The essential job of management is decision-making. However, making a decision is the second act in a sequential process. The Act 1 of this process is sense-making. This makes it imperative to get the sense-making right, otherwise it is GIGO (Garbage in- Garbage out).

Sense-making refers to how we structure the unknown so as to be able to act in it. It involves coming up with a plausible understanding—a map—of a shifting world; testing this map with others through data collection, action, and conversation; and then refining, or abandoning, the map depending on how credible it is.

For sense-making, the popular model is that of Cynefin.

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In the Cynefin model, every situation must fall in one of the five possibilities – Obvious, Complicated, Complex, Chaos or Disorder. Having categorized your situation as any one of the five, the rules of that quadrant apply.

As against this, a new model has now emerged i.e. TP Scan. It is a form of sense-making that actually comes down to two very quick questions: Is it simple, or not? How much time do we have to make it work? Visually, this gives us a simple sort-of-two-axis-framework that looks like this:

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Which of the two models is better?

To answer that question, we must accept that there are two fundamentally different types of sensemakings – ‘Considered’ and ‘Business-speed.’

‘Considered’ is one of analysis and experimentation, classically done by consultants, professionals, senior management and strategy staff. ‘Business-speed’ is one of categories, checklists and personal judgement, classically done by line-managers, supervisors and front-line staff.

The crucial distinction is available time. If we had the time at the front-line to make a proper ‘considered’ assessment and decision, we would do so: but we rarely have that luxury. So at ‘business-speed’ we have to make do with a different kind of sense-making: it’s not as pretty, not as precise, not as ‘scientific’, but it’s pragmatic and practical. Simply what works, at the time, in the time available.

Both kinds of sensemaking are ‘true’, for a given value of ‘true’. The practical question is about which kind is more appropriate – more useful – for a given business need. Cynefin explicitly positions itself for ‘considered’ sensemaking. It emphasises the Complicated and, especially, the Complex domain. It aims to elicit insight and understanding by focussing on nuance and subtlety, on emergence in complex adaptive systems. We do get the most ‘scientific’ results this way: but it takes time.

SCAN explicitly positions itself for ‘business-speed’ sensemaking.

What we often need for business-sensemaking is something simple, fast, and easily memorable, yet also has all the sensemaking depth behind it – and SCAN supports that need. The aim is to simplify, not complicate – the main reason for SCAN is to uncomplicate something that is become almost hopelessly complicated and problematic.

Making sense – and making sense fast – of things that don’t yet make sense, is an essential business requirement, in enterprise-architecture and in just about every other business-discipline • what we often need for business-sensemaking is something simple, fast, and easily memorable, yet also has all the sensemaking depth behind it – and SCAN supports that need.

Give me ten years and I can work my way into making just about anything work (if it doesn’t kill me first). Give me ten minutes and it had better be simple.

Cynthia Kurtz

TP SCAN is a form of context-space mapping – a means by which we make sense of a context, and work towards resolving our requirements in that context, by bouncing back and forth between the ‘problem-space’ and ‘solution-space’ in a disciplined way.

Note – In this article, I have extensively used information publicly available at Tom Graves / Tetradian – Random ramblings over the metaphoric edge


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