I've listened to some David Snowden podcasts on complexity theory and the Cynefin framework. It looks as though it could be powerful for guiding Agile adoptions.

Who has used Cynefin for this work? What guidance can you give me about strengths and weaknesses of applying the framework in an Agile rollout/adoption?

2 Answers 2


We have used this in Agile adoption. Here are a couple of anecdotes:

  1. An organization was looking to create a strategy for their Agile adoption. We used ritual dissent, an open source facilitation technique from Cognitive Edge, to help the executives and management create an overall strategy with specific objectives that they want to attain through the use of an Agile method and associated practices/techniques.

  2. Worked with another organization that was trying to figure out what the landscape of their projects were and where they could best leverage Agile. They wanted to figure out how to isolate a group and allow them freedom to implement Agile methods effectively. We used the Cynefin model to identify those that were towards simple, complicated, complex and also found 1 in chaos and another 2 in disorder domains. The complex projects seemed like a good fit. Many folks don't know that there are more pieces of the Cynefin model as you zoom into the boundaries between domains and that can provide more guidance to those trying to understand what approaches will tend to be more effective in context. For those that are truly complex the use of "probe, sense, and respond" or "inspect and adapt" is a better fit than "analyze, sense, and respond" which is better for complicated issues.

Those are just a couple. We are huge advocates for Cynefin and the open source techniques they provide.

  • Thanks Chris. I am eager to hear more from you and others about what one does once we identify the complex systems in which we work. And I agree with you: I've used ritual dissent once and it was powerful. How do you get organizations to listen to you without them saying, "OH NO! Not another model?" May 22, 2011 at 23:05

I find Cynefin useful for shaping how I look at situations without necessarily applying the framework explicitly. Their ABIDE model, for example, helps me think about the dynamics of a team and perhaps notice earlier when I stumble into one of their sore spots.

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