Dave Snowden’s presentation to the London meetup community

Published by Ben Morris on

A great event from Dave Snowden at the London Project Data Analytics event on 8 May. I’ve been following Dave’s work for around 5 years and he has probably had a greater impact on my thinking than anyone else. It’s a lot to take in in one sitting, but I would recommend that you keep coming back to it and have a look at some of his other videos on Youtube. The video of the presentation can be found here. No slides for this meetup.  

Dave covers a lot of ground. What first grabbed my attention was his work on the Cynefin framework, which helps with the management of complexity. Projects transition between obvious, complicated, complex into chaotic. He has a framework to help recognise where you are and what you do about it.   

He plotted a normal distribution and compared it with a power law, highlighting that the latter has a fatter tail, i.e. there are more projects in the tail than we imagine. Alex Budzier came up with a similar conclusion in the April meetup. The performance of projects doesn’t fit a conventional normal distribution.  


He then suggested that the central portion of the distribution is deductive, i.e. conventional analytics will give rise to insights. He then suggested that as we move to the right of the distribution we are into inductive and abductive. He suggested that this is a space which is not predictable, but it is dispositional. He then discussed abductive learning; What is the most plausible connection between unconnected things. Human beings are good at inferring patterns.  

My own take on this: Projects have too many variables to be predictable, but we can predict when issues may begin to arise, or when we need to become sensitised to looking out for specific issues. Machine learning can identify patterns, without being distracted by human bias, so I’m not sure this is just in the realm of humans; it depends how much expert knowledge is required. Certain stages of projects have a predisposition to variance.   

Dave made the point well about the temptation to defer insights from correlation and take a leap in the dark to causation. An area of danger for the aspiring data professionals.   

He discussed the subject of retrospective coherence – with the benefit of hindsight. Hindsight doesn’t produce foresight, yet we capture this within lessons learned logs.  

He mentioned the subject of dark constraints. We can see the impact of a constraint, but we can’t see what is causing it. I’m still trying to get my head around this and how to apply it… but there is definitely mileage in it. If anyone has an insights to share then please share them in the comments below.  

Dave made a great point about triggering human beings into a heightened state of awareness before things go wrong. Anticipatory triggers. This links back to my comments about understanding when a project is likely to go wrong and how; we can then ‘sniff’ the system to identify when these triggers begin to emerge. Its slightly different to early warnings, but a similar concept.   

This blog just scratches the surface. Dave covered a lot of ground and its worth watching the video if you want to explore further.  

A great talk and absolutely delighted that Dave could join us. 

Martin Paver is CEO/Founder of Projecting Success. In Dec 2017 he saw the opportunity to transform how projects could be delivered through the application of advanced data analytics and founded the London Project Data Analytics meetup, which has expanded throughout the UK and has grown to a community of ~3000 people. He delivers strategic and tactical solutions that integrate project management and leading edge data science and analytics.

Please leave your comments and feedback in response to this blog. Many thanks.

Categories: Blog Post


Indranath Neogy · May 9, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Side note: if you want more people to remember to feedback on the event, might be good to put the link in this blog.

    Amanda New · May 9, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Good idea! Have updated this blog to include a feedback request. Thanks

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