Decision Intelligence: In Action — Part 2

How Netmapping can help you understand your Decision Context and improve your company’s Framework Proficiency.

For this article, I have engaged in a discussion with Jürg Honegger, an expert in systems thinking and the creator of the Netmapping approach.
In the recent past, many readers of the first parts of my “Decision Intelligence” series have asked about how to improve their Decision Context. While there are lots of people in the Decision Intelligence space trying to sell some allegedly new and innovative approaches to improve your Decision Context, Jürg’s approach Netmapping is a practice-focused application of systems thinking — a concept that I had already learnt when studying at the university a long time ago (and it still works).
When I realized the value of the Netmapping approach as a practice tool to truly improve your Decision Context and increase your Framework Proficiency, I asked Jürg for an interview to describe his solution and how executives can apply it.

Dear Jürg, can you explain the logic and theory behind your Netmapping approach?

To be successful in social systems is a complex task. The central purpose of Netmapping is to help managers better understand their complex systems and navigate successfully in uncertain times. It’s about mental modelling, decision-making and problem solving as well as the successful management of social systems like organisations (for-profit and non-profit), towns and states, industries or projects, teams, partnerships, families or even yourself. By modelling, we reduce complexity to a manageable but still correct level. By imagining the Netmap as a strategy or management map we visualise the logic of success.

Can you describe the Netmapping method in more detail?

In the first module “Netmap” (fig 1) we identify the complex issue and the level of abstraction to be analysed and visualised. The level of altitude is comparable to the “flight altitude” — we suggest visualising different levels of abstraction in separate Netmaps — that’s because the success factors, interrelations, objectives and levers are different on various levels.
We then integrate different viewpoints and deduct the relevant success factors. This often takes hours of intensive discussions and analyses. These success factors are then interrelated with causal feedback loops to a Netmap (used to visualize and test assumptions as a Strategy Map in the long-term context, used as a Management Map on a regular basis). A crucial part of finishing a Netmap is to identify:

  • Decision levers (fields of action and control, steerable factors) and
  • Indicators of success as the desired outcome
    (compare fig 4 for an example of a Netmap).

Why do clients make use of Netmapping?

Complex situations are always unique. But in many cases, the typical question we try to answer is: which interrelations do we have to consider for our long-term success? As described above, we first define the “flight altitude”, meaning on which level we analyse and visualise the system. This is important in order to concentrate on one field of action. By defining the level of abstraction, we also define the borders of the system towards the bigger system of which it is a part of and the sub-systems on the other hand. We then look at the system from different perspectives and different levels and systematically derive the relevant key factors for the selected level, which we connect in a Netmap.

  • A new team
  • A new vision and/or mission statement
  • A new strategy
  • Difficulties with the use and interpretation of management cockpits, e.g. Balanced Scorecards (BSC)
  • A “mess” with management instruments, lost overview because of chaos, or too many and not connected management tools

What challenges do your clients (or you) face when applying Netmapping?

Applying Netmapping might be uncomfortable at the beginning and also later — it means to take different and maybe new perspectives, look at the big picture before deep diving and taking action. And last but not least: Keep doing it for a system’s sustainability and change in its decision culture. After all, it is not just about finding a strategy, goals and action points but also about changing the culture in the management team. As a proverb says: Culture eats strategy for breakfast — if the culture does not allow and wish for an employee and team orientation, it is a challenge to apply Netmapping (or any team-oriented method). The best results are achieved when hierarchy, job titles and formal power are left outside the workshop. Of course, this does not mean that the hierarchy doesn’t exist when it comes to strategic decisions. However, to find a Netmap a realistic model and in order to gather intelligence from all over the organisation and develop good solutions, it helps to discuss without hierarchical restraints. But this requires that the participants regard their management role as a responsibility more than a rank. This way, it is possible to get the most extensive consensus possible and not a minimalist solution.

How important is the visualisation as part of the Netmapping approach?

Visualisation is a crucial aspect of Netmapping. In the form of maps, they visualise and integrate the knowledge of different disciplines, the relations between them and feedback loops. Assumptions are made explicit and can be discussed and validated. By using visualisations, we can overcome obstacles that are typical for complex systems and help to break down communication barriers between specialists. They also help to overcome a lack of orientation, potential misunderstandings, wrong or no focus, wrong or no priorities.

  • Position reckoning: Creating a holistic analysis of the complex situation preceding the intervention
  • Focusing: Identifying the relevant success factors
  • Prioritising: Analysing the speed and intensity of the interrelations
  • Creating a clear picture of possible external scenarios and designing the desired future

How do you/your clients gather intelligence as part of the Netmapping approach?

The Netmap, including external influences, indicators of success and levers, serves as a filter for the collection and structuring of information.

Faculty, Board Member, Investor — Entrepreneurial Scholar