Tony Osime asks:
What is the best way to introduce Wardley Mapping to different groups?
a. Senior executives – Strategic level
b. Management – Team leader level
c. Junior staff – Team member level
This is a great question, and one I’ve thought about for some time. I’ve had some experiences with each of these different groups, and I will do my best to approximate a plausible way to think differently about each.
Senior execs are expected to do strategy, regardless of their skill or ability. If they get it wrong, the entire org can be caught off guard, leading to disaster. If they get it right, they’re still liable to be misunderstood, resulting in their intent not being carried out. It’s a lose-lose.
Here’s the weird thing. I don’t think senior execs should be doing strategy. I think they should be responsible for cultivating capabilities in the organization that make certain kinds of strategies possible.
To that end, Wardley Mapping for senior execs can be about defining organizational capabilities — to reduce blind spots, build competence in knowing what kinds of strategies can result from what capabilities, and then articulate intent with respect to specific organizational capabilities.
When I introduce mapping in these instances, I might emphasize their responsibility to have intent for each capability in the org, as well as the cultivation of wisdom and legacy. These folks genuinely want to make good decisions, develop long-term vision, and win the respect and buy-in of their orgs.
Managers have a problem — they don’t have a clear role in the organization other than being a buffer between contributors at the edge and executives at the center of the org. They do a lot of different things in an attempt to be perceived as useful, and they will generally remain unappreciated. What’s worse is unclear guidance from senior execs will force them to make it up as they go — and trust me, folks at the edge will be able to tell.
While senior execs ought to be concerned with capabilities, management has a genuine opportunity to define organizational strategies, especially given their nearer contact with the folks at the edge. For them, Wardley Mapping gives them a job worth having — developing strategic competence. They can practice expressing strategic intent and reconciling it against the signals from reality experienced by folks at the edge. And to the extent that senior executives have no clarity of opinion with respect to organizational capability or overall intent, managers have the opportunity to go and get it — to know that it should exist and ask questions until it does.
For managers, I might point at the opportunity for genuine ambition, as well as development of competence and the ability to make a meaningful contribution. And of course, they can authentically take credit for their real work in wrangling organizational intent work. The organization will see which bets they are taking, how they lock down operational concerns, and in general make decisions of a certain quality. They can reach a point where they are judged according to that quality, instead of whatever is happening currently.
There’s a special place in my heart for folks at the edge of the organization who must encounter and deal with the cold hard reality of the outside world. The worst possible way to interpret their role is to think of them as order-takers. They are decision-makers. And unclear intent from the center of the org leads to negative consequences that the folks at the edge must experience directly.
For these folks, Wardley Mapping can offer a big picture view, or at least an opportunity to recognize when there is no clear intent. In the absence of intent, they can at least then take responsibility for running a high-functioning section of the organization — a local optimization, but one that probably results in less pain than the alternative.
With that in mind, I might discuss how Wardley Mapping enables agency — the ability to see the system and how your actions impact others within it. It emphasizes, “Your decisions matter.” And it never hurts if folks at the edge can think strategically — they will notice opportunities no one else will.
Execs as capability-minders and managers as strategists originates from some thinking spurred by Whole Work: Sociotechnicity & DevOps, by Jabe Bloom (specific section linked). I would also recommend considering how power occurs in organizations, through the lens of this blog series on Burja Mapping, by Tasshin Fogleman.
And if I were to answer the original question in a succinct way…
For Senior Execs, appreciate the seriousness of their responsibility to the organization and emphasize the opportunity to do something bigger than strategy.
For Managers, appreciate their ambition and desire to be viewed as competent. They genuinely want to do a good job under generally adverse conditions, and you can help them shape their purpose in the organization as being oriented around strategy and clear articulation of intent.
For Junior Staff, show how they can articulate their own view of the big picture to increase their own agency and the specific meaningfulness of their work. They can make good decisions, even if they don’t always get the support or clarity they need.
Special thanks to Tony Osime for this question.