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Bringing strategy mapping into your org

Wardley Mapping is something we’ve been using for quite some time. The last two episodes were: ‘Wardley Mapping 101‘ and ‘Can Wardley Maps Predict the Future?‘. So I thought it would be good to answer a common question people have:

That’s a cool technique, but how would I do that in my work?

Brining strategy mapping to your org

Don’t fire up a canvas straight away

If you follow Simon Wardley, on Twitter, and you’ve started experimenting with Wardley Mapping, you may be wondering how can you make it a thing in your work? How can you bring Wardley Mapping to your place of work?

We have a lot of experience doing just that, over the last 10 years. The first bit of advice is don’t rock in on Monday morning and say, right everyone, I read a book at the weekend! Wait until you see this. And start firing up a canvas. It might work, but you might get thrown out!. Like all new thing, sometimes you have a moment of discovery for a fantastic new thing. If you rock in and say, ‘Look, everyone, this is brilliant’, it might work. But that’s a challenging route to go.

Mark McCann
If you expose them to the breadth of material that’s out there, mapping can overwhelm people. You can be all excited about it. , But they will disengage, turn off and think you’re a little bit mad. We’ve lived this experience, where we felt that it was awesome and we should do everywhere. And we’ had to back down and take a tactical, or strategic approach to introducing mapping into the org, It’s about bringing people on the journey in a collaborative and facilitated way. Rather than imposing it on people,

Northstar technique as a secret way of mapping

Dave Anderson
If you just say, here’s a 400 page book that was written by Simon Wardley, read it quickly! That won’t work. One thing you’ve done well, Mark, is introducing the North Star technique as a secret way of mapping.

Mark McCann
You can use any collaborative tools including a whiteboard. Tease out the precursor activities to look at what is your purpose, using a number of stickies:

  • What’s your purpose trying to achieve?
  • And what’s your scope?
  • What’s in and out of scope?
  • And then critically who are your users?
  • What are their needs.
  • And something I have added in more recently, is what are the key metrics that you think are important Or that are rattling around in your head, in your org or in your team.

You need to have quantifiable goals that you’re trying to get to. It’s amazing what insights you can gather just from that activity. You can do it in 20 minutes or you can do it in an hour. And you can get a few people together. It demystifies it all by being collaborative, simple, and allowing people to challenge each other in an easy way. Without taking the approach of going off and creating a map with value chains and components. Instead it gently introduces people to thinking about important aspects of work and what they’re doing in their team.

Adopting a design centric approach

Dave Anderson
It’s almost a design centric apprach. If you’ve ever worked with designers, or even used design thinking, they don’t say here’s the process I’m going to bring you through. They’ll ask a question to start a conversation, And they take you down a path that goes wide and then comes back again. They take you on a journey by asking leading questions. But they don’t lay the path out in front of you. That’s a good facilitation skill. When you structure your approach that like a Wardley Map in Canvas, you get the main building blocks. And you can effectively create a map in your head after that.

Mark McCann
Once you have reached that stage, you can use Wardley Maps on Canvas, a Miro board or another collaboration tool. And you can start to tease out the components of the value chain? It’s a good introduction to discover a lot of the things that are in the landscape, and then you start to map.

Dave Anderson
Once you started talking about Wardley Mapping, find like minded people in your organisation. There may be someone who has you heard about it. Architects love any techniques. Draw boxes we’re all in! So there may be a few people who you can set up to map in twos or threes to start practising as a small group. Mark, you and I did that right at the start. We say trying to draw maps and confused ourselves trying to figure out what was going on. That was definitely helpful.

Find like-minded people

Michael O’Reilly
You can use external workshops to introduce mapping, Northstar sessions and working with like minded people. I find you need a combination of both. First things first, find time and a nice space. I always send pre reading material. here are 20 minute bite size type items. In one 20 minute video, Simon Wardley talks about how mapping is like crossing the river by feeling the stones. He did it for an open source conference a few years back. The big thing for me is capturing outcomes. Capture the map, so people can come back to it after the fact. It means I can revisit that subject matter and get back up to speed reasonably quickly. When you’ve prepped, done the session and engaged you need to capture the outcomes. What are the key areas we want to talk about to cut to the chase?

