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Strategy mapping, what are the right tools for your org?

Dave is a member of the Wardley Maps community. At their recent session they were joined by Mike Baxter to look at Strategy Mapping. As Mike points out, “Strategy is hard, complex to manage and frequently under-delivers. It requires both innovation and agility whilst coordinating, aligning and prioritising multiple streams of activity. Without a process for managing this complexity that is closely tied to a rich evidence-base of data, it is easy to see how strategy can go wrong”. Watch this video to teach yourself the frameworks and tools to make strategy work for your organisation. The transcript is also available below.

Wardley Mapping Community Mapping Group meet with Mike Baxter

What is Strategy Mapping?

John Grant

Hello and welcome today I’m pleased to be joined by a panel from the Wardley Maps Community.  In the interest of time, I’ll skip introductions from the panel. We’ll include links in the description if anybody wants to reach out, but in short order we have with us today:

David Anderson

Kevin Brennan

Chris Daniel

Prasanna Krishnamoorthy

Steve Purkis

Dr Jacqui Taylor

John Grant

Mike Baxter introduction

I’m delighted to introduce our guest Mike Baxter.  Mike has a PhD in Science, a personal Professorship and has been awarded a Chartered Designer status. Mike is also founder of Goal Atlas and the author of a new book ‘The Strategy Manual’.  So at this point I should hand over to Mike to introduce himself and perhaps outline the context and the motivation for writing a book about strategy.


Thank you. I’m delighted to meet everybody and always very keen to catch up with fellow mappers of various sorts. 

So the main topic today was probably prompted by a conversation that John and I had in a different forum about the nature of strategy mapping.  And how having looked at Wardley Mapping and looked at another bunch of different types of strategy mapping philosophies or methodologies if you like, I briefly mentioned the one that I’ve been using now for approximately 25 years.  And it was new to you John.  I’m not sure whether you had come across this approach before so I want to get to there in reasonably short order so we can start talking about strategy mapping.  

Introduction to strategy mapping

But just as context, I’ve been a consultant for a very long time.  I do various digital transformation projects with mostly multinational clients.  So I’ve gone across a whole bunch of the tech sector: Google, Skype, Sony Playstation and some financial services. And one that I’ll talk specifically about is HSBC because I did a big strategy mapping project with them. The university sector, I’m currently in a big strategy mapping project with one of the UK’s universities.  So I’ve done a lot of this work on strategy, digital transformation, marketing and sales strategy and operational strategies. So quite a wide mix of different clients. 

I also work with startups. So typically high growth tech startups and the one that I’m currently working with is  They are an artificial intelligence system that personalizes emails to go from e-commerce retailers to their customers.  So it will analyze the shopping patterns, the purchase patterns of customers and it will personalize emails to them.  So all of that gave me, what I felt, was a reasonably broad view of strategy across multiple sectors. And looking at it from a variety of different ways.

The need for a Strategy Workshop Manual

I decided that there was a lack in this world.  And it’s a bit hard to say that there’s a lack of any kind of strategy book in this world because there’s a shelf of them behind me and there’s many more shelves and many more bookshops.  So why on earth did I think that a strategy book was a good idea. So the thing that I thought was missing was a a workshop manual on actually how to do it.  

If you read Michael Porter’s stuff, you know inspiring brilliant stuff on competitors but of course that’s a perspective on strategy that is not the totality of strategy. It’s a very valuable perspective but it’s not the only perspective. If you read Gary Hammer you will get the sort of internal capabilities and increasingly human focused approach to strategy. And that’s great, but please don’t forget about competitors.

A manual for how to do strategy

So you know lots of these perspectives were really useful but I wanted to try and write a manual that would be like a workshop manual.  How do you start?  Where is the starting point in writing a strategy?  What do you do once you’ve written it?  Where does strategy adaptation start?  What is the difference between strategy and strategic planning? How do you manage value propositions within strategy?  So there are all sorts of questions like that, that I wanted practical methodical answers to because that’s just the kind of approach I take to most of these issues. 

My background, incidentally, is as a scientist, so I kind of take a scientist perspective to all of these things.  So that’s the general background to strategy and the strategy manual.  It is intended to be a manual for how to do strategy. It goes right across the entire strategy life cycle from the inception of strategy all the way through to the tear down of strategy and the reinvention in a new strategy.  So it is intended to be the full life cycle. 

