Valerie Freitas asks:

Might free form brainstorming of words, with no constraints of current [maps] or questions that might lead the team in certain directions, be beneficial at the start? Then both non-technical and technical ideas / associations might be encouraged more.

Yes, absolutely — especially if folks are new to Wardley Mapping.

Brainstorming Is Great For Not Getting Stuck

When you’re playing the role of facilitator and helping a team get started with mapping, your job is to create conditions where everyone can try out the process and have a good experience.

While it’s great if you can get folks to make maps and do the whole strategy cycle right away, it’s probably not going to work that way on your first go. More commonly, you’ll encounter objections about not being sure where to start, or perhaps doubts about how to “do it right.” That’s what “getting stuck” sounds like, and brainstorming is perfect for dialing back the pressure and getting everybody moving again.

Fewer Constraints, but Not Zero Constraints

Going free form can be useful to allow for a wider variety of ideas, but too few constraints on the brainstorm will produce a mess of unrelated, unhelpful ideas. Here are a few suggestions for keeping the discussion pointed in the right general direction.

First, clearly define what is in scope and what is NOT in scope for the conversation. Doing so helps the team start on common ground and self-manage when it comes to deciding what is or is not relevant.

A great way to keep things to a defined scope is to start with a guiding question. For example, “What are all the moving parts of ________?” Or perhaps, “What are all the things that must happen for us to help ________ do ________?”

Second, widen the possibilities of what the answers can look like. For instance, share an example of a technical component, a knowledge component, and a practice component to show a variety of reasonable answers. People will still gravitate to what they find most comfortable, but don’t be afraid to redirect their attention to what’s missing as the discussion unfolds.

Emergency Care, Prevention, Treatment, Diagnosis, Social Distancing, Triage, Transport, PPE, Examination, Bedside Manner, Medical Knowledge

A brainstormed list of parts that might eventually appear in a map.

Third, help the team suspend judgement. At the beginning, the main focus is to get things moving by getting words on the page. Before the brainstorming starts, set expectations that it isn’t the time to doubt, filter, or critique — yet! For now, it’s best for folks to think openly and create a wide-ranging “menu” of ideas that they’ll refine and build from when they make their maps later.

While Simon states that components can be activities, practices, data, or knowledge, sometimes participants will have ideas that don’t fit neatly into these categories. That’s okay! They’ll find more elegant ways to describe those ideas as they get more practice with mapping. Keep things moving, and don’t make the mistake of engaging in critique too early in the process.

What Happens Next?

Once the brainstorm is done, see what new conversations the team can have to help digest and reflect on the what they wrote down. Believe it or not, it’s not actually important for the team to make a map right away. It’s much more impactful if they get the chance to integrate the new information that will undoubtedly surface. After all, half the fun of mapping is learning about the different ways other people see the situation!

It’s good to start small with these next conversations. Here are a few easy prompts…

  • What’s here? What do you notice?
  • What do we mean by ________?
  • How are _________ and ________ related?
  • Who is consuming value from ________? And what is that value?

From there, you might consider a slightly deeper topic, like evolution. Pick an important item from the list, and try to determine as a team how evolved it is, using Simon’s cheat sheet.

A list of parts placed across the evolutionary axis.

A list of parts placed across the evolutionary axis.

These first discussions may feel clumsy, and you might not always get around to making a full map by the end. That’s okay! Remember, success here is about helping everyone have a good experience so you get another chance to play with the ideas together in the future.

Consistently create a good experience where folks are learning from each other, and your teams will be mapping regularly in no time!

Thanks again to Valerie Freitas for the great question. If you’d like to learn more, join us for one of our upcoming classes!