The map may not be the territory but a map, model or picture of a problem, a situation or a system is a great way to start solving  or understanding it, especially in groups. I am always on the lookout for new ways to visualise complex problems and last month my good friend Jakob Widerberg sent me a link to Simon Wardley’s book on mapping organisational value chains. He is deep in a long term transformation project at his company and is exploring Wardly Mapping as a way to create a shared appreciation of the possible changes ahead.

A quick (well actually quite slow) read and a few podcasts later and I am convinced that this is an important addition to my toolkit. I’ve loved Rich Pictures and Causal Loop Modelling for many years and this feels like this approach has some additional value that I can harness for my students and clients.

Wardley Mapping addresses how we might represent change or the evolution of systems over time on a map. He uses the metaphor of a military campaign and the power of a terrain map to see strategic opportunities. This enables a group of people to discuss options (or plays) that might be taken, which is exactly what companies need in planning transformation.

There is so much here and I won’t try to explain it all but I’ve tried to capture some of the biggest ideas in a diagram: 

The axes are important. On the X axis we have time with the premise that everything evolves: today’s innovation will become tomorrow’s commodity.  The Y axis is the value chain with those elements closest to the customer at the top and those more invisible (back stage) components towards the bottom. Components of a system are connected to show how user facing value is created from components further down the chain (that might already further advanced in their commoditisation). This simple representation provides a powerful way of locating what we do according to it’s user visibility and it’s commoditisation. Using just these axes allows us to consider what will happen as things we do today become services that customers can buy easily tomorrow.

Simon Wardley suggests that different stages of evolution require different ways of thinking, working and leading. This feels revolutionary because most other change methodologies are still looking for a single way of doing things, a single culture or a single model of leader behaviour. He introduces a Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners metaphor acknowledging that these different groups have very different characters and needs. 

There are many more elements to his technique and I’ve hinted at only one more in the map above. This requires exploring the likely (or possible) changes in a component product or service. He asks us to think about how and why things generalise, circumstances in which change accelerates and to consider the inertia and other constraints that stop things from evolving. 

Perhaps the real beauty of Wardley Maps is the notion that after you have drawn many of them you become aware of (strategy) patterns that can be applied from one situation to another. That is another post.

Categories: insights


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