Strategy mapping and function analysis

But let me get to the strategy mapping part.  So the strategy mapping part started a long time before I was involved in strategy.  Prior to this consultancy career, I was a product designer.  And in fact I wrote my product design book which is kind of the workshop manual for product design.  So I wrote that in 1995 and included a technique that I used a great deal in product design which was function analysis. 

So function analysis originated in the 1940s with Larry Miles, who worked at General Electric at a time when there was huge demand for General Electric’s products.  But there were huge material shortages post-war so rather than specifying (he was in the purchasing department) and rather than specifying the things that he wanted to buy he specified the functionality that he wanted them to have.  So rather than ordering a box of nuts and bolts he would say I would like you to tender for a fastening mechanism to attach sheet to steel structural components, for example. 

And then the suppliers could be innovative.  They could supply him or offer to supply him a box of nuts and bolts if they wanted to.  But in order to specify this functionality that he wanted he needed a language to describe function and he came up with function analysis.  

Value engineering and value analysis

It was then refined into what is currently the main model for function analysis.  Value engineering, value analysis, function analysis, function engineering, these are all disciplines that are pretty well established across the world.  Particularly value engineering and value analysis.  There are professional societies in most developed countries that just have whole teams of engineers that comprise this professional society focusing and value analysis. So it’s a very well established technique but not, as far as I can tell, applied to strategy. 

So I was using it in product design and loved it in product design but I started coming up with problems in strategy.  I felt in the back of my mind this is kind of sounding a bit similar and it took me about nine months to make the connection between the problems I was experiencing in strategy and the solution that I had previously used a lot in product design. It suddenly went click and I thought this is actually the same kind of problem.


If you don’t mind, because I’m an aerospace engineer, I’m completely with you and have got the same background. So explain to me just before you get into the connection, what problems were you experiencing in strategy that you were able to correlate with what you knew, from an engineering perspective.

Sony Playstation – how to personalise customer experience for players


So just to give you a relatively common example.  We were approached, and this is myself working with Sarah Edwards, my colleague in Goal Atlas (we were working previously in a company called eConsultancy which is a Digital Marketing Specialist based in London).

We were approached by Sony Playstation and they said we have a consultancy project that we want you to help us solve.  The consultancy project they said they wanted was not what they actually wanted at all.  And this is a very common thing if you’re in the consultancy business.  Client comes along and says they want ‘A’ and they actually want ‘B’ but of course you can’t tell them you don’t want ‘A’ you want ‘B’. You have to take them on a journey.  So the problem that they said they wanted to work out was how to personalize the customer experience for players.

In particular they wanted to do some really simple stuff:  if I’m a five-year-old playing teddy bear games with my Mom, please don’t show me adverts for shoot-em-up one-person shooter games.  So there were some quite simple things they needed to do but they also wanted to personalize.  Now it turned out that that was a relatively straightforward problem for them to solve with the technology that they were in the process of purchasing.

Solving the staff issues

The real problem was how they managed the staff behind the scenes, creating and labeling the assets that would then be deployed on a personalized basis to different people.  It wasn’t really a consumer problem.  Ultimately it was, but we had to solve the staff behind the scenes problem first. And that was the more problematic issue. So how to do that? 


Yes, so that to me sounds like the classic bill of materials problem where you’ve got components that are used in sub-assemblies.  And then when it gets to assembly level they use it in different routes and you’ve got to be able to manage all of that not over provision all of that stuff.

The function map becomes the strategy map


I would go to them and say okay so you want to understand how best to manage the customer experience and to personalize the customer experience.  Why do you want to do that? So it’s the classic of moving up a function tree and then coming back down the function tree.  And saying well how are you going to do that?  How are you going to do that?  How are you going to do that? 

The thing they thought they were stuck with was ‘the how’ of getting an established bunch of assets deployed to customers.  That’s a relatively straightforward problem. If you’ve got the assets,  you’ve got the metadata and you’ve got the algorithms that read the metadata and deploy the assets.  So by going up several stages of hows and back down several stages why’s, the classic function analysis type methodologies I was able to demonstrate a structured systematic logically validated function map. It wasn’t a function map any longer.  Now we’re talking about a strategy map.  A map of ‘the whys and hows’ of the issue.

And I moved their attention from where they thought the problem was to where we eventually agreed the problem was.  

What is function analysis?

So is anybody else familiar with the function analysis we’re talking about or will I quickly run through that?


