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It began with the forging of the Great Maps and Simon Wardley

We’ve been talking this week about Simon Wardley and Wardley mapping. We feature Wardley mapping in our book ‘The Value Flywheel Effect.’ Some people find Wardley mapping challenging. We want to talk you through mapping, how we started, and share our experiences.

It started with Simon Wardley

Where did you first hear about Simon Wardley and Wardley Mapping?

Wardley Mapping has been part of our lives since 2012. At that time, Simon Wardley talked about early cloud at conferences. He was doing what he calls ‘crossing the river by feeling the stones.’ And he talks about how he started mapping when he was CEO of a company. And the art of war stuff.

In 2017, we became early pioneers or adopters of mapping in our space. We first came across Simon Wardley and mapping at an open-source conference. Simon was hilarious, which helped. When he presented, it came across as common sense. Like, why would you do anything else?

The bigger question is, why were we looking for Simon Wardley and Wardley mapping?

The big question is, why were we looking for this type of stuff? Or why did it resonate with us? We were at a certain point in our careers and had been engineers for a while. And then we thought there was a bigger picture here that we needed to grasp. There’s more to it. Why is this the way it is? And why are these decisions being made? We couldn’t learn or fathom it.

We were looking for something to help us with that next career stage. To be better leaders and understand more to set better direction. And be more impactful with what we were doing. Simon Wardley was calling stuff out. And we were seeing the same thing.

He started writing his book in 2016, and we went to Lean Agile Scotland in October 2016. And he did the talk in person, and I remember talking to him afterward. I had seen his speech several times, but it only clicked once I sat and watched it in real life. He hung around that conference for a few days, and I talked with him.

I came home and thought right, I’m starting to get it now. It confused me for a year or two before I went to Lean Agile Scotland.

The need for technical leaders to enact change and deal with different disciplines

When you’re a technical leader, you’re often trying to enact change in a particular space. And you’re dealing with people in different disciplines. You’re talking about a reasonably complex topic. So what do you think about that? And how do you talk about the landscape, what you want to move, and communicate to various disciplines? It’s challenging and time-consuming. We started to try mapping. And sometimes, we were wrong, especially when we now look at some of our early maps. But we tried it. And that’s when it clicked.

We’ve always liked the idea of a group drawing a diagram to understand something. That is powerful. We remember people couldn’t understand how to draw a stride threat model. What do you mean, or is this not an architecture diagram? So what is it then? It’s a different type of diagram. What do you mean? It is fascinating to use visual collaboration as a technique. But you need to make that transition to try to draw a map yourself.

We need to stop using PowerPoint.

There was a time when we said we needed to stop using PowerPoint! We need to get people into rooms to have conversations and working sessions. We refined and improved our ability to do Wardley Maps through teaching. Some people had yet to experience mapping. Or if we had visitors or customers in the building, you’d get them into the end room with the big white wall and start talking. You would try to teach them what a map was. And what each position meant. Or even just have a conversation. It only sometimes worked. But sometimes they were excellent.

Some sessions were good. And there were other sessions where you just went, wow! One particular session with an exec was a gamble. But we did the map on the wall and drew the dots. And we uncovered stuff we hadn’t even thought about then. And all of a sudden, the strategy was born.

Photo by Barney Yau on Unsplash

Going from mapping on your own to a group environment

That was awesome. There’s another essential step. You move from doing it yourself to doing it in a group environment. When you are looking at a map, you are figuring it out. When you do it in a group environment, the group will ask about this and that. And that’s when it starts to click.

When you go to conferences, you evolve. Simon Wardley and others are always trying to enrich the maps. There are new ways to attempt something or represent something. You become more efficient.

Even the basics are worthwhile. Who are your users? What are their needs? And what’s the value chain of components to meet those needs? Without even drawing a map, you can have amazing conversations with teams.

Using the Wardley Mapping Canvas

When we first looked at Wardley maps on Canvas, it was too much prep. There’s too much upfront, and we wanted to get right into the map. But when we sat down and went through the canvas, we realized it was better. It helps to get more context out into the open. It’s more effective. 

You need to look up Ben Mosior @HiredThought on Twitter and His Wardley mapping canvas is brilliant. The two big things are:

1. Start with a customer need. I remember a team was stuck for six months because they didn’t know who the customer was.

2. The four phases of evolution or access (Genesis, Custom Built, Product, Commodity). Get your head around that concept.

Be comfortable with not being perfect! There’s a body of work out there and it is documented it in our book ‘The Value Flywheel Effect.’ You can get intimidated when you feel your map looks wrong. We have all felt like that. We did overthink it. But once we started dealing with teams and people, we got comfortable being uncomfortable, talking, challenging, and bringing people on the journey.

