Draw me a picture

Occasionally I come across small companies who are trying to emulate their business heroes in their strategies, often to the detriment of their current situation.  Yes, companies like Google, IBM and Virgin may have exciting approaches to hiring, innovation and even staff rooms – but in order to be successful, instead of looking dreamily outward, a business needs to focus on what is important to them, not others.  A tool I use to help businesses to understand where exactly they are in their journey, is a Rich Picture.

Napoleon is quoted as saying; “A good sketch is better than a long speech”, or if you prefer the Rod Stewart version; “Every Picture Tells a Story”.  It’s a well-established idea that complex ideas can often be easily conveyed with just a single picture.  With a rich picture, in simple terms, our aim is to convey the essence of a situation visually rather than with a lengthy description.

A Rich Picture is a way to explore, acknowledge and define a situation and express it through diagrams.   A Rich Picture’s goal should be to bring people to a shared understanding of a current situation.  It was originally developed as part of Peter Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology[1] (SSM) to help organisations come to terms with the ‘real world’ issues and where they truly lie.  It can help:

  1. Identify the issue you need to address.
  2. Develop an unstructured description of the situation where the issues lie.

The ‘situation’ that Checkland refers to may be a program, issue, initiative or other term used in evaluation.  Checkland provides some guidelines as to what should be included in the rich picture so that a real understanding of the situation is developed:

  1. Structures
  2. Processes
  3. Climate
  4. People
  5. Issues expressed by people
  6. Conflict

A Rich Picture should be a description of this situation using diagrams, symbols, cartoons, or words – whatever works best for an organisation.  It can be drawn by hand or electronically and it can take many forms, from a mind map, to a detailed physical drawing.

As Williams and Hummelbrunner[2] point out, there are many ways to create a rich picture: “mind-maps, conversation maps, sketching. However, it is important that the picture should not structure the situation (as in a logic model or process chain). The whole point of a rich picture is to reflect as much going on as possible without privileging, predetermining, or presuming a particular point of view.”

Whatever format it takes, a Rich Picture should help to open discussions on how an organisation is doing in its current situation, what it is hoping to achieve, and how it can make changes.

A few tips to help you get started with your first Rich Picture:

  1. Remember, it is best used as an initial exercise to get discussions started.
  2. To get a representative picture of the situation, be mindful of who is included in the group developing the picture.
  3. I believe it’s best to start ‘offline’. Begin by drawing out a rough mind map of the situation that you wish to evaluate.
  4. Include all of the physical entities involved (e.g. people, organisations, resources.)
  5. Ensure all key elements are included, and the links between them are clear.
  6. If there is more than one group preparing rich pictures, you can combine them by clustering similar ideas. This will help you to identify the most important issues to focus on in the following evaluation.

Now you should have a picture of our situation.  In our next blog we will look at the next step in your process; how you find out if you are on the right path for your journey to end successfully.

If you need help drawing a rich picture of your situation, get in touch with Lavery McGlynn today.

[1] Checkland, P.B. (2001) Soft Systems Methodology, in J. Rosenhead and J. Mingers (eds), Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited. Chichester: Wiley

[2] “Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit” by Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner – 2010

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