If you are a technology leader, understanding and applying the concept of Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners by Simon Wardley will be a game-changer. Most business and technology leaders struggle with the composition of the teams and the workforce’s structural underpinnings.
Simon Wardley is an ex-CEO and a strategist who created Wardley Maps or Mapping to visualize the essential organizational structure, management, and innovation quotient. His value chain maps are famous and none more than the concept of Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners.
Before we get into how CIOs and IT leaders must explore and exploit this concept, let’s get a bird’ eye view of the concept and the associated map. The mapping is simple, rooted in reality, and enormously valuable in understanding how groups think, plan, and work.
Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners:
Image Source: Simon Wardley
Here is an explanation of the three groups from Simon himself.
“Pioneers are brilliant people. They can explore never before discovered concepts, the uncharted land. They show you wonder but they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn’t work properly. You wouldn’t trust what they build. They create ‘crazy’ ideas. Their type of innovation is what we call core research. They make future success possible. Most of the time we look at them and go “what?”, “I don’t understand?” and “is that magic?”. In the past, we often burnt them at the stake. They built the first ever electric source (the Parthian Battery, 400AD) and the first ever digital computer (Z3, 1943).
Settlers are brilliant people. They can turn the half baked thing into something useful for a larger audience. They build trust. They build understanding. They learn and refine the concept. They make the possible future actually happen. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers and turn it profitable. Their innovation is what we tend to think of as applied research and differentiation. They built the first ever computer products (e.g. IBM 650 and onwards), the first generators (Hippolyte Pixii, Siemens Generators).
Town Planners are brilliant people. They are able to take something and industrialise it taking advantage of economies of scale. They build the platforms of the future and this requires immense skill. You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economic and good enough. They build the services that pioneers build upon. Their type of innovation is industrial research. They take something that exists and turn it into a commodity or a utility (e.g. with Electricity, then Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse). They are the industrial giants we depend upon.”
Let us explore how technology leaders can leverage this Wardley Map to organize, recognize, and manage teams across the spectrum.
One can either ask the teams’ to self-select, but that comes with the risk of implicit bias each of us may have toward bureaucratic town planners. (Mind you, things don’t work correctly without town planners, and cities may come to a grinding halt. But there is an inherent “frontier” feel about pioneers, and many groups may self-select themselves into that grouping.
Hence, in addition to seeking the teams’ opinions, the leadership can come up with a set of objective criteria to evaluate the proper grouping. The evaluation criteria should range from the type of work (Run, Grow, or Transform), the efficiency and effectiveness spectrum, the groups’ skills and competencies, and other such criteria.
Prior to allocations the teams to the Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners groups, it may also help if the company has an existing business capabilities model and a corresponding IT Product Model on the technology side. These existing artifacts and models help in a fundamental understanding of the work they have and their impact. Hence, future mapping as a pioneer, settler or town planner becomes an incremental step rather than a disruption.
Once you have the map ready, it would be an excellent idea to analyze the teams’ composition and the allocation percentages. It is a ballpark, but if the groups categorized as Pioneers are less than 10%, your enterprise is not innovating or claiming new frontiers. Depending on the industry, technological advances, and competitive dynamics, you should have 15-20% of teams tagged as Pioneers.
Similarly, Settlers should constitute about 25-40% – again depending on your industry, competitive factors, and the threat of substitute products.
Last but not least, about 40-50% in the Town Planners category may be ideal. But if the allocation to the Town Planner group exceeds 60%, you will need to examine the future prospects of your firm seriously. Anything north of 66% is a disaster in the making.
Are you interested in implementing the Simon Wardley Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners Visual Mapping in your enterprise? Do you need help in the assessment and evaluation, and categorization of the groups? If so, one of our consultants may be able to help. Please contact us.