In this episode, we’re joined by Chris Matts.  Chris will introduce us to the Cynefin framework and how he uses it to understand where to focus business analysis activities and where the focus should be more product management driven.  Chris also discusses Real Options, which is a decision-making process for managing uncertainty and risk that he developed.

Chris Matts is a program manager, business analyst, agile coach, and author.  Chris is known for delivering business value while managing project risk.  Chris developed Real Options and worked with Dan North to develop the “GIVEN-WHEN-THEN” template for Behavior Driven Development when BDD was just starting to be used.

After listening to this episode, you will understand:

  • The difference between product ownership and business analysis
  • What the Cynefin framework is and how you can use it to determine where to focus your energy
  • When you should get out of the way and let developers handle the project
  • How to bring new business analysts up to speed quickly
  • Understand how to use Real Options to reduce risk and make better decisions

Key Takeaways

What’s the difference between product ownership and business analysis?

Business analysis is a toolkit and product management is a toolkit.  The confusion is with the job title.  If you can access your end customers and understand their processes, you’re performing business analysis work.  Product management is more about the market and understanding customer needs.

The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin framework is made up of five domains.  The Knowable space consists of the Obvious domain and the Complicated domain.  The Unknowable (Emergent) space consists of the Complex and Chaos domains.  In the center is the Unknown domain.

1) Obvious: In the Obvious domain, you can get out of the way and let the developers handle it.  We can’t add much value through analysis and may even be slowing things down.

2) Complicated: It’s knowable in that you can speak with customers and users to understand what they want, but we need to do some analysis to understand the real needs.  The Complicated space is the realm of the business analyst.

You’ll often find business analysts working in environments such as enterprise software where you have a very complicated domain inside the organization where you need to make a lot of changes.

3) Complex: Can’t know what the outcome will be, so we need to run some experiments where it’s safe to fail.  This is usually the realm of the product manager.  They run experiments and look at the data to drive decisions.  This is a situation in which you have a large number of customers, potentially with different needs and you can’t possibly talk to all of them.

4) Chaos: You think you’re in the Obvious domain and suddenly the world has shifted beneath your feet and you fall into a chaotic space where you don’t have a good idea of what’s happening.  It’s a transient area in which you just need to act.  You may run a few experiments just to see what happens, rather than having enough information to make a hypothesis.

5) Unknown: In this area, you really don’t know where you are.  You don’t have enough information to know which domain you’re in at the moment.

To take advantage of the Cynefin framework and ensure you know where to focus your efforts, explain the Cynefin concept to a group of people and together they try to determine which domain each project is in.  Through a group conversation of differing viewpoints, you may uncover things others haven’t considered.

Cynefin Framework


Real Options

Waterfall projects have increasing risk because you are investing more capital as time goes on and you don’t know the result until the end of the project.  Real Options is an approach for better risk management and decision making.

The three things to keep in mind about options:

  1. Options have value
  2. Options expire
  3. Never commit early unless you know why.

Don’t commit early unless you know why.  If you can resolve the uncertainty, then you can commit.  The difference between Real Options and procrastination is the understanding that options expire.  We can’t leave a decision for the point after which the option expires.

Think in terms of options instead of commitments.  To understand when your options are expiring, start with your goal and work backwards.

Focus on outcomes and business value as expressed by metrics rather than focusing on outputs and deliverables.

Bonus Tip:  To bring new people up to speed quickly, try pairing.  Paired analysis (similar to an apprenticeship) will help bring a more junior person up to speed quickly by pairing with a more experienced Business Analyst.  Once the pair is through the higher risk portions of the project, the newer analyst can take over.


Links mentioned in this episode


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