SPA Conference session: How complex is software development?

One-line description:This session will open the doors to complexity science, giving you a way of making sense of problems.
Session format: Workshop (150 mins) [read about the different session types]
Abstract:There are terms used in the agile software world that have their origins in complexity science, terms such as self-organisation and emergence. The problem is that when these terms are used it isn’t always correctly. This session will open the doors to complexity science, using the Cynefin framework, and give you a way of making sense of problems and how they can be approached.
Audience background:This session is aimed at team members working on agile projects.

No special experience is required, although it will be helpful if participants have some awareness of the basic principles of agile software development.
Benefits of participating:In this session participants will gain practical experience in using the Cynefin framework and see how they can make sense of a situation and identify the decision model needed to respond. With the session ending on real-world examples they will be able to share ideas and receive tips from people with first-hand experience.
Materials provided:
Process:The session will start by introducing the Cynefin framework, giving a brief history, explaining the key concepts and how I have found them useful in working with software teams.

Next the participants are split into smaller groups to conduct a first exercise using generic phrases. Participants should feel free to disagree on the where items fall and are left to resolve these conflicts in the best way for them. By negotiating the placement of each term the participants internalize the Cynefin framework and gain a shared understanding of what they mean by the key concepts.

Each team will then present how they’ve placed their items, focusing on those items that were particularly easy or hard to place. The facilitator will scribe up common themes and answer any questions that may have arisen from the exercise.

The second exercise will begin with the participants forming their own Agile/software specific set of items. These items will then be used in a similar fashion to the first exercise, with the participants actively negotiating their placement with the Cynefin domains. The intention of this exercise is to raise awareness of where different areas of software development lie from a complexity science point of view and also give participants an idea of how they can respond to different situations.

Once the exercise is finished the groups will again present where they’ve placed their items. As we discuss the item placements the facilitator will tabulate the data. After the presentations the facilitator can then show the data and the participants will be asked to identify any trends and discuss what they mean.

To wrap-up the session participants will be invited to offer real-world examples. Participants will then discuss in which domain, or domains, the example resides and use the Cynefin framework to help suggest ways in which they could be approached.
Detailed timetable:00:00 - 00:05 Workshop Introduction
00:05 - 00:15 Introduction to complexity science
00:15 - 00:25 Introduction to the Cynefin framework
00:25 - 01:05 Butterfly stamped exercise (generic terms)
01:05 - 02:05 Butterfly stamped exercise (Agile specific terms)
02:05 - 02:25 Real-world examples
02:25 - 02:30 Closing & session feedback
Outputs:Tabulated data of how the Agile specific items are categorised between the Cynefin domains will be shared via the JIME blog.
1. John McFadyen
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