I’d be interested to hear how you do it.  My background is in business analysis and from your description it sounds like business analysis professionals are doing exactly what you were doing there.


It’s probably simplest to start with a mechanical example just so that we get the logic right.  The one that I used in my product design book was a corkscrew. In fact I’ll just show you so that you know what kind of corkscrew we’re talking about.  It’s this kind of corkscrew you know with levering arms. 

So the primary function of the corkscrew was to extract cork.  How are we going to do that? We’re going to apply force and we’re going to grip the cork.  How are we going to apply force? We’re going to provide attachment to the screw we’re going to provide mechanical advantage by means of handles, a rack and pinion and a brace.   So you kind of get vaguely the idea that we’ve got house and wise and a mechanical arrangement. 

Functional decomposition


I don’t know if that is what I would call functional decomposition.  It’s basically the same technique. I don’t know if other people want more detail?


If we move it into a strategic example, I’ll keep it relatively specific to begin with.  If we said that we wanted to sell our products then we might have to make sure it was the primary purpose.   It’s clearly not going to be because making profit will be higher up.  But let’s start there.  We want to sell some products so how are we going to do that? 

Well we need to reach customers.  We need to engage customers.  We need to interest customers and then we need to trigger their action of some sort.  So we might go from selling products down to engaging customers.  How are we going to engage customers?  Well there’s a variety of ways we could do that.  We could advertise to them.  Or publish content and hopefully intrigue them sufficiently to click through to our website.

And we can start decomposing let’s say a marketing strategy.  Now that’s where I think this gets really powerful is when you start getting to the point of validation.  

Why/how logic to validate a strategy map

I am not suggesting that this basic use of why/how logic is unique or distinctive in the world and is limited to what I call strategy mapping.  It’s clearly not.  It’s used a lot.  What I think is valuable though is where you start taking some of the particulars of function analysis, particularly looking at why/how logic and specifically using it to the point of validating a strategy map.  

To validate a strategy map,  I’ve got my why/how decomposition. At any node in that map, when I look at the sub goals underneath that node, they should be sufficient and necessary to deliver the parent.  So in any map of a strategy map with this why/how logic, the set of children attached to a parent should be sufficient and necessary to deliver that parent.  

Now when you start doing that across a much bigger strategy, it becomes hugely powerful because firstly it cascades. So right down at the bottom, we have got people doing very tactical operational things so a bunch of them should be sufficient and necessary to deliver their goal.  This goal and its sibling goals should be sufficient and necessary to deliver the goal above and so on you go.

Strategy Mapping with UK Universities

This is the work that I’m in the middle of doing with one of the UK universities, trying to go from top to bottom of the entire organization via currently 15 separate strategies and trying to work out if they connect. Now clearly they do connect.  But do they connect systematically and more importantly, do they validate? 

Because what tends to happen is that a strategy in one part of the organization will refer to a goal that is actually a goal for some other part of the organization but they call it a different thing or they label it differently etc.  There’s quite a lot of reconciliation and streamlining.  You can do the analysis by simply talking about why/how logic.  The concept of validation then interconnects a whole bunch of similar related goals hopefully serving a common purpose.

Let me pause there and just see what comments people have got. Firstly, does basic architecture make sense?  You know the why/how logic. Have I described enough of that because I can go into a lot more detail if you would like with that.


I just want to check in terms of the output.  So let’s take your uni example because I think that’s something we probably can all understand.  If any of us have ever had any connection, a faculty can have a problem, never mind across the university.  So the output that you get will be? 

Strategy Mapping at HSBC


So if I come back to HSBC, which is the piece of work I was doing about two years ago. They wanted to develop a strategy for moving to mobile and digital across their retail branch network.  And they had identified a whole bunch of things that their customers needed to do.  There were a whole bunch of things their retail staff needed to do and there were a whole bunch of things that varying levels of head office needed to do.  And they just needed to connect them all together. 

Now it just so happens that within HSBC,  there is a custom and practice of producing very large maps on the wall in the form of what they call train tracks.  You know it’s vaguely similar to a London underground map. So you start off with one or two quite high level strategic goals on the left hand side and then it branches and branches and branches out into varying colored tracks that are the responsibility of different people.

