Mapping Your Organization’s Ecology

Mapping an organizational ecology is an essential step to functioning as a Genius Organization.  Whom do you serve? Where do you do business? This includes the work of understanding market and value stream but it goes considerable further.

Mapping the Market & Value Stream

Who buys your products? Most companies have a clear answer to this, with a break-down by demographics and psychographics. We won’t review the well known basics of market research. The one suggestion we will make here is that you use personas — prototypical (perhaps fictional) examples of your users / customers that everyone in your company can develop a personal (imagined) relationship with — to capture the demographic and psychographic figures. Many people find it difficult to remember statistics, but find it easy to remember details about a person. This is especially useful if most of your customers fit one type, but a substantial minority have several significant differences.  It is also useful if your customers are very different from your employees. You can use short fiction to help your employees understand who your customers are in the moment they deal with your company. That understanding will improve not only marketing but customer service and product design.

Mapping the value stream is less widely understood. Detailed and rigorous instructions are available from various Lean sources; the Lean Toolbox by Bicheno & Holweg is a good place to start. We offer a very simple version here on the theory that it is better to do a simple version than nothing.

In order to map your value stream, you must make a simple flowchart of every step that must take place in order to deliver value to your customer. If often helps to start with the customer and work backwards. By the time you are finished, you will have a web of materials and services that starts with recycling and resource extraction and finishes with the customer acknowledging receipt of delivery. We recommend that you begin this process at a high level of abstraction (the rough-and-simple version), and refine it over time.

Once you have mapped the web of firms, processes, and materials that delivers value to you customers, it is time to look at the web that surrounds the use and disposal of your company’s products. Again, we recommend a simple initial overview before putting a lot of work into detail. What processes, people, and materials are required by your customers’ use of your products? (We specifically include services, experiences, and guided transformations in the word “products” throughout this article). What processes, people, and materials are involved in the disposal or recycling of your products? Draw the flow of materials and processes, until you reach its end (or until it loops back to your manufacturing or delivery process).

Since the mid-1980s (when Interface Carpets began pioneering the practice on an industrial scale), we have been moving into what is now called “the circular economy”. This refers to the “cradle to cradle” approach of tracking our products after they are sold, through the end of their use cycle, and taking responsibility for their disposal or recycling. This shift is absolutely required in order to function effectively as a Genius Organization. How will you know how your customers’ lives are changing if you do not at least track the long-term impact of your products? Fortunately, it is not only necessary, it is also the source of significant savings and additional revenue for those firms that truly make the shift. The shift from selling software as an object (disk plus documentation) to software as a service (cloud-based and membership-based) is driving a great deal of commerce. That is the same shift that Interface pioneered when they began selling carpets as a service rather than a good, and it is also driving the “sharing economy” where people own fewer things but rent “thing plus service” more frequently.

Once you have mapped market and value streams, you are ready to define the communities you serve.

Defining Your Community

Defining a community requires you to ask yourself not only “who are my customers” but also “who are my people?” Your organization probably serves several communities:

  • the people who are upstream from you, from materials extraction to component manufacture to professional services, the physical towns or cities where they live, and the virtual associations where they work or socialize;
  • the physical communities where your facilities are based;
  • the physical or virtual communities to whom you sell your products;
  • the people who are downstream of you, who receive the results of your work and develop it further, recycle it, or clean up after it, and the physical towns or cities where they live, and the virtual associations where they work or socialize.

The list of communities you serve may be quite long, but again it is enough to start with a high-level overview — if you have a very large company, you will need to do a much deeper exercise later, but with a small company you may find that you only serve two to four communities.  The key here is to decide who deeply involved your company is with any given community along the value stream (and if you should be more involved than you are). For example, an oil company operating in the coastal delta of Nigeria should probably include the people living in that coastal delta in its list of communities, even if they currently do not devote much energy to serving those people. On the other hand, an accounting firm in Manhattan may regard its communities as being the schools where its accountants trained, the physical neighborhoods where its employees live and where the company is located, and the industry groups to which most of its customers belong.

Mapping the Ecology

Once you understand your market, your value stream, and your communities, you understand most of your organization’s ecology.  The last thing to do is to make a brief best-estimate assessment of the ecosystems or other elements which drive the well-being of your communities.  You can do this very simply: make two columns, one with a list of elements in a community’s environment which drive that community’s wellbeing, the other with a list of elements that impede its wellbeing. These lists should include key allies or trading partners, key enemies or competitors, and key ecosystems on which they depend. This obviously includes biotic ecosystems such as farming systems or watersheds, but for virtual communities it may include “a free and open internet”, for example.

Mapping the ecology of your organization will give you a significant resource for developing your organization’s ability to deliver remarkable value, and for cultivating the ability of the communities you serve to do the same