Agreement and Certainty Matrix

Sort challenges into simple, complicated and complex domains


Challenges can be classified into simple, complicated, or complex and can be matched with an appropriate change method. This method helps to label and match challenges to the right solution, optimising effort and avoiding mismatches between the challenge and the solution.

How to use it

  • Define the right solutions for challenges.
  • Identify where many local experiments may help solve global problems.
  • See the range of challenges facing people in the organization.
  • Reduce frustration of people not making progress on key challenges.
  • Share perspectives across functions and levels of the organization.
  • Introduce and define ‘what is different’ about complex challenges with people trained only in linear cause-and-effect analysis.
  • Start a new improvement project with the goal of selecting a mix of change methodologies.
  • Help a planning group move beyond ‘analysis paralysis’ into an action phase (with the goal of learning from past errors).

How to apply it

  • Participants are invited to label their current challenges as simple, complicated or complex.
  • Participants are invited to think about the approaches they are using to address each challenge, contemplating how well they fit and where there are mismatches

Everyone in the work team or unit under discussion is involved (not only leaders). Initially, all the participants work individually to make initial assessments. After, the participants work in small groups and at last the whole group works together.


Long open wall with a paper tapestry illustration taped to the wall. Sticky notes.

  • 5 minutes: Participants generate items that describe the challenges which take up their time.
  • 5 minutes: Participants place the challenges individually in the matrix (use a hand-out or a hand-drawn graphic). Then participants talk with their neighbour.
  • 10 minutes: Participants chat with others in a group of 4 or 6 and find points of agreement, difference, and where there are mismatches.
  • 10 minutes: Invite everyone to post their items on the wall chart.
  • 15 minutes: Step back and ask, “What pattern do you see? Do any mismatches stand out that we should address?”
  • Debrief on the exercise as a whole group.

How to adapt it


  • Clarify what type of challenges and activities are being included, to ensure consistency across the group in the kinds of issues under discussion.
  • Avoid making judgments about where people put their activities/challenges.
  • Explore items that are in more than one sector, by asking “Does this challenge have multiple dynamics at play? How is it simultaneously simple and complex?”


Learn more in Edgeware and from Brenda Zimmerman in Getting to Maybe.

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