So that was a tangible example of where we could produce a single visualization that would represent the breakdown of the tasks, the functional designation of the tasks, the sequencing of the tasks and the interdependency of the tasks in this big picture.  Now I didn’t think it was great but HSBC absolutely loved it and apparently it was in every head office wall. It suited them and that was one visualization but I think there are much better ones. 

Print project management method


So does that result then in each of those functions having a specific set of actions and do you understand perhaps where the critical points are within an organization and therefore where the collaboration and connection in an organization needs to be. 

I’m coming at it that way, because I’m an engineer but I am also the author of the print project management method.  And the way in which I constructed that is to understand how you would take that whole build material structure and actually create it into its components.  Do complex deliveries but then understand the interdependencies and the critical paths and all that. 

It sounds like your HSBC example and possibly the university example would end up with an individual faculty having a subset some of which delivers external to the faculty, some of which delivers internally, but everybody has a component part that delivers across the university.  I’m just checking I understand what you’re saying.

Managing relationships across all levels


Yes so let’s just start there and I can give a very confident yes that that is the case and then there’s a ‘however’.  So the ‘however’ is that we have found with all the work that we’ve been doing with the strategy mapping that it is essential to have one to many relationships going up as well as going down. This is one to many why’s as well as one to many how’s.

So let’s come back to the fact that I want to sell my organization’s products.  There are going to be many why’s. There are going to be many how’s to do that. I’m going to have to market it and offer it for sale.  I’m going to have to transact and I’m going to have to fulfill it.  But there are also many why’s as well. You know one of the why’s might be to make a profit for the company.  Another might be to reduce carbon emissions because you want to sell this product as opposed to its less green predecessor.  So there are many why’s. 

Cluster of nodes and multiple purposes

One of the things that is really valuable, and this is the key answer to your previous question, is that a big train tracks map on a wall is not the ideal solution. The ideal solution is that everybody in the organization knows what their little cluster of nodes is, knows the multiple purposes they are serving and that’s where I think you get cross-functional relationships.  Because in order to do my job, I don’t just have to report to my boss, I also have to work with IT.  I also have to work with PR and I have to make sure that all three of these functions are happy.  That I am achieving my goal in a way that meets all of their requirements and not just one. 

So having a strategy map that is richly mapped up the way as well as richly mapped down the way makes the map quite complex and this is where an IT solution is quite important because it no longer fits on a sheet of paper.  However, getting that relationship mapped out I think is really vital because the most important thing is that I know what I’m doing and I know what my bit of the map is.  And to be able to parcel out these little pieces of map and expose the different bits of the map to the different people according to their connection within the organization seems to be the key part.

The process of Strategy Mapping


What I’d like to do now if possible is to explore how the process of strategy mapping can run across an organization so everybody can kind of become stakeholders in the challenges that an organization may face. 

In chapter 4 of the book, if I understand this correctly, you talk about the limitations of topological maps and in particular the balanced scorecard system, So I was wondering if you’ve got any insights on the distinction between topographical and topological maps in strategy.  And the process of strategy mapping and how strategy mapping in general can facilitate collaboration, situational awareness and dealing with uncertainty.

Topological mapping


Yeah, great good bunch of questions John, thank you. So let’s deal with topological mapping to begin with.  So the simplest example is of course the London underground map or I imagine for any of you not familiar with the London underground map or any underground map, what tends to happen with a map of an underground railway or metro system is that you take away lots of the detail. 

If that train track goes around the corner in physical space but you don’t necessarily need to represent that corner on a map of the underground because you have no control over whether you go around the corner or not.  You’re taken around the corner so it’s relatively straightforward to represent a rail track that might in real life zigzag all over London.  You represent it in a straight line because that’s all you need to know.  You just need to know that I can get on at that station and I can get off at that one. 

London Underground Map and street navigation

So anyone who tries to use a London underground map to navigate across streets gets hideously lost because some stations look like they’re quite close together and others look like they’re very far apart and actually they’re a 100 yard spot.

So that’s an indication of a topological map.  You simplify it and in fact I’m sure you’re all capable of doing this as well,  but I just happen to have it here.  As wikipedia says: a topological map is a type of diagram that has been simplified so that only vital information remains and unnecessary detail has been removed. Topological maps tend to be brilliant at the purpose for which they were designed. The London underground map is excellent for getting around by underground.  It’s not so good for getting around on foot or on bicycle.

