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Case Study
How visual mapping gives the organisation heart


Visual mapping techniques developed by consultants Fintecs have enabled Oxford Entrepreneurs to document its structure and business processes both to manage exceptionally rapid organisational change and to transfer knowledge from generation to generation.

Imagine starting a new business knowing that every single manager and member of staff must leave the organisation within a year or two to be replaced by new staff with no previous knowledge or experience. How do you ensure the organisation can continue to survive? How do you transfer knowledge from older to newer staff? How do you ensure that everyone still knows what the organisation is trying to achieve, or even knows what they are supposed to be doing as individuals?

This was the dramatic challenge facing Oxford student Bob Goodson when he set up Oxford Entrepreneurs in 2003.

Oxford Entrepreneurs was founded as an Oxford University Society to encourage and support student entrepreneurship by providing inspiration, education, networking and the chance to ‘learn by doing’ at the University and beyond. The society organises guest speakers, practical workshops by leading business practitioners and social networking events.

The society’s website www.bouncewithit.com provides resources for young entrepreneurs that include business fact sheets, a synergy database of members profiles and business competitions such as ‘Idea Idol’.

In little more than two years, the Society has been a runaway success, signing up more than 1,800 members and attracting speakers such as James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, Anita Roddick, founder of Bodyshop, and Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer. It has been replicated at other universities, including LSE and King’s College, London, and now numbers many members from outside universities.

But there was a problem built into the venture. Bob Goodson knew that he and all his colleagues running the society would be leaving university in a year or two. In Bob’s case it proved to be even sooner because he was headhunted by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin to help start consumer technology companies at his San Francisco incubator, Midtown Doornail. Bob was wanted in the US in only three months time.

Says Bob Goodson, ‘I was very aware that I would shortly be leaving university and so I wanted to make sure the club didn’t simply die when I left. I wanted to find a way of perpetuating the organisation even when I was no longer there. The question was, how do you keep something alive over a long period when everyone who is involved with it will be leaving within one or at most two years?

It was a problem that had interested Bob even before joining Oxford, when he had been a student at University of East Anglia. ‘The idea hadn’t at that stage taken a visual form,’ says Bob, ‘but I knew it would involve becoming process-oriented and I had begun to put pen to paper to depict the processes that the Society involved.’

It was at this point that Bob met Tony Gratton, whose consultancy company, Fintecs, has since 2001 been pioneering the idea of visually mapping the processes and interactions that go to make up any complex organisation or system.

Goodson recalls, ‘Tony helped me to identify the main elements of Oxford Entrepreneurs and we found that central to the whole organisation is Drive. If you can envision and distil into a very small message what you’re trying to do with the project and make that a controlling vision, then you have captured the essence of the organisation. It’s got to be a message that everyone can believe in and then you have to set up a dynamic that gets the best people into the team and motivates them to succeed in that vision. That’s what Tony and I termed Drive. It’s the notion of where the central dynamic of the organisation is and it’s here that most student business start-ups fail. So the central dynamic is to set up a situation where you can attract the best and most ambitious people and reward them really well for doing a good job so that their interest remains alive. It sounds very straightforward but it’s really quite difficult to implement in a start-up situation.’

The visual documentation approach has paid dividends. Fintecs has generated a visual map of the processes and interactions within Oxford Entrepreneurs that has become a central management tool for the society (see visual map above -- or click here to see a larger version .)

‘Why should a student society need to document itself in this way when even a lot of big companies don’t?’ Asks Bob Goodson. ‘As part of the society’s vision and drive it has been invaluable. The map is prominently displayed in our office where everyone can see it and consult it. Whenever we have a meeting where a process question comes up, the answer is very clear because it’s written up there on the wall!’

Another important reason for documenting the organisation visually was that it had proved so successful it was going to be replicated by other universities including Oxford Brooks, London School of Economics and Imperial College, London. ‘Those groups, says Bob Goodson, ‘were essentially set up using a copy of the Fintecs visual process map and a few calls from us at Oxford.’

Above all, the Fintecs visual map has proved successful in its primary role of transferring knowledge between one generation of students and the next. Oxford Entrepreneurs current president, and Bob Goodson’s successor, is Kirill Makharinsky.

‘The biggest benefit of Oxford Entrepreneurs as a society, says Kirill, ‘is that you can meet the kind of people that you’ll need to turn your idea into reality. A good idea doesn’t necessarily turn into a good company by any means, especially if you’re also studying full time. Essentially we provide the tools online and offline to search for team members. For example, we have a couple of recent ventures, www.amiworthit.com and www.liveout.co.uk , which were both formed using our synergy database where members found others based on the skills they needed.’

‘The idea of visual mapping came up,’ says Kirill, ‘because we needed to be able to convey both to our committee internally and to external supporters, exactly what we do. You know, a picture is worth a thousand words, especially at an early stage in your development. We found it was an invaluable way of putting across to people in only five minutes what it is we do. We found it particularly useful to show external parties and sponsors exactly what we do in a short space of time – to show them exactly how the organisation is structured.’

‘When it comes to getting our point across quickly it’s absolutely fantastic. We’ve used it often for external presentations and every single time we’ve had incredible feedback from external parties – after seeing it they certainly felt that we know what we’re doing and could see exactly what we’re trying to do in the future as well.’

Oxford Entrepreneurs has inevitably grown and changed over the two years since its founding but visual mapping has proved easy to adapt to those changes. Says Kirill, ‘I was involved in updating the map with Fintecs and the changes conveyed the transition perfectly, to my mind. We really didn’t have to amend much and I was very happy with the end result.’

‘Visual mapping is important because it’s essential to make sure that every single team member knows exactly where they’re going. Having that process shown visually can help clarify that and explain it. Having a visual tool is valuable because no one except for a very serious investor is going to sit down and read a full length business plan, and it would be impossible to convey really accurately and dramatically the organisation in only five minutes without such a tool.’

Bob Goodson echoes this view. ‘Why use visual documentation rather than traditional text documents? There’s no comparison. You can represent far more information in a much smaller space – you can represent a whole range of relationships that would take a very large amount of conventional text -- I would guess that you would be looking at probably 200 pages of text to represent everything that the Fintecs visual map shows in a single document.’

About Fintecs

Founded in 2001, Fintecs is a Banking IT consultancy that combines in-depth expertise in Banking and the Financial industry with a unique approach to the visual documentation of systems, business processes and people.

The Fintecs visual approach to IT documentation has been developed in association with one of Europe’s leading banks. It is designed to help financial institutions of all kinds to rediscover the value of their hardware and software assets and to:-

· Transfer vital knowledge among staff
· Match IT systems more closely to the needs of Business
· Understand fully how business processes interact
· Plan future systems with confidence

Fintecs draws on a wealth of experience with all kinds of financial institutions from private banking to trust administration including specialities such as asset management for private and institutional clients. Fintecs has carried out consultancy projects in countries throughout Europe as well as in Canada. Staff are English-French bilingual and have extensive experience of the Swiss banking system.

Fintecs consultancy work has included business process analysis from front-office to back, data flows, databases and a wide range of software applications, with extensive experience of Project Management, Project Implementation, Systems Integration, and Systems Replacement.

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