Making Bad Meetings Better With Wardley Doctrine

Meetings can be a mess!

It all starts when a calendar invite lands in your inbox. If you’re lucky, you recognize the topic and the people on the attendee list. If you’re win-the-lottery amounts of lucky, you also know why you’re being invited and what you can contribute.

The day of the meeting arrives. Everyone shows up. People take turns talking at each other (after remembering how to unmute). You wait your turn patiently, then share. The meeting continues.

Eventually, the allotted time runs out. (Somehow there is never enough time.)

Everyone leaves. But what was accomplished? How are things better than they were before?

Bad Meetings Are the Norm

A lot can (and often does) go wrong in meetings. Plenty of speaking, but no listening. Attention and status games, but no clarity or action. “Why was I invited?” “Will they notice if I leave?” “Oh no, we’re running over time again.”

And because it’s no one person’s job to make meetings better, most organizations have lots of bad meetings — a tragedy of the conversational commons.

This is not okay.

But it’s also not hopeless. We can make things just a little bit better, with the help of a few simple doctrinal principles from Wardley Mapping.

Focus on Users and Needs

I’m not suggesting that making a Wardley Map will magically solve meeting woes. Wardley Mapping does improve communication, but we’re going to go more basic than making a map.

Like, waaaaay more basic.

First, do you know who your work is supposed to benefit? (These are your users.)

Second, do you know what benefit they are supposed to get? (These are your user needs.)

When we step into a meeting, everyone there should know the answers to these basic questions, right? And if we don’t know the answers, that’s a pretty bad look, right?

Users and needs form the most basic kind of common understanding required for good meetings and good decisions. Addressing more complicated challenges just isn’t possible until these basics are covered. Fortunately, we’ve made something to make this part even easier.

30 Seconds and a Piece of Paper

Before your next meeting, print this out and have it at the ready.

Special thanks to Jenna Dixon for the help making this template.

This template has just 2 lists: users and user needs.

See if you can identity both of these during the meeting. And if you can’t, speak up.

You don’t have to be confrontational, just curious! Curiosity is so powerful, because knowing who is being served is something people ought to know. And they know they ought to know it. If they don’t know it (and can get past any initial defensiveness), then that area of ignorance becomes an important problem you can work together to address.

That targeted curiosity can completely alter the course of the meeting. (And the best part is, at no point do you have to mention Wardley Mapping.)

If you want to explore more ways of making meetings better by applying Wardley’s doctrine, we wrote this post you might like. And for questions or ideas for this template, comment below or email me at ben at I’d love to hear from you!


  1. The term “user” impliesfor me that the outcome or output of the meeting will be “used”. Why haven’t you chosen “customer”instead?

    1. Hi Heike! In wardley mapping “user” is a generic term to describe the entity whose needs are met by the system / value chain. Ideally you will make it more specific for whatever context you’re in, but usually there are more “users” involved than just “customers.” Could be buyers, operators, regulators, developers, facilitators, etc… basically anyone whose needs are being met by the system. While I always suggest starting with a single user on your first map, every user ought to (eventually) be understood and considered in the design.

      So, use the words that work for you, but also be aware of all those who get value from the system.

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