Innovation June 2012

What’s Your Point?

Communicating complex messages

On the water, Richard Parslow and Marcus Baur were fierce rivals. Baur, a double Olympian, was one of the top sailors in the German team, while Parslow was coach of the British squad. In numerous championship regattas around the world, they asked and gave no quarter.

At the Moscow World Championships in 2005, they fell into conversation and Baur mentioned a new software tool that he was working on. Parslow, who had previously worked in the software industry, admits he was initially more than a little skeptical—until the computer screen flickered into life.

From that instant, he told BCCJ ACUMEN, the Anglo-German rivalry quickly became an alliance.

“I recognised immediately what I was looking at and I was just open-mouthed”, said 53-year-old Parslow, one of Britain’s best-known sailors and presently coach for the Belgian 49er team as they attempt to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“I’d worked on lots of different kinds of projects in the past and I could see this format working in practically any area”, said Parslow. “It was just a prototype, but Marcus and I knew that we had to form a company to develop and market it—and we had to do it fast, because it was such a blindingly obvious concept that some bright spark at Microsoft or another major corporation was bound to come up with the same idea”.

The image was of a multi-level pie chart, with the main goal defined very clearly at the centre and all the elements required to achieve that goal arrayed around it.

For Baur, the target was to become the best sailor in the world; to win medals he needed to factor in training, sponsorship, equipment preparation, physical and mental fitness, and a myriad other variables.

The software displayed at a glance his priorities and progress in every area, showing him on what to allot his efforts at any given time. And as he completed each task—be it clinching sponsorship or finalising the purchase of a new boat—that part of the goal map could be minimised or deleted altogether, clarifying on what to focus his efforts next.

Before the year was out, Baur, Parslow and another partner had set up Goalscape Software and immediately started to record sales. Goalscape quickly spread in the sporting realm—clients to date range from cycling teams to triathletes, field hockey teams and tennis professionals—and it is even more valuable in the corporate world.

Companies that have purchased the system include Airbus, Goodyear-Dunlop, Vodafone and—ironically—Microsoft Corp, as well as consulting operations all over the world.

The system also works for any individual’s personal goals.

Part of the attraction of Goalscape is its innate simplicity: it displays the hierarchy of sub-goals, their relative importance and the progress that has been made in each area. It gives the big picture, at the same time as capturing information in fine detail, and makes it easier to oversee programmes, run a multitude of projects, manage resources and track projects.

Just as important, it encourages teamwork with clear and meaningful communication, which helps to align goals, focus effort and improve motivation, said Parslow. There is now also a cloud version, Goalscape Connect, that allows team members to access and update a single central project.

“We are a small company and we want to follow our own development path; we are self-financing and growing organically”, Parslow said.

Baur is based in the German city of Kiel; the head of development is in Sydney, Australia; the programmers are in eastern Europe, spread out from St. Petersburg through Slovakia and on to Romania; and Parslow lives in Bracknell, Berkshire.

They use the online Connect version to manage the widely disbursed company and run all its projects, from marketing initiatives and joint developments to testing and customer support.

To date, the software has been translated into versions for speakers of German, Spanish, French, Slovak, Czech, Japanese, Korean and, most recently, Italian.

In Japan, Goalscape has teamed up with EMC Quest KK, and Parslow paid his first visit to Japan in March, for a series of presentations and meetings with resellers and potential customers.

Enhancements to the system are ongoing, Parslow said, with the recent addition of per-goal instant messaging and e-mail notifications. The next step is a “freemium” online version, to give new users free access to a single project, if invited by a colleague or teammate.

“In sport, there are a lot of innovators who are looking for an edge, be that in sailing, cycling or any other technical sport, and this tool gives coaches and athletes a better way to discuss goals, plans and progress”, he added. “And the same is true in business: it helps executives, managers and team members collaborate with purpose.

“The visual overview is vital and Goalscape gives you the full picture: it lets you see, understand and communicate everything”.