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An Architect's Framework for Navigating Complexity

May 2019 Presentation
Ken Power (Independent Consultant)

This presentation describes how complexity science—in particular, sense making and the Cynefin framework—can help architects develop more adaptive architectures.


Software Engineering Institute




We want our organizations and systems to be agile. We want them to evolve with the needs of the business, its customers, and its stakeholders and be resilient in the face of ever-changing market conditions and the external environment. This adaptability and responsiveness must be supported by the architecture of the systems we create. Cloud, DevOps, continuous deployment, and microservices add to the factors that architects must consider.

Larger systems and larger organizations have a larger number of dependencies to manage and a larger number of stakeholders whose needs must be addressed. The architecture of larger systems can involve hundreds of products, components, and subsystems that all need to work together. Maintaining the conceptual integrity of the architecture under such circumstances, and over time, presents many challenges.

To navigate all of this, agile architects must be adaptive and dynamically shift their decision-making approach to match the complexity of the circumstances they face. This session will describe how lessons from complexity science—and in particular, sense making and the Cynefin framework—can help architects be more agile in how they work and develop architectures that are more agile and adaptive to the needs of the organizations they serve.