Mapping out your operational needs


Operations and infrastructure relate to the internal workings of your project or your organisation. It is the way in which people, systems and processes all work and interact together (given a set of external inputs) to deliver your project’s outputs and outcomes. As your idea turns into a full and working project or organisation, you will need to think about formally mapping out your operational needs. This guide looks at how to build the various components of your organisation and operations.

Operational mapping

The following diagram sets out the broad framework for building your business model that is covered in our other guides (in particular see the social model and the business model guides):

Vision statement diagram

Operational mapping will require you to start understanding the details of the activities that you will need to carry out (on a day to day basis) to deliver the interventions, outputs and outcomes that you have defined as part of your social model and strategy. We recommend you take a look at our social model theory of action guide as this is very much aligned with the process of developing your key activities . The activities you define will be unique to your organisation; here are some typical, generic examples:

  • Production / manufacture
  • Service / product delivery
  • Promoting your offer (sales, marketing)
  • Managing suppliers / supply chain
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Networking
  • Fundraising / investor dialogue
  • Financial management

For each of the operational activities you define, start to think more deeply about how it will actually work in practice; the operational mapping template will enable you to document the following aspects of each component:

  • Purpose / objective of activity: how do you define success for this activity? Think broadly about the various aspects of delivering this activity that would enable success and include them in your definition.
  • Key steps / actions: what are the headline (max. five) actions, which, in aggregate, would define how this activity takes, place from day to day? This will be the initial step in developing an operational manual further down the line; but at this stage, the purpose is to enable you to think clearly and comprehensively about the underlying mechanics of your project.
  • Capabilities / skills / knowledge required: what human expertise is required to deliver the activity successfully? These may or may not be the same as your own areas of expertise – this is an important first step in working out where you will need the support of others. This is discussed further below.
  • Key inputs: what other things need to happen for this activity to be successful?

Here, you are trying to define the inter-relationships between your activities – within a single organisation, the success of any single activity will usually be dependent on one or more ‘upstream’ activities, as well as on external inputs. For example, successful marketing would probably be a key input to your sales activity; and successful product delivery is likely to be influenced by a robust manufacturing operation, which in turn will require a reliable, external (ethical) supply chain to deliver raw materials on time.

Human resources – identifying core capabilities and skills needs and gaps

As discussed above, the process of mapping out your operations will enable you to start to think about what human expertise you need within your organisation. This expertise can take many forms, all of which reside inside people’s heads: skills, capabilities, knowledge and experience – let us refer to them collectively as skills.

Having identified which skills you need in the mapping exercise above, it is likely that you will ‘tick the box’ on some of them; for the rest, it is worth starting to think about how you will fill the gap. For each skills gap you identify, work through the following issues:

  • How important is the skill to the success of the overall activity? Give a simple overall rating on importance (high, medium, low)
  • How well could you learn this skill as you go along?
  • Do I know someone/can I find someone who has the right skills and will be willing to give me some advice/guidance?
  • Can I find third parties who have this skill and who might want to work in partnership?
  • Can I buy in this skill from a third party reliably and affordably?

Use this process to help you identify potential solutions to filling your skills gaps. There are a few words of advice here:

As a social entrepreneur at the early stages of set up, you are likely to have a limited budget and will not have an established track record yet. As such, it is advisable to take an open-minded approach to assessing which skills you think you could learn on the job or through self-tuition. The role of the entrepreneur is often diverse and broad at the early stages. This will give you an opportunity to refine your business and your operating model. In areas such as sales and marketing, it is your vision and the way you communicate that which are likely to be most important at this stage anyway. One area that social entrepreneurs often shy away from is financial management of the organisation. It is highly recommended that you commit to developing a minimum level of financial management skills and understanding, and actively use this to manage your organisation’s finances at the very early stages.

You will notice that the final obvious question is absent here. That is, if the skill is essential and no other options exist, does this mean you need to recruit someone into the organisation? This may, ultimately be the right way forward if you identify a group of essential skills gaps that naturally fit together into a single role within your organisation and a realistic profile for someone to have. But remember that you are just starting out here, and bringing an employee onto your books at this stage may be a high-risk approach. What often happens is that you may be able to find an ‘entrepreneurial partner’ who buys in to your vision, mission and values, has key skills that complement your own, and is motivated to join your project. In many cases, entrepreneurial partnerships will split their formal organisational responsibilities between internal operations-focused areas versus strategy / business development / sales, reflecting a common division of skills and interests; however, in reality their work will overlap regularly in the early stages.

Working with your suppliers

A supplier is an organisation or individual that will deliver you some sort of product or service – using the terminology above, an external input to your organisation. Your suppliers will themselves have suppliers, and so on – this is the supply chain of which you (and your customers and beneficiaries) are a part. Generally, product supply chains are more complex than service-based supply chains.

Managing your suppliers is a key part of ensuring that your own operations are successful. In large organisations, procurement departments do just this all of the time. For you, however, reliable and on time supplies will be dependent on good choice of suppliers and a strong working relationship with them.

The use (and marketing) of ethical supply chains is common in social entrepreneurship and may have an impact on what you consider to be a ‘good’ supplier. Make sure that your work is not compromised by association to suppliers that may have dubious working practices – note that the hurdle of safety in terms of protecting your own organisation’s reputation in this regard is probably higher in the social enterprise space than it is in the commercial sector. Be prepared to discuss values and ethics with your suppliers and investigate their accreditation with relevant standards/regulatory bodies.

However, don’t forget also that a good supplier is one that can deliver reliably, to the right standard, and on time. These are more boring aspects of the supplier relationship, but equally important.

Working with suppliers effectively means having a common understanding of key aspects of the relationship. For each of your major suppliers, make sure you have a good understanding of / are happy with the following:

  • Price
  • Delivery terms
  • Quality/standard of delivery (ask your suppliers if you can talk to some of their other customers)
  • Payment terms
  • Termination procedure/timeframes
  • (For long term supplier relationships) Their capacity to supply you – be clear about how much of your future growth can be accommodated before you would need to start looking for a second supplier

Working with partners

When two or more parties work together to achieve a single, common objective, their relationship is no longer one of customer-supplier; they are working in partnership. Partnerships can be an effective way of filling your skills gaps, but should be thought of much more broadly and strategically than that. As such, this topic is discussed fully in our business model guide.

At the time when you are setting up, however, you may find that partnership opportunities do exist specifically to help you bring a specific skill to what you want to offer your customers or beneficiaries. It is likely that such partnerships will be with individuals who may share your vision and values and have a desire to create the same types of changes you are. These early partnerships (e.g. where you share responsibilities for product or service delivery and share revenues accordingly), if successful, can be valuable for both parties later down the line – it may lead to a decision to streamline your efforts into single, more effective, social enterprise venture as you grow and become more established.

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