Optimise for agility

When we look at Cynefin, it’s tempting to suggest that in Clear or Complicated work, we can optimise for efficiency, with a simple linear model.

We must remember that Cynefin is situational, and the situation can change at any moment.
Optimising for efficiency not agility is a mistake in a VUCA world.
We should optimise for agility everywhere. It’s not the most efficient but it’s the most adaptable. The work may be Clear today but it may not be tomorrow.

“The 21st Century is a different game with different rules… The pursuit of efficiency was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competence.”
– Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Adaptability comes from a combination of agility and resilience. We should optimise for Adaptability everywhere. All our teams, our systems, need to be able to work in an agile way at the drop of a hat, to respond to changing circumstance. Within that, there is always room to optimise flow, in the knowledge that the flow could change to something quite different at any time, so don’t over-invest.  And with the constraint that the improvement of flow must never reduce our capacity for agility.

My favorite example is auto manufacturers who once dreamed of humanless factories until they realised it’s not flexible enough. They’re not Henry Ford cranking out identical black cars.

As we make work Clear and defined, we can optimise for efficiency in that special case, but our system of work must always be ready to drop into interactive exploratory mode at any time.

I accidentally created the mechanism for this with my Standard+Case model .