Wardley Mapping in 5 Minutes

Simon's Book

Wardley Mapping is provided CC-BY-SA 4.0, courtesy of Simon Wardley.


Hello and welcome to Pragmatic Wardley Mapping. My name is Ben Mosior, and I will be guiding you through a practical learning experience to help you pick up mapping quickly. Let’s get started with some background.

Wardley Mapping, also known as Value Chain Mapping, was invented by Simon Wardley, who was kind enough to license the method Creative Commons Share-Alike. He’s written an excellent book on the subject, which is available for free right now at the link below.

Now if you’re here, that probably means you’re itching to dive right into the method itself, and I understand that completely. But keep in mind that the book covers a lot of interesting context that may help you in the future.

So, Wardley Mapping is a visual method for exploring, understanding, and communicating strategy, especially in a world of constant change. It works like this...

Together, we recognize that there are people out there with needs, and that we are going to meet those needs by making sure that a bunch of stuff either happens or that it exists. In other words, we’re going to make sure we satisfy the prerequisites to meeting those needs. And in order to understand the way how all that’s going to work, we're going to represent it visually by laying all the prerequisite parts out in terms of dependency. That means which thing depends on which other thing.

So let’s get concrete, with a classic example you’ll see time and time again in the mapping community — a cup of tea. Let’s say that we’ve invited a friend over for tea. We’ll probably be meeting several of our friend’s needs, like the experience of friendship, or some good conversation, but let’s focus in on the social premise — the need for a cup of tea. In order to make someone a cup of tea, we need a cup, some tea, and some hot water. And in order for hot water to exist, we need a kettle and a water source. And in order for a kettle to work we need power. This represents a chain of needs, also known as a value chain.

The value chain is useful to know by itself, but what unlocks the doorway to what Simon calls situational awareness is the ability to articulate change. How the system needs to change depends entirely on context, so to see and understand the context we need to consider our value chain in terms of a new dimension, which is evolution.

Evolution is an attribute of each part of our value chain. And how evolved something is depends entirely on its observable characteristics — how we think it occurs in the world. So how do users perceive it? How does failure manifest? What does the market look like? What do people talk about? Once you know where things are currently, you can talk about where they should be. If I, for instance, prepared tea for my friend by first gathering firewood outside, that would point to a less mature way of heating water. My friend might ask why I don’t just use an electric kettle!

And that is the beginning of communicating your intent through a map. This component should be there, or we think it will end up there and we need to move in anticipation, or everybody else is already there and we're behind. We're communicating our understanding and intent by looking at our value chain and noticing which parts are behind and which things need to move ahead. We’re making sense of reality in order to avoid common mistakes while also taking advantage of a methodical way to reliably discover opportunities. So we don't get left behind, and we’re always ahead of the game.

Now what you map depends on what's going to be most useful to you. You can use it for software, business projects, organizational structure, or even personal introspection. Really anything where you need to be extra responsible for the allocation of limited resources — things like time, money, energy, and attention.

At first Wardley Mapping will feel useful as a design tool. To think about architecture — what is the system, what are the parts, how do they interconnect, and how does it work together as a whole. Next you can think about operational use. You'll be doing things like making build vs. buy decisions, comparing vendors, and thinking about where you are versus where the rest of the world is versus where maybe you should be. Ultimately you'll start using it to articulate your direction. Where you want to focus your energy. What your intent is.

And once you have a map, it makes a lot of other things easier to discuss. You can talk about what it is that you're intending to do and why. What is the higher purpose of actually doing it? How should we plan? What are the scenarios? And what assumptions need to be questioned?

Ultimately you’re going to be making better decisions together. And really we’ve barely scratched the surface of what's possible with mapping. If it seems huge, that's because it is! But we're going to start small, with the basics that will help get you moving quickly.

In this course you'll spend less time reading and trying to figure out what to do and more time applying what you've already learned practically.

So, without further delay, let’s get things started. I'm Ben Mosior, and I'd like to welcome you to Wardley Mapping.