Art vs Science in Wardley Mapping

Wardley Mapping can at times have the appearance of being an exact science. In many ways, however, it's more of an art. Or perhaps several arts rolled into one.

#1: The Art of Modeling

The first art is modeling — deciding how to slice a vastly complex situation down into its essential parts. In Wardley Mapping the parts are things like users, needs, and capabilities, and each of those parts needs a name.

Two people looking at the same situation might slice it VERY differently, privileging one user over another, including some needs or capabilities but not others... And that's actually great! Diversity helps us build a richer understanding, as long differences get noticed and discussed. Some ways of slicing a situation might be more useful than others, and it's important to learn from each other.

(As an aside, Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks through this art nicely, particularly with its discussion of the "classical" mode and Phaedrus' knife. Hence the "slicing." You'll have to read the book to see what I mean.)

Wardley makes two unique contributions to the modeling art:

  1. Using a dependency tree / directed acyclic graph (DAG) to represent the value chain (which, in my opinion makes Porter's value chain concept much more useful), and
  2. Evolutionary characteristics as a way to describe the qualities of a thing inside a competitive market.

The combo of those two things makes the Wardley Map.

#2: The Art of Modeling Together

The second art is doing all of the first art with multiple people.

You can certainly make a Wardley Map on your own, but if you want to unlock the power of working with other people (a.k.a. organizing) you'll need those people to see it, understand it, and agree with it. Doing strategy work means it's simply not enough to have all the answers on your own. You have to share your work and be hungry for critique.

That's why I like working on Wardley Maps with other people from the start if I can. That way the negotiation can happen from the beginning, through contribution and discussion around the map as we build it together.

#3: The Art of Sight

The third area of art is sight — your ability to "perceive" what is happening (using the model / map) in order to understand the implications of the way the situation is disposed. Put another way, it's about comprehending the inherent potential of the situation.

There's a super "easy" version of strategy built entirely on this art. That is, if you can use your maps to see what's already happening, you don't need incredible gameplay to thrive. You just need to follow the change as it happens and do nothing to resist it. No market intervention necessary! Just flowing along with the change.

Mapping can enable sight, but you don't "see" automatically by having made a map. This takes time.

#4: The Art of Readiness

The fourth area of art would be taking actions to increase the fitness and readiness of the organization.

Wardley's Doctrine has plenty to suggest, such as getting rid of cancerous duplication (why do we have 10 CRMs again?) or reducing bias (outsourcing what should be outsourced, building what should be built, buying what should be bought, etc.).

Readiness is about having a well-trained and capable organization BEFORE you even consider meddling with the market. (Kind of like working on yourself before you try to work on others.)

#5: The Art of Intervention

The fifth area of art is where you actually attempt to alter the market through an intervention, to nudge it towards more favorable conditions.

There are two schools of thought here. One is about directly, forcefully things happen. The other is about tending to the conditions and letting them play out. My friend Tasshin Fogleman has a good post that talks about both.

Either way, I share these opportunity prompts when teaching people Wardley Mapping as a process for strategic inquiry. The prompts come from combinations of the third, fourth, and fifth arts, which themselves are loosely based on Climate, Doctrine, and Leadership from Wardley's book. I drastically oversimplified this intense mix of arts into simple "questions" to ask the map. (I wanted people to get a chance to experience the value of Wardley Mapping for themselves without having to soak up a bunch of theory first.)

A Simplified Strategic Thinking Process

In general, I use the following oversimplified frame for the #WardleyMaps process because it can be understood right away:

  1. Make a Map
  2. Ask it Questions
And if I can push it further, I'll make it more complete:
  1. Make a Map
  2. Ask it Questions
  3. Act
  4. Learn (from the consequences)

These are (mostly) self evident things, so people get it.

Where does the map come from? Well, that leads you to Purpose and Landscape. And the questions? Well, they just come from Climate, Doctrine, and Leadership. Acting and Learning is the rest of the strategy cycle, the missing ingredients to "playing the game."

What About the Science?

I do consider anything in Simon's tables of patterns (Climate, Doctrine, Leadership, Evolution, Inertia, etc.) as based in his research.

And I have also worked on turning the process of making a Wardley Map into more of an exact algorithm:

  1.  Users
  2.  Needs
  3.  Components
  4.  Value Chain (+dependency relationships)
  5. Wardley Map (+evolution)
  6. Climate Patterns (which ones apply to the map?)
  7. Doctrinal Principles (which ones apply to the map?)
  8. Leadership Gameplays (which ones apply to the map?)
  9. Take Action!
  10. Repeat

(Fun fact, I once made a chat bot to help people make a map. And that required knowing exactly what the process was. This algorithm has turned out to be useful for many reasons!)

Anyway, this post describes more or less where I land on Wardley Mapping being a science vs an art. I suppose some domains are more mature and readily modelable as a map, but in general I think a decent amount of the method involves intuition-based decisions within each of the arts above.

There's much more to learn yet. I don't expect this post to be enlightening or even particularly right, but I do hope it helps the one or two people I know have the questions this post starts to answer.

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