Skip main navigation

Cynefin framework

Cynefin, pronounced *kuh-NEV-in*, is intended to be an aide for knowledge management and organizational strategy.

Cynefin, pronounced kuh-NEV-in, is a Welsh word referring to the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand.

Dave Snowden created the framework in 1999 intending it to be an aid for knowledge management and organizational strategy. The Cynefin framework is used in decision-making to make sense of project situations we encounter.

Cynefin domains

Included within this framework are five domains used to help managers identify how they perceive situations and make sense of their own and other people’s behaviors.

the Cynefin framework consists of five domains: two of ‘order’ (the obvious and complicated), two of ‘un-order’ (complexity and chaos), and one of ‘disorder' (Take a closer look)

Let’s take a look at these five domains in more detail.

Complex

This concept, discussed previously, has no known cause and effect, and its results are inconsistent. Rules and processes are not viable solutions. There are more unpredictable results than you may be accustomed to—the right answer may be found by correcting mistakes along the way.

Example: Unique innovations may require various approaches and ideas to implement. Updates are implemented based on received feedback. New technology in an organization often falls in this domain.

Complicated

As discussed previously, this concept involves an ordered system with a known relationship between cause and effect. In this domain, the answer is not evident but is discoverable through analysis and expert knowledge. There may be multiple answers with teams and experts involved in reaching a solution.
Example: When working with a particularly challenging programming language, it may be necessary to hire a consultant for a software development project.

Chaotic

In this domain, it is not possible to determine a cause-and-effect relationship and it’s necessary to do something quickly to get back to the complex domain lest effects spiral out of control.
Example: Consider the challenges posed by Covid-19. It’s necessary to develop a constructive mindset in a chaotic global situation. There is no time for experimentation to generate the knowledge needed to solve the issue; an immediate solution is necessary.

Obvious (simple)

This is conceptually the simplest of the domains. The system is ordered and predictable, and there is a known relationship between cause and effect. People already know the correct answer and can apply best practices as they follow simple instructions.
Example: Consider a supermarket cashier facilitating the checkout process. The process is predefined and the results are always the same.

Disorder

This domain is central to the Cynefin Framework. You are not even sure which domain you are in—you’re lost. It’s critical to obtain the data needed to determine which domain you’re in and then make a move to a more desirable domain.
In the ‘disorder’ domain, you’re in a dangerous situation because you don’t know if your plans are working. You need to break the situation down to see if any of the categories fall into one of the other domains, after which you can find an approach to resolve the situation.
For more information on the Cynefin framework and a graphical representation of the five domains, see Cynefin Framework Introduction

Watch this

In this video Dave Snowden will introduce you to the Cynefin framework, with a brief explanation of its origin and evolution, as well as a detailed discussion of its architecture and function.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Let’s head over to the next step, where you will have the opportunity to discuss the Cynefin framework with your peers.

This article is from the free online

Advanced Agile with Scrum and Kanban

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education