Mark McCann
It worked well in a physical office. We would leave maps on the board, and people got interested.

Michael O’Reilly
I would wander into the office and you two had stuck something on the wall. And we would think,what are these guys at? You would look at the map. And before you knew it, that was the conversation starter? Or you gave a fresh perspective. Like I don’t agree with that and you challenged the map.

Adopt a working backwards approach by starting with outcomes

Dave Anderson
There’s a principle there: create in the open. Use white walls or whiteboards to draw your map and just leave it there. You don’t need to rub it off because it’s a secret. Just leave it up there. It is harder when you’re using online tools. But you can still share on Slack channels.

Mark McCann
If you are curious, you can always find them. We try not to lock the maps down. The maps should be open for challenge. You need to make sure that they’re they’re discoverable for people.

Michael O’Reilly
I put my maps into Confluence Pages with notes to get them out there for feedback.

Mark McCann
If you have findings or observations you can extract them on to a PowerPoint slide or a Confluence page. And people can see the outcomes and they get curious about how you discovered that. Or how did you come up with that observation? You can introduce them to Wardley Mapping that way. They see the benefits from the activity even if they didn’t see the map first. Now they are more likely to be engaged. Mapping becomes an interesting technique. Can you take me through that? And then you’re back to what’s your scope? What’s your purpose, your users or your user needs? Or what’s the value chain?

Start with observations and move back towards the map

Dave Anderson
That is really important. It’s a working backwards thing. I certainly found from experience if you talk about mapping as a magical technique, you put people off. But if you say I think we should do x. People will ask why do you think that? And you can say if y happens, then we’ll need to do x. Again people will ask why do you think that? And again you can say if z occurs, y happens, and we need to do x. You’re backing into the map. And if they are interested you can show them the map. Here is how we worked it out with our observations, and the movement.

If people tunnel behind your strategy, the map is like the working out of a maths sum. Start with the answer. And if people keep digging, you can show them the working out. That’s a great way to talk about mapping. If you have a suggestion that’s off the wall, you can explain it. And it’s a good way to win people over without forcing them through a mapping session. Show them the prize at the end. And if they’re interested, they can get back into the map.

Mapping is a shortcut to situational awareness

Michael O’Reilly
If you’re working in a large organisation, it’s good to go back and rehydrate that information in your head. You can come back up to speed very quickly even for complex areas.

Dave Anderson
If you do a really complicated map, and come back a year later and think how did we come to that? You can look at the map.

Mark McCann
It a shortcut to getting situational awareness back again. You can use maps to quickly get into context, so that you’re in a position to make a decision or challenge to find the next best action. Maps are a really good way of shortcutting back to understanding context and landscape and what the components are. You can make an informed decision about what to do next. On a zoom call with the map open, you’re very well informed. You just need to glance at the map for five minutes before that conversation, and you’re right up to speed. It’s a high value activity you can do before any important meeting.

Dave Anderson
The element of sense making is really important, especially in a complicated organisation, or for complicated stuff you’re working on. We always say don’t map by yourself. But I think sometimes you just need to figure something out, or sit and start a map to give something some shape. If there’s a complex object or problem, you start mapping to try and put some shape on it. Yesterday, we were talking something really complicated, so we decided to just map it out. I have no idea what will happen. But we’ll start mapping and then we’ll make sense out of something that none of us know the answer to.

Bringing strategy mapping to your org
Photo by Eden Constantino on Unsplash

Mapping helps to unravel complex subject matter

Mark McCann
When you map you have to ask others: What do you think of this? So you’re open for challenge. Typically you don’t want to map by yourself. But I think it’s good to do an initial map to get your bearings early. And then you can start to open up for challenge and what have I missed? What’s wrong with this map?

