Conversation Patterns: Navigating Through Cynefin’s Quadrants

This article is part of my work on Conversation Patterns for Software Professionals

After Cynefin workshops with Dave Snowden I have some ideas how this model might help to work with stakeholders during a conversation on business domain, requirements or something else. BTW: Mariusz’s article is a great introduction to the Cynefin framework.

Recognising the Cynefin’s quadrant

As Scrum is a method to move work from Complex to Complicated quadrant, Conversation Patterns move conversation flow to Complicated or Simple quadrants.

Let’s take a look on Cynefin’s quadrants from conversation point of view.

Simple/Ordered quadrant

Order doesn’t exit in the nature. This is the law and Dave Sowden words:). You are in the Simple quadrant of a conversation when you talk about facts. Howover the ’fact’ word is very tricky. We often think we talk about facts, but in fact we talk about opinions, points of view and narratives.

Techniques to move conversation flow to the Simple quadrant.

Specification By Example

because an example is a single source of truth

Downward Specification Pattern

discovers specific criteria behind a stakeholder need walking down the conversation structure

Paraphrase Pattern

verify your understanding of what was said

Term Structure

strictly defines given term in the given context

Complicated quadrant

This is a place where we need to analyse the input to decide what to do next. Most well-arranged conversations happen inside this quadrant. Typically when all Complicated things are addressed we move the conversation flow to the Simple quadrant.

Techniques to use here:

User Story Mapping
gives a big picture for the product, epics, stories and its details
Conversation Structure

is an mental view of conversation steps, which helps to navigate through a conversation flow, staying focused on the subject and objectives

Downward Specification Pattern

discovers specific criteria behind a stakeholder need walking down the conversation structure

Complex quadrant

You are here where you don’t know what to do. Tips given by Snowden here are:

  • don’t predict the future, make decisions in the present
  • do some (not to much) experiments which are: coherent, save-to-fail, finely grained
  • include 'naive’ approaches
  • include few high risk/high return options

When a conversation is stacked here, we need to discover what to follow next to reach Complicated or Simple quadrants. So these are techniques useful here:

Need Structure

defines well known but fuzzy term 'stakeholder need’

Upward Generalization Pattern

looks for the unmet needs behind the one’s expectations

Transform Benefit into Problem Pattern, Transform Problem into Benefit Pattern

these explore a stakeholder needs in many directions

Questions for Setting Priorities

this is sequence of techniques to filter out less important requirements or wants

Business Value Games

look for values for a market

All reframing techniques

try to change of your perspective to see differently or to see more

Chaotic and Disorder quadrants

You lands here where something happens what make the conversation unpredictable. These might be: strong negative emotions, talking about not important things, arguments.

Being here you better suspend your conversation goals and focus on moving the conversation out of this quadrant.

Techniques working here are:

Giving an empathy to a introlocutor

these are a bunch of techniques and mindset which assume that being in contact is the most basic need for a human being

Positive Intention Pattern

this is soft reframing technique which gives a suggestion that an intention behind strange behaviour was positive

All pattern interrupt or state change techniques

set of interventions to rapid change a negative emotional state; these are widely used by coaches, trainers or therapists

Oblique games
(do you know better name for this?:)) this kind of games where participants are involved in a game (a context is important but not so much) but the narration (so called 'structure’) leads participat toward wanted results e.g. conflict resolution; and example of that games is Multitasking Game by Henrik Kniberg