Balance scorecard strategy mapping

Balance scorecard strategy mapping, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, goes through four stratified layers which are financial, customer, internal process and learning and development,  All strategic goals within the balanced scorecard system need to fall into one of those four and the expectation is that the only way you’re going to get financial gain is from the next layer down which is the customer layer.

So you have to do things for customers that have financial gain which in the balance scorecard card world is fine but what if I’m a supply chain manager with nothing to do with customers and I still want to improve the company’s financial performance.  There isn’t a layer for me so the balanced scorecard system as far as I can see excludes supply chain managers. 

It’s great if you’re a marketer because there’s a layer for customers. It’s lousy for supply chain managers because there isn’t a layer for suppliers.  So in exactly the same way as London underground maps are no use for walking around London, but they’re really good for getting there by train, similarly,  balanced scorecard maps are very good if you’re working in the balance scorecard system. 

Wardley Mapping

Good luck to anybody who tries to do generic strategy mapping across an entire organization including operations and supply chain using balanced scorecard mapping.  It doesn’t work, it breaks.  There are not the strata, the layers that enable you to put your stuff into the map. 

Now I don’t want to get too tied up in Wardley maps because I am definitely not an expert in Wardley maps.  I looked in some detail at Wardley maps about five or six years ago to find out whether they did the job I wanted to do. And I concluded, at that time, that they didn’t because they seemed to be similarly topological.  They seemed to have some layers or some constraints on them, that you know the goals you put in were of a particular type and went in a particular place. 

Now I don’t want to dig too deep a hole for myself here because I am not an expert in Wardley maps.  What I would say though, is when you get back to strategy mapping using why/how logic, the thing that I love about it is that the why/how logic corresponds in geographical mapping terms to two things. 

Ordnance survey map

To follow an ordnance survey map, I need two things.  I need a compass and I need a scale. Why/how logic mapping for me has a compass why and how, and it has a scale, the interval between two goals, between a goal and its sub goal or between a goal and its parent goal.  And that’s all there is.  There are no other constraints at all. You follow those rules and you say you must from any goal go either ‘why am I doing it?’ or ‘how am I doing it?’. 

You must have one too many branching both up and down and you must be able to validate so all the how’s should be sufficient to justify the goal above and the whys should be sufficient to rationalize or explain why you’re doing the goal below. 

These are the only rules,  so I don’t know if that’s kind of got to where you are hoping to get to John but topological maps seem to be constrained in a way that is very good for a particular purpose but no good generally.  The why/how logic appears to have only the constraints that are needed to do mapping which is direction or orientation and scale.  Does that make sense?

Strategy mapping on The Serverless Edge
Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on

Uncertainty and Strategy Mapping


The bit I’m interested in is around uncertainty.  That’s the issue that you have with mapping but it’s still helpful and it’s still useful.  It helps to some extent deal with uncertainty. What I’m not certain with, with the why/how logic and cascading values or cascading goals is how uncertainty can reveal itself.


It doesn’t actually.  It’s more a process than a representational issue.  Let me come back to my ‘I want to sell some products’ and I’m trying to work out how.  So we start off with the obvious hows: I must market them, I must actually transact and take money, but all the rest of the hows might be up for grabs. 

It’s a very powerful process to start asking how else, how else and how else.  You’ve got some that are perhaps reasonably certain ‘how’s’. If I’m wanting to sell some products I’m pretty certain that I need to transact.  I need to be able to take an order, take money and fulfill that order.  So I don’t think there’s a great deal of uncertainty about how  I market it, how I reach my customers, how I even decide who my customers are, I think we can then start gaming the candidate ‘how’s’ against one another.  

Identify the candidates and candidate methods

How you do that is not a feature of strategy mapping.  But identifying all the candidates, all the candidate methods of achieving a higher goal and all the candidate purposes that you might serve by achieving that goal, that I think is a really powerful process.  It’s a great one for workshopping with clients because you can start going through the certain how’s, the possible how’s and a whole bunch of possible how’s.

We need to know to reduce the uncertainty related to these because at some point in time strategically you are going to need to bet on a course of action and if you’re going to delegate that through the organization you do need that commitment.  You may want to hold and reserve the fact that you have alternative hypotheses if that one doesn’t work out and you may decide at an early stage that I’m not going to pick this one.  I’m going to set up a competition between two of them and I’m going to perhaps split test them. 