Michael O’Reilly
I find that that maps help me think logically. And maps help me prioritise. Particularly with a complex subject matter area with lots of impacting factors. It’s a great way to look at that information, stare at that situation and decide how do we want to tackle this? What’s the next best thing for us to try to do? And it gets you into a strategic mode of thought. If you have an hour, and you’re responsible for getting something going. Or you’re trying to work out how to order or get value out of something, it’s a really powerful technique.

It’s also good to how explain this to somebody or approach the conversation. As you said it starts the sensemaking. If you find yourself in a complex scenario or with a complex subject matter, consider leveraging something like a map. Because it has all this additional meaning and positioning and movement that evolve the meaning. It can certainly add a lot of value and bring a lot of clarity.

Add annotations to your maps

Dave Anderson
We’ve started writing up maps with climatic patterns and observations that we annotate on the map. And we have text about the annotation, which is the observation or the finding. We should do X Y, Z, with a written paragraph on what X Y Z means, Even if you do that work on your own, you can spend a whole afternoon working on that. And then you can get others up to speed in 10 minutes. It’s a nice way to communicate a lot of deep thinking, without having to sit and read 10 pages of text.

Michael O’Reilly
You can bring simplicity to complex subject matter. That’s a good outcome of applying a map. You simplify a concept and present it to someone else and they get it. That’s very powerful.

Maps unlock a common language across different areas in your org

Dave Anderson
The evolutionary axis and the four phases of: Genesis, Custom, Product, and Utility/Commodity, make you work differently. Along with the new names of Explorer, Villager, and Town Planner. When people understand the mindset, even without mapping, people can identify Genesis being brand new. We need to explore that versus this commodity.

We have a shared language. When you’re talking about a capability, component, or feature, you have a common way of saying what method do we need to apply that? Are we exploring that thing? Or are we just commoditising? That helps you decide how much testing or rigour you need. There is a whole approach that comes with that evolution or access. Once you get consistency, everyone uses the words, and there’s a lot of meaning behind them.

Michael O’Reilly
There was a session we did few years back with business people in the room. And we always had a problem with investment being V-shaped. It was always coming in at the top, at the front end. Business wanted awesome user experiences and visible features. But the investment needed to happen further down the line for items like the core platform. But there was always legacy. And we captured that on the map. They weren’t able to converse about this before. It was: I just want that button to do this, or I want to be able to see this. And they couldn’t understand why it was so expensive to make these changes on the front end. Even very basic changes.

Conversing in a shared language

But by using the map, we were able to converse in a shared language. Everything on the value chain had meaning. And then you could see all the inertia, what’s causing that inertia and why we need to address it. This has got to go from custom phase over to product phase to scale up to do all the things that you want to do. I remember the relief, when they got it 100%. It was genuinely an enlightening moment. From then on we always had mapping sessions.

Dave Anderson
You didn’t take the cheap shot of remember that project you didn’t fund last year, that’s why you can’t move your button!

Michael O’Reilly
To be fair we all speak a different language. We all have different biases. I think mapping and challenges you to break through those things. It’s amazing how quickly you start to find yourself on the the problem areas. It can shortcut so much. You can’t do that in PowerPoints and face to face conversations. Because you’re not going to be able to get into that level of detail and have that level of shared understanding.

Get more in depth information in The Value Flywheel Effect

Dave Anderson
Hopefully that’s helpful. We’ve talked about how to bring mapping to workplace. And we talked about the Northstar exercise to facilitate mapping. We talked about finding like minded people to sit and kind of practice with. There is a way of talking about mapping. You’re better to start with the outcomes. And then see if people are interested to get back into the map, as a way of sensemaking complicated areas. It’s great to make sense of something and share that thinking with peers. And once you get into that language, you open up a common way of thinking and the idea of evolution to access things you want talk about it.

All of this is in our book, The Value Flywheel Effect. We explain it in more detail in the book. But, that’s the craic. Visit the website at And follow us on @ServerlessEdge on Twitter. And check out our YouTube channel. Thank you very much.

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