'Contour Maps' for Creating Value

Any strategic undertaking requires alignment among the management team. But identifying areas of agreement and differences can be difficult. Debates, arguments, Delphi techniques, and a host of other methods exist to provide order amidst the chaos of divergent opinions.

Martin O'Neill's introduction of contour maps is a unique method of ensuring your team faces the same view of reality. I wrote a review of for a future edition of the Institute of Management Accountant's flagship magazine, . While I enjoyed it in its entirety, its concept of contour maps was its strongest element.

From junior high geography I remember contour maps as a way to review different elevation levels across the U.S. I could compare how high the Rockies sat next to my hometown on the Illinois prairie. I liked how contour maps gave me a sense of high and low points. O'Neill's business adaptation serves the same purpose.

Building valuable businesses is more difficult than ever, and a clear picture of reality is crucial to start managers in addressing key topics. Think of a contour map as a compass overlaid on a bullseye. Each point of the compass represents a different dimension of how your company can generate value. The bullseye represents the relative strength of each driver.

If the management team believes a value driver is a strength, then the team makes a mark near the OUTSIDE of the circle. The marks near the outside of the circle create larger areas to demonstrate an area of value.