Causality and the BDN


For background, read this article from Harvard Business Review:
Tool to Map Your Next Digital Initiative (article)

Welcome to Causality, not a TV sit-com (Casualty) but the Benefit Dependency Network, a tool that will help you understand cause and effect. With my focus on change, value and outcomes, I try to understand how each change contributes to the desired outcomes. Which changes might really drive the impact we want? However, causation is no longer a simple 1:1 relationship or even a hierarchy or tree. And we also need a little more structure than a completely free form strategy map.

A Dependency Network shows how the benefits associated with change can be realized to achieve the desired outcomes. More structured than a strategy map, more insightful than a "balanced" scorecard, such a model (actually a directed graph or di-graph) helps us work through the complex inter-relationships, dependencies and contributions so we can prioritize and invest accordingly.

The idea of a webtool has been tried several times by individuals and organizations. Building on some of these ideas, I have developed a "canvas" that will not only allow you to draw and work with a BDN, but also connects back to a benchmark and database. As you drag and drop shapes, it suggests wording for the outcomes, changes, enablers, etc. pulling from a database of projects and ideas collated over 20 years. Finally, as you connect the elements to indicate the dependencies, it suggests their contribution, again based on project data and within the bounds of reality, drawing from previous BDN experience as well as industry norms and process benchmarks (such as APQC). Finally, by highlighting or dimming unrelated elements, the text for a "story with numbers" emerges for use in the apocryphal elevator conversation.

The tool has been in beta for a few months and a few close friends have tried their hand; now it is time to let everyone go for it. If you are interested, then please let me know. There is a quick video intro and I am working on a "Wizard" to get you going quicker.

As a consultant, it supports your discussions around change and outcomes. More than just a drawing or diagramming tool, it will prompt you and suggest relevant items and connections as you construct a causal network using a growing database of Drivers, Outcomes, Benefits, Changes, Capabilities and Enablers. Such diagrams are also referred to as value chains or Benefits Dependency Networks but these are often seen as too complex to use wehn "modelling to communicate"; this tool will analyse the linkages and indicate the contribution of each and write a simple story with numbers to summarize the causes that impact the outcomes. You can save, extend or continue your work using this or other tools (even notepad) as the file format is well-formed XML, text that conforms to an extensible schema and namespace, that is published as bdn.xsd. For further information send email to


This BDN webtool draws from content developed by Cranfield University’s School of Management, simply Cranfield henceforth. A Benefits Dependency Network (BDN) provides a one-page understanding of drivers, outcomes, benefits, changes, capabilities and enablers to track stakeholders, measures and change contributions. Also see the Wikipedia page. For further information, contact me using
This app started by borrowing ideas from a canvas drawing tutorial by William Malone (, changed, updated and simply designed. Built with javascript, php, css and html5 for device portability.

NB: If you are interested in drawing, sketching or just doodling, and especially if you are an IT Architect, I suggest you read this post by Jen Miller: How to Draw Better.