of businesses where workers could don PPE or operate without coming into contact with others. In the remote work environment, it meant ensuring that all workers had access to an internet connection, the software required to complete their work, and other necessary tools. 

In some cases, experts were needed to make sense of operational issues and focus on finding and creating solutions. This fulfilled the response criteria, as an adequate response to current issues was formulated and executed. 

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