Customers & Industries: First Principles Consulting

Using BigPicture Software, First Principles Consulting Improves Operations for Mining Clients

  • Industry: Mining
  • Product(s): BigPicture
  • Application: Value Driver Trees of Management and Operational Processes


First Principles Consulting (FPC), located in Australia, uses BigPicture to create Value Driver Trees for mining clients. Value Driver Trees are tools used to split out value-based metrics (such as EVA and ROI) into sub-metrics in order to determine the source of value being added. Value drivers can be measures of growth, margins, capital efficiency, and more. The consultants of FPC help their clients improve operational effectiveness and efficiency. They had long been looking for a tool to format Value Driver Trees within Excel that integrated the tree with their calculations. BigPicture for Excel allows visual shapes, called topics, to display data that calculate and update in real time as the underlying linked data changes. This enables FPC to easily create large, branching Value Driver Trees that demonstrate what-if scenarios for its clients.


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There has been a gap in the market for a tool that isn’t just a visual tool like a mind map, but has calculation powers behind it. We were pretty happy to find BigPicture.
Mark Franklin, Owner and Principal, First Principles Consulting


Mining is a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy. First Principles Consulting focuses on improving management and operational effectiveness for clients in the mining sector.

First Principles helps clients put systems in place that enable managers to do their jobs more efficiently, from the operational level to mid-management to the C-suite. An effective approach will have everyone participating in a similar process of planning and getting work done, and then checking and adjusting plans to suit.

Creating Value Driver Trees in Excel with BigPicture

How is it possible to map out an effective management plan for an entire mining operation? An essential part of the process is identifying all the components that drive value, throughput, or quality. Each contributing factor is identified and mapped in a process map called a Value Driver Tree. A well-planned process ideally brings more throughput for less cost, and better utilization of critical assets.

A Value Driver Tree created by First Principals Consulting using BigPicture.

Because the Value Driver Trees are an important part of the process and a powerful tool, FPC consultant Patrick Mullen devoted a lot of effort to them. He initially spent a lot of time constructing the maps by hand using Excel’s drawing tools.

“Previously I drew the Value Driver Trees with great difficulty using the drawing tools in Excel –grabbing cells, highlighting, and putting boxes around them,” explains Mullen. “It was an enormous job.”

The finished product would be a fairly static map with no linked data. All future adjustments were a laborious, manual process. Because some of FPC’s maps are gigantic with hundreds of topics, updating the Value Driver Tree consumed a lot of effort. And because the hand-drawn maps had limited functionality, the best use of them was to print out on large format paper, with the myriad of detail barely readable.

BigPicture gives First Principles Consulting a powerful toolset to make Value Driver Trees dynamic – automatically updating as source data changes – and flexible for presentations and demonstrations with clients.

“There has been a gap in the market for a tool that isn’t just a visual tool like a mind map, but has calculation powers behind it,” says Mark Franklin, owner and principal of First Principles Consulting. “We were pretty happy to find BigPicture.”

“The payback on BigPicture is a no-brainer,” adds Mullen. “Payback comes in less than a day.”

Flexibility and Live Calculations Help Stakeholders See the Big Picture

First Principles Consulting uses Value Driver Trees to keep track of the complexity of the job for themselves, and for meetings and presentations with clients. The Value Driver Trees aren’t the end product – they are a tool to help determine the correct KPIs (key performance indicators) the team should be measuring.

KPIs are the factors that might impact the amount of ore that can be hauled out of the mines, the number of drivers to drive trucks, the number of excavators available to load the trucks, the waiting time to get to the dump, actual ground conditions, different types of rock that make up the ore, breakdown delays, weather delays, operational delays, and so forth.

“Typically everybody works within their jobs, but they don't really get the ‘big picture,’” Franklin says with a laugh, acknowledging the appropriateness of the software’s name. “They don't know how their work affects processes upstream and downstream other than just intuitively.”

Color-coded BigPicture maps lets FPC and its clients see the entire process – the “big picture.”

BigPicture changes all that. With BigPicture, FPC is able to make maps that are large enough to handle their projects, but still manageable via hide/collapse display options, formatting, and reporting. FPC’s BigPicture maps are also color-coded and contain images, further providing visual cues to stakeholders to make the maps even more navigable and accessible. Now, team members are able to see what their area of control is and how it impacts the project, upstream suppliers, and downstream customers. First Principles uses the dynamic Value Driver Trees to give team members an overview of the whole project–and how they fit in–helping in education and communication.

Furthermore, BigPicture’s capability for live calculations has brought new functionality that the static Value Driver Trees of the past couldn’t match. “With BigPicture’s ability for live spreadsheet calculations in the Value Driver Trees, we can do What Ifs with different criteria,” explains Mullen. “If we change the number of hours we’ve got available, how does it change the outcome? The calculations flow all the way through the chain.”

“Being able to create that chart or map with calculating cells that update in real time as you change the data behind them – that's the key,” says Mullen.

BigPicture Brings Benefits to both First Principles and their Clients

BigPicture has made a formerly laborious process much easier. Patrick Mullen reports that he was able to create Value Driver Trees using BigPicture on the first day. “BigPicture is very intuitive,” he says. “I use Excel all the time, so I didn't find it a big step out of my comfort zone.”

Value Driver Trees are a valuable tool in the work of First Principles Consulting, and using BigPicture has made the task more accessible. “BigPicture takes all of the difficulty out of creating maps in Excel. If you're going to spend days building up one of these maps, it's hard to sell that to a client,” explains Mullen. “Whereas if it's a relatively speedy process to create the Excel artifact using BigPicture, that's a much better proposition.” Both First Principles and their clients have already seen quick returns.

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