Maps start from one component and build up over time.

That’s a big part of it. Every time you see a map, you think that looks brilliant. You think it’s so complicated. And it looks great, so we could never do that. But you must realize that all maps start from one component and build up over time. And then you tidy the map up. It can take a couple of hours of work. It’s similar to seeing a painting and thinking I could never draw that. But you have to start at the start.

There was a phase where you could scan other people’s maps. And understand them and get the context and situational awareness rapidly. But you couldn’t create your own quickly even though there was something important that you were trying to achieve or attain. Or if you were trying to evolve or understand some strategy. It was tough to map that for yourself. But if somebody showed you a map afterward, you could read the problem and know what was happening.

We used a phase while still trying to draw maps and couldn’t get it right. You just needed someone else to ask: ‘Have you thought about this user?’. Sometimes you couldn’t see it by yourself.

Don’t fall into the trap of mapping too much detail

One of the other pitfalls we fell into was mapping too much detail. We went too low level. And then someone came along and zoomed us out by saying, ‘You don’t need those five components. Here’s just one!’.

That’s the big thing about visual collaboration. We experienced this threat modeling for security. People think it’s a system diagram. And they draw every single possible thing. You don’t have to remove 35 classes!

Practice, practice, practice is the big lesson here. We knew we were starting to get good when we could roll it out across multiple teams to map out the tech stack. They were getting value and getting excited about doing it. And we were getting lots of feedback on what did or didn’t work. We were in offices, and we would draw maps on the board. It was all very collaborative. But now we have the emergence of good online collaboration tools like Miro, etc.

When mapping starts to work, things begin to emerge. And you’re able to action those things. You want to show your map to everybody, and you tell everybody about how brilliant mapping is. But then you realize it’s not the map! I need to communicate in the right circles. And it’s the outcomes or actions that matter.

Senior people don’t always need your mapping details, but you do

There’s an intersection between Mapping and Gregor Hohpe’s book ‘The Software Architect Elevator.’ We started to realize that particular floors on the elevator aren’t open to being shown a map. You need to summarise or represent the map in another way.

That’s a critical lesson. As you go up the elevator, senior people in the organization just want to hear what you will do. And what happens when you do that? They don’t want to know how you figured it out. If they say why are you doing that? You can go through the map and say you’ve considered it. If you say this is what we will do, and here’s the outcome, you can show them some of your work. You need to have it. That was an important lesson to learn. You don’t always need to show your work but have it to hand.

Your excitement takes you into new areas with new information, like the Wardley Strategy Cycle. But spending time getting used to mapping is in itself very fruitful. You can emerge and realize a lot of value. The more you do it, the more you can move on to more complex things. The patterns, doctrines, and gameplays will emerge.

Situational awareness exposes things that you can’t unsee

You start to see patterns in the map like ‘pioneer, settler, town planner’ or emerging capability. And you begin to see things you didn’t think would appear on the map. You identify the inertia barriers. What’s stopping you from moving from here to there? Or, more importantly, who is stopping you?

We mapped a whole bunch of teams. And everyone was up in high value. But one team was down in custom and invisible. And we remember thinking, what are they doing down there? Getting situational awareness sometimes sometimes exposes things that you can’t unsee!

Is it challenging to start mapping today?

There was little about it when we started mapping apart from the odd presentation. But is it challenging to get started today?

No. We have crossed the chasm. There’s lots of material out there. The community is growing. You can google and look up YouTube. And there are online conferences as well, like Map Camp. A lot of Simon Wardley’s maps are readily available on GitHub. He’s got all the research maps on GitHub.

We were at Map Camp in Shoreditch in London. The Coast Guard was looking at streamlining their processes. And there was a video where they rescued a guy right on time before he went under the water. It was as a result of optimizing the value chain. There are way more people mapping than you realize. Mapping is way bigger than tech. There’s all sorts of mapping going on.

Much of the work in UK.Gov carried out by Liam Maxwell and others still stands the test of time. If you look at the UK government’s digital footprint, it’s still on freely available materials. They have permeated their work with thinking about user needs, understanding value chains, and situational awareness and mapping.

Simon Wardley and Wardley Mapping Resources

Look at Simon Wardley on Twitter @swardley and his pinned tweet for resources. Simon has a book: ‘Wardley mapping.’ He is on Medium at ‘wardleymaps.’ There’s a whole bunch of stuff, including free articles. They’re relatively meaty, but they’re good.

John Grant keeps a list of maps on GitHub, which is

Ben from @hiredthought is also at

And, of course, our book, ‘The Value Flywheel Effect,’ is available to buy.

So that’s the craic. There’s more about mapping on our blog, Follow us on Twitter @ServerlessEdge

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