I think part of the value is that it gives clarity to certainty and it forces managers to make decisions about what we are going to go with now.  Recognizing this might not be the right answer and recognizing we have a second possibility if that one goes wrong, I think there is value in forcing managers to make decisions that they then pass down through the organization or they share with their teams who are going to own the sub goals.  The how’s that we’re trying to identify. 

Adoption conversations

And further on in the book, I go into quite a lot of detail about adoption conversations.  So you know if you’re my boss,  I don’t think it’s your job to give me my goals.  It’s your job to explain to me what your goals are and to work with me to work out how I can best serve your goals and any other goals I need to serve for the organization, in conversation between you and I so we co-create the bit of the strategy map, that I’m eventually going to take ownership of. 

I think it is a critical part of evolution. This is a not very good method for top down command and control management.  This is a very good method for participative and community focused goal decisions and goal setting. 

KPI’s and strategy mapping


I’m noticing a bit of a crossover between KPIs and strategy mapping.  Obviously they’re not exactly the same.  Is that something that you’ve looked at and toyed around with?


I can probably assure you I can certainly share some screenshots at some point of the software tool that we have been developing for quite some time in order to do all of this quite rich and complex strategy mapping.  The key is that a goal, so any node within the strategy map is a goal and it is only described by its label. 

Going right back to Jacqui and I’s engineering type heritage, there was a suggestion that goals should be described with verb noun pairs.  So what are you doing and what are you doing it to? I think that’s a little bit constricting because you often need a qualifier. You need a verb noun qualifier.  I’m going to do this by means of or using or whatever. 

Describing goals and attributes

We tend to say that a goal is limited to 60 characters because if you have more than 60 characters you tend to be suggesting a compound goal.  So something like I’m going to sell products in order to or I’m going to sell products by means of, and that should actually be separated out into why’s and how’s.

So we’ve got a goal and it’s got a label.  Then that goal has got a whole bunch of attributes. One attribute is a ‘target’ attribute, one is an ‘owner’ attribute,  one is a priority and one cluster of attributes can be a conversation.  We can actually attach conversations to goals and that might explain, for example, where the goal came from or what the alternatives were before we decided on this particular goal.

To specifically answer your question, there is a set of attributes that we would tend to attach to each node and some of these attributes will be a target value, a date and a measure of progress towards that attribute.  This little cluster will give you a progress report to say you’re halfway through your time and you’re two-thirds of the way through your goal so well done you’re ahead of time. 

KPIs, in my view, are attributes of goals and it’s really crucial to keep them the same.  Never ever have a KPI as an attribute because if you say ‘why a KPI?’ or ‘how a KPI?’, it breaks down. Why a goal and how a goal. That makes sense.

Wardley Mapping


I know that OKRs are just a reinvention of that how/why logic that has been around for a long time so having a background in business analysis, I’m very familiar with the kind of logic you’re setting out.  One of the things I came across when I started doing Wardley Mapping was trying to do it by functional decomposition.  I quickly found that it didn’t work at all. 

It seemed to be more about situational awareness, identifying the key components of the value that you’re delivering, the user need and understanding how those can evolve over time.  So it’s really looking at the market, seeing where evolution could occur and then that may help you find places where you could drive evolution in order to change the market yourself, which is very different from the kind of how/why logic of what people should be doing. 

I think that they’re solving two different problems, both of which are real but they’re about two different things. 

Wardley strategy cycle


On a similar point to Kevin, I think it’s a fascinating discussion. One thing I think is interesting is the Wardley strategy cycle. There’s the purpose, the strategy mapping and then the gameplay.  I work for a large enterprise of fifty thousand people and we used Wardley Mapping very early on to figure out situational awareness.  The finished map is actually probably quite irrelevant.

It’s the purpose of drawing the map out and the components. Because what the map does is show an evolution of something that we didn’t foresee.  And that’s really the important part. You might see a pattern or an emerging one and you spot the inertia and say well here’s a possibility we never really thought of. 

Once you use it in that sense, we call them observations we maybe see three or four observations coming out of a map.  If there’s an observation that you then decide to act on, I think that’s where something like those organizational structures come in.

North star framework

In our org we use the North star framework to effectively decompose goals like lagging measures down to leading measures, that we can execute on and then sometimes we get into like event modeling or domain driven design to figure out how.

But that very detailed strategy map or organizational map, I find, comes much later in the cycle because by that stage there’s constraints and you’re in execution mode.  A Wardley map earlier on when you’re in that gameplay of what should we do next, is really helpful. 

