Wardley Mapping Facilitation

In Wardley Mapping, if you want to go fast, you go alone. But if you want to go far — and build all that good “shared understanding” stuff we hear about — you need friends. You need to map with others!

Now, there’s nothing wrong with mapping alone (see Nobody Cares About Your Precious Framework). But at the same time, there are serious advantages to involving a group. More perspectives in the mix means catching things you’d otherwise miss. Mapping together builds consensus and buy-in. And that’s before you consider the value of possessing the shared language needed to hold semantically dense, nuanced conversations. 

And generally, you had better get used to mapping with others before the validity of your individual assumptions becomes the limiting factor on decision quality. (Spoiler alert: That will happen sooner than you think.)

Doing Wardley Mapping in a group, however, is HARD.

First, there’s a legitimacy problem. “Is Wardley Mapping the right tool for us? And is all this hard work really worth it?” The benefits are not always clear to the casual observer, so you have to win people over by influence and proof-of-value.

Second is the literacy problem. “How does it work? What does this or that term mean? How do we choose what goes in the map?” And so on. Time and experience are the best remedies here, but that can be helped along by addressing the third problem… effective facilitation.

Facilitation is not an easy thing, especially online facilitation. You can wing it, you can get super strict, or you do something else altogether. Let’s see what’s possible…

Wing It

I am a big fan of winging it. It’s messy, and that’s okay! Just get folks into a (virtual) room with some sticky notes (for example, in Miro) and follow Simon’s instructions in Chapter 2 of his book. Start with users, and work your way through user needs, capabilities, relationships, and evolution. 

Simon’s tables, being helpful provocations for the process, are good to have as reference material, and if you can arrange for the Cheat Sheet (Figure 17 in the book) to be visible a lot of the time, that’s particularly helpful.

This approach works well in pairs and small groups, especially when you come prepared with the reference materials to ease the process. But as you start to deal with larger groups, this gets more and more difficult to manage well. Discussion, disagreement, and issues of understanding can easily start to crowd out the actual process, leaving parts of the room disengaged or confused. Instead of getting bogged down in those consensus moments, you might make a habit of noting disagreement and moving on, since that can help save the momentum. But that is an imperfect solution.

Get Strict

An alternative extreme to winging it is to embrace strict consensus on every step of the Wardley Mapping process. It might look something like this:

  1. Agree (negotiate) on one user.
  2. Agree (negotiate) on one need which that user has.
  3. Agree (negotiate) on one capability required to fulfill that user’s need.
  4. Agree (negotiate) on how evolved that capability is.
  5. Search the map for opportunities, using Wardley’s climate patterns, doctrinal principles, and strategic gameplays (you might use this table for inspiration).
  6. Then, expand from point 3 above to add more capabilities. Repeat as necessary.
  7. Then, expand from point 2 above to add more needs. Then expand from point 3 again. Repeat as necessary.
  8. Then, expand from point 1 above to add more users. Expand from points 2 and 3 again. Repeat as necessary.

Obviously, this is an overwhelmingly fussy process, which no group of people can reasonably be expected to follow. But you might make a light-hearted, semi-unserious attempt to follow it, skipping steps as needed. The point is to have just enough structure for the group to overcome the hurdle of getting started and start to fuel the conversation on its own.


I mentioned a third option distinct from winging it or going for strict, full-group consensus. This third option is about small group consensus and cross-pollination — many agreements, with differences across groups, rather than one Big Idea or one big map.

It’s pretty easy to do! Just have people make maps in small groups (Zoom breakout rooms are useful here when online), and then create a way to share and compare.

Perhaps each group can do a readout of their map to the full room. Or you might consider rotating one person from each group into another group to cross-pollinate ideas. The important thing is to create opportunities to notice and discuss differences.

This approach plays to a strength of Wardley Mapping, in that it doesn’t necessarily require complete agreement among everyone involved. The intention and the value is in surfacing the assumptions of stakeholders, many of which may never have been voiced before! Group work like this makes those noticeable, and that alone goes a long way toward shared understanding about what the organization is doing, even if those assumptions are the subject of disagreement.

There are other variations on these ideas as well. For instance, Jennifer Carlston has been exploring mob mapping (inspired by Woody Zuill’s “mob programming”):

tweet by J. D. Carlston: jdcarlston/status/1365371422789365764

I’ve also mashed up Wardley Mapping with Liberating Structures’ Troika consulting, to great (or at least fun) effect. We’ve hardly scratched the surface!

As with many LWM posts, the goal here isn’t to tell you what to do but to share ideas to play with. Try each of these out, mix and match, and invent your own! I hope you’ll share what you find with the rest of us. 🙂

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