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 (SSM) to help organisations come to terms with the ‘real world’ issues and where they truly lie. It can help:
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:
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 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:
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.
 Checkland, P.B. (2001) Soft Systems Methodology, in J. Rosenhead and J. Mingers (eds), Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited. Chichester: Wiley
 “Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit” by Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner – 2010