I like the difference between the topological and topographical but I think Wardley maps are something different again.  


One of the reasons I was pleased to jump on this call is that I have been around the block often enough to know that there is not one method that’s right and another method that’s wrong.  I am not here to persuade you that Wardley Mapping is a lot of nonsense and you really ought to stop it and start doing my method.  That tends to not be a useful conversation.  In exactly the same way I would not argue the balance scorecard is in any way wrong or misguided or misplaced. It’s excellent at what it does.

Strategy mapping and culture


I think one of the things I use it for is that I’ve been pulling together the postcode plan for the United Nations and I need to do this at the nation state level where you’ve got different economies that are dependent on different sectors.  I pick up particularly on what David’s just said about situational awareness. 

I’m actually from the counter terrorism domain so situational awareness is a really good thing.  I can see some synergies with what you’re saying.  One of the things, I would say that Wardley Mapping particularly allows you to do is understand the values of what you’re driving in your organization.  But also it exposes the culture and culture is a is often a barrier or an enabler for innovation. 

One of the things it does do is because of the way in which you actually do it ie. in a collaborative way. You can have a conversation with the Wardley map that would be otherwise a fight particularly in financial services.  I take your point about HBSC and a fight between departments.  If you ever try to put fraud in the same room as cyber, you end up with a war. With a Wardley map you can do that from understanding values of culture and understanding the opportunity that comes.  

G20 Global Plan

I think there’s some synergies with what you’re saying and what strategy mapping does.  The particular instance, I was just talking about was a new global plan for the G20.  We mapped the G20 economies using Wardley mapping and were able to look at nation state level for the opportunities and provide the focus for priorities in a post-pandemic world. I think that it is situational awareness but it actually allowed the G20 members to do exactly the same thing in 20 completely different ways and to have currency across economies that are completely different. 

Wardley Mapping takes account the externalities on your operating models and particularly your business models.  Those are all blown in a post-pandemic world so getting that overall overarching piece on a regular basis, because these are getting refreshed every three months, is what it contributes. But I can see how what you’re talking about has an ability to then translate that through to the why and how.  That actually changes the way our culture works because a goal driven organization is a totally different one, especially if you attach the label financial services.  Those two are usually oxymorons. 

Pixar and the ugly baby


There was a great thing I remember you saying about the pixar book picture.  You talk about the ugly baby in the machine.  The ugly baby or ideas that you can challenge you can discuss.  And in a corporate environment sometimes it’s very hard to challenge things because you’re challenging my thing. Once you get into the machine execution, this is what we do, so as Jacqui was saying the thing that I like about Wardley maps is they ask for challenge. 

They enable challenge and you’re challenging the map or the idea and you’re not challenging the person.  That’s really important.  I can sit with a bunch of my peers and we can challenge each other’s thinking in a safe space.  Once you get under that kind of map of how do we explain how this works, it’s often harder to challenge that.  It’s like this is our plan for the next quarter. Sometimes it’s very difficult to challenge that from within the organization.  The nice thing about Wardley maps is that they ask for challenge effectively. 


So two points one on challenge.  One thing I really love is Dave Snowden’s workshop on  ritual descent.  The general idea is you build challenge in.  He’s been successful in having Chief executives and very new junior staff together with the Chief execs being challenged by the junior staff. Using this is quite a cool approach.

I was going to ask actually if you’ve got an example because with everything that you’ve talked about I’m just trying to visualize what one of these maps would look like.  I’m seeing kind of like a network diagram based on either hierarchy or these two key attributes.  So the links between them, I was wondering if you’ve got an example of that? 

Situational awareness and early startups


I’m just listening to everybody here right and I was trying to see how we do the process.  I think we follow something very close to what David said. I work with very early stage startups.  So most of the time the issue is you’re working on the wrong thing.  Maybe you know something is five steps away or you just sell it to the person sitting on the next desk. It might make you millions of dollars more than what you’re trying to do.  It’s a complete lack of situational awareness.  Are you even in the selling to the right person?  Or selling it the right way?  Are you even selling the right thing? 

And given that I work primarily in software and with software companies you can do literally anything right.  I mean there’s no constraint on what you can build or how you can solve it.  Almost all problems are solvable today.  With all respect to Dr Jacqui, you’re working with nation states, I’m working with like tiny software companies. So all problems are solvable in my domain right.

