Valerie Freitas asks:
In using Wardley mapping, are there guidelines in thinking about who you have at the table to begin these discussions?
Designing/cultivating the kind of input you receive by selecting who is part of your discussion group or cross-functional or different levels of experience, etc. or perhaps meetings with different groups to see how a particular community/collective might think alike/different? Maybe even take into consideration power differences and how that might steer or dampen discussion?
What a great question! Let’s start by thinking through what the difference between mapping alone and mapping in a group, what the benefits and drawbacks of group mapping are, and then how the presence or absence of specific perspectives affects that outcome.
To begin, mapping to understand your own thinking is a valuable thing to do. Mapping alone, you can get assumptions about a context out of your head and onto paper and then consider the potential moves. Simon Wardley’s strategy cycle — Purpose, Landscape, Climate, Doctrine, and Leadership — certainly offers plenty to consider!
By making a map alone, you traverse the same challenge encountered while writing — that is, having to make specific commitments about your ideas. All the “what-ifs” and “could-bes” get forced into concrete terms, as graphite meets paper.
In writing, words are thankfully not final. Writing is an additive game — you can always write more later. Similarly, maps are not final. They are only tentative commitments that force you to take a specific position, imagine the consequences, and then wrestle with what’s likely to happen vs what’s desired.
While the minimum number of people required for a Wardley Mapping exercise is truly “1,” the benefits increase exponentially with a group. With two or more minds, individual assumptions become the subject of group discussion. Fresh eyes bring curiosity and rigor to ways of thinking long taken for granted.
Here’s what mapping in a group can look like, from one of Simon’s 2013 blog posts:
Get a group of people together with some post-it notes and write down every consumer need. These should be placed on a huge whiteboard (ideally a wall) in fairly random order…Then for each need, using a different colour of post-it notes, the group should write down the top-level components that meet the need. From this list any subcomponents that the top-level component will use including any data or practices or activities should be written down. For each subcomponent further subcomponents should be identified until a point is reached that the subcomponents are outside of the scope of the company…
When the group is satisfied that the components for all needs have been written, then take the needs of the wall and discard them.
Now write on the wall, a single vertical line and mark it value chain. The top-level components should now be added to the wall at the top of the value chain and the subcomponents placed underneath with lines drawn between components to show how they are linked…
Once the group is satisfied that they’ve successfully described the value chain then take a picture of the wall and remove everything.
On the wall, now draw two lines – a vertical line for value chain and a horizontal line for evolution, marking on lines for genesis, custom built, product and commodity. Start to add the value chain that you previously created beginning with the top-level components. For each component the group should ask itself the question of how evolved is this activity?
Once you’ve determined, add the component to wall, positioning it along the evolution axis in what the group agrees is the right place. Keep on repeating the process, moving down the value chain, drawing links between components as you go…
From experience… [this] should take between 30 minutes to an hour once you get the hang of it.
Simon details the kinds of discussions and conflicts that come up in the rest of the post. It’s clear that disagreement and scrutiny is the key to finding opportunities.
The best kind of scrutiny comes from people who care about each other, care about the situation, and want to do the right thing. While examining assumptions in this way does slow the process of decision-making down, it trades speed for quality, novelty, and collective alignment.
An unattributable proverb is relevant here: To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.
Assumptions tested in a group setting not only improve in strength (or, if disproven, disappear) but also become part of a shared worldview. On the one hand, these shared beliefs can expedite decision-making over areas of agreement and shift attention to more important areas of disagreement. On the other hand, these beliefs create conditions for entrenched bias, making certain kinds of outcomes and futures unlikely or impossible — a mechanism that is neither good nor bad but which certainly has consequences we ought to care about.
To extend the proverb: If we decide to go far by going together, how will we know which way to go, and how will we meet the challenges along the way?
There are at least two (and likely many more) reasons to add different perspectives at the start of a mapping conversation:
- Increase variety of awareness (sensing), to improve our system of guidance (so we increase awareness of a changing landscape and what it means).
- Increase variety of response (acting), to improve our ability to adapt to the changing circumstances we encounter along the way.
By thinking in these terms, we stand to enrich the shared beliefs we build and to modulate our bias, eliminating fewer potentially desirable futures.
I think this approach pragmatically aligns with values oriented around diversity, equity, and inclusion, so here are some relevant questions to ask as you map, adapted from How Culture Add Changes the Conversation on Hiring:
- Who can we add to challenge our existing thinking and processes?
- Who can we add to be a voice or viewpoint for those we serve?
- Who can we add who has skills or experiences that would help us make sense of the landscape and make better decisions?
Sometimes getting all these perspectives in the same room can be a challenge. That’s not the end of the world. You might consider mapping the same scope multiple times with different groups of people and then comparing and contrasting the results. You also might consider recording or writing short summaries of mapping sessions to share different viewpoints and conclusions. You could even run asynchronous chains of Troika Consulting by recording a presentation of a map, playing it to a group, and recording the brief reactions, questions, and conversations that follow. This doesn’t have to be big — it can happen 5-15 minutes at a time.
To close this post out, I highly recommend watching, listening, or reading Cat Swetel’s talk, Variety: The Spice of Life and Secret to Scale, which explores Argyris’ Ladder of Inference, Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, and Conway’s Law to provide an even more pragmatic answer to this question.