Pragmatic Facilitation

In my time delivering workshops and working with different teams, I’ve found that no two experiences learning Wardley Mapping are alike.

There are so many concepts to learn and ways to learn them. And importantly, “Wardley in concept” differs significantly from “Wardley in use.” The messiness of actual mapping work can be quite jarring when compared to the book knowledge.

Tweet by Simon Wardley: swardley/status/1324031657771520003

I have a soft spot in my heart for that messiness, and for better or worse I prefer to follow the burning questions of “Wardley in use” rather than stick to a standard “Wardley in concept” lesson plan. Both are necessary, however, and far from being incompatible, the differences between the two are critical to helping people find their path to “getting” it.

In other words, I’m convinced that every team and every individual who hopes to pick up and sustain Wardley Mapping as a practice will start with the basics but ultimately end up muddling through it, at least until mapping itself matures significantly. This challenge can be discouraging at first, with all the theory there is to learn, as well as all the uncertainty there is about whether you’re “doing it right.” So, what I hope to share in this post is a general approach and attitude towards Wardley Mapping facilitation that might help you as you help others.

This post is not going to cover the technical aspects of facilitation, such as what exercises to run, or how to structure a mapping session. (If you want me to write about those things, let me know in the comments.) I am instead going to share broad reflections on what it really takes to create good learning conditions as a facilitator, from my own mistakes and experiences doing so for others.

Expect a Mess

To create good learning conditions, start by making everyone aware of what to expect and what not to expect of the process. Wardley Mapping is not about making clean, perfect maps, nor coming up with the answers in one attempt. It’s not about completion of the process (since there is no endpoint in our knowing). It’s not even necessarily about getting beyond the first step.

Instead, it’s about engaging thoughtfully with a messy situation and uncovering things we ought to know but don’t (at least yet). It’s about discovering where we aren’t acting intentionally and negotiating a shared understanding of both the situation and what can actually be done about it.

Make Progress Visible and Believable

Create opportunities to reflect throughout the experience, to acknowledge progress and make observable any changes in situational awareness. These two measures are important for prompting the right kind of directional assessment:

  • Are we having important and interesting conversations that couldn’t or wouldn’t have otherwise happened?
  • Are we acting on what we learn?

A Wardley Map is not itself a unit of progress. The discussion, challenge, and negotiation that ensues is, however. And of course all the memorization of Wardley theory in the world won’t change a thing unless it’s followed by action.

We are aiming to eventually build intuition for strategic thinking, but a surprising amount of the required experiential learning can come from making and discussing simple lists — of users, of needs, of capabilities, etc. Understanding these basic forms eventually enables more complicated, intricate representations of our designs — value chains, maps, etc.

As a facilitator, you are the steward of the process. But the process is difficult and can be discouraging — undoing years of unintentional situational un-awareness is not to be taken lightly. Offer reassurance and encouragement when unsteadiness inevitably appears. Emphasize the importance of new conversations and new actions (no matter how small) that come as a result of Wardley Mapping together. Be the calm, reassuring presence that makes the evidence of increasing situational awareness visible and believable.

Slightly More Intentional, Every Day

Wardley Mapping facilitation is an amazing opportunity to help people be slightly more intentional, every day. By creating the right conditions, you can help them make sense of their situation and discover for themselves the critical places where they might replace ignorance and compulsion with intention and agency.

Avoid the desire for quick answers, perfect maps, and instant progress. Accept the reality of “muddling through,” and develop an appreciation for the compounding effect of small, incremental progress.

The journey to strategic intuition is long and winding — a thoughtful plodding rather than a sprint. Even experienced practitioners must take their time, crossing the river by feeling the stones.

We are fortunate we get to be the guiding hand that helps with taking first steps.

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