Lost in Network? Network picturing as a tool in dynamic network management

By Tiina Valjakka and Katri Valkokari

This post illustrates how picturing networks from different actors’ perspectives affects the network management and facilitates the building of new connections. It is based on a paper we presented last month in the IMP 2015 Conference in Kolding, Denmark. The aim of the paper is to extend understanding of strategic management in dynamic business networks, especially from the viewpoint of SMEs operating in a B2B context.

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Firms are simultaneously acting in various networks in different roles (see picture above).  Each of the actors has its own perception of the network and its position within it. Managers’ understanding of perceptions across boundaries is a key to a firm’s success in networked business ecosystem, where knowledge and resources are dispersed and value co-creation requires integration of resources. Drawing from the management point of view, our preliminary research question was: How to picture and combine the different network perspectives in order to better manage the business network?

Network pictures can be seen, and utilized as:

  • Business actors’ subjective mental frameworks of their surroundings, and thus as sense-making tools that underlie decision-making in networks
  • a tool used by researchers and practitioners to grasp actors’ understanding of their surrounding business network(s)
  • boundary-spanning mechanisms which serve as an interface between different organizations

In our case study, we utilized network picturing as a tool for strategic management in a SME. We first draw two focal company perspectives; factory and sales, identified their most important connections, and described the roles and content of interaction with these first-level partners. The other network perspectives depicted were end-users’ network pictures from different customer segments. These network pictures, snapshots from different network actors’ perspectives, were then utilized for drawing the network management perspective. Network picturing resulted in the identification of new relevant network actors and needs for building connections to them.

The managerial challenge is to guide the development within business networks. Often, companies anchor themselves to a single vision of their customer needs and network structures, which may preclude considering the viewpoints of other network actors. Many businesses have a complex nature, and network picturing gives a possibility to see beyond the most obvious and traditionally closest actors. Our study highlighted that in order to act as a change driver in their business environment, a SME must have broader connections than the relationships with the direct customers and suppliers.

Reference

Valjakka, Tiina; Valkokari, Katri; Kettunen, Outi. 2015. Utilizing network picturing in the management of dynamic networks. IMP Group. 31th Annual IMP Conference and Doctoral Colloquium 2015 “Organizing Sustainable BtoB Relationships – Designing in Changing Networks”, 25 – 29 August 2015, Kolding, Denmark.