Why of movement

Before the how we should do this and what Simon calls the ‘why of movement’, is the why of purpose which is: what are we doing, why are we doing this, who are we doing this for?   It is something that is closely attached to timing.  Webvan in 2000 with $800 million was very wrong. There was nothing wrong in what they did but they needed to do it in 2020 not in 2000. 

Any future historian will write that they were incredibly prescient in what they did but you having the timing wrong is the same as being wrong.  I think it’s that sense of figuring out what is the right timing and that sense of figuring out who am I working with. 

When I look at a Wardley map that we draw I see all functions that are being done by people.  I don’t see it as a map of things that are getting done, so much as a map of people that could be working together to get something done for the anchor. Because the anchor is the end user.  And then different people living in different times.  We have potentially somebody in San Francisco living in the 2020 but, somebody 100 kilometers from me in Bangalore right now might be living in 1850. 

Being ahead of the market

From a technological capacity, that suddenly starts putting the founders that I work with in a spot because in many cases the founders that I work with are really ahead of market.  Being ahead of market is the same as being wrong so you have to use your capability of being ahead of market to deliver something that the market wants today.  Otherwise you’re not going to make any money. 

If you freeze things too much then you can’t question them anymore and then we’re like already into the OKR side of things.  Or we’re talking APIs and you’re in the lagging metrics so you can’t make any changes.   You’re in the solution domain.  But having the time and people you work with, compete with or complement is superbly powerful outside of the organization that we work in or outside of that startup and in relationship to everything else that’s there in the world.

The power of strategy mapping

That’s how the strategy mapping exercise can be very powerful because somebody sees ‘x’ as a partner,  somebody else sees ‘x’ as a competitor,  somebody else sees ’x’ as a customer. Even somebody else within the same organization.  They might be outside so which role are you working with them in?  Those are the kind of things that I think have been really powerful. 

Once that’s frozen, we are all aligned on that and then many of the startups we work with use OKR framing or North star framing to make sure we are all going in the same direction.  And then break that down and ask the how and the why when you’re going up and down that chain after fixing the north star. 


I’ve been in raging agreement with all of you and thinking that this is exactly the kind of stuff that I have been doing with my clients with strategy mapping.  Just because it it has an engineering heritage and is built on this really quite formal why/how logic that logically validates, does not mean it’s fixed.  It is not fixed.  It should be the most fluid thing that you can imagine. 

Strategy is different from strategic planning

To give two examples of that, the first generic one is that I am adamant that strategy is different from strategic planning.  You think of the north star and my preference is to identify that north star and to identify the value of getting there.  The core methods by which you’re going to get there and not the detailed methods, is strategy.  Strategic planning is the transformational plan. As soon as you have fixed draft one of the strategic plan, it starts changing because it is designed to change. The north star does not. But the strategic plan changes so this strategy map should be the most fluid thing in the organization.

Every single person that owns a node in that organization needs to know the freedom they have to either change the node they own, the purposes they’re serving or the methods that they’re using.  In most organizations you only have the authority to change the methods that you’re using.  You tend not to have authority to change the purposes you’re serving. That tends to be done in a command and control way.

It really has to be a very fluid system but having simple rules like why/how logic must continue to validate.  This actually permits freedom. If you know what the rules are as long as you stick to the rules you can do whatever you like. 

The challenge of org culture

The second thing was that we managed to negotiate in a project I did probably three or four years ago, which was heading for the biggest train crash you can imagine. Cisco, the big technology company decided for one of their areas, one of their regions, they were going to take a sales department and a marketing department and create one.  That was culturally incredibly difficult and I persuaded them to use strategy mapping to work that through.

That is what I imagine you are doing with Wardley mapping. Lots of stakeholder interviews, lots of trying to find out where all the vested interests are, lots of identification of where the uncertainties lie. What can we be confident about? Are we heading in the right direction?  All of these things from which I constructed a draft strategy map and then we threw darts at it, put post-it notes on it and we workshopped it for two days with the sales team and the marketing team in the room at the same time.

We found that there were two big areas of disagreement.  One was about their implementation of ‘Salesforce’, so it was a technological issue.  And the other was incentives management. 

That big map resolved down to two hotspots that we had to resolve and I am imagining from what you’re saying about Wardley Mapping, you would have a similar sort of situational awareness, a similar sort of cultural journey that you take people on.

7 thoughts on “Strategy mapping, what are the right tools for your org?

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