Giving Feedback on a Wardley Map

Giving feedback on a Wardley Map is hard. When I’m asked to do it, I of course want to help. But the instant I take a look, my first reaction is to get overwhelmed. All of these words, connections, positionings… feel strange and unfamiliar! How am I supposed to be of any help at all?

Why is it hard? Well, a Wardley Map is a look into someone’s head. And people think very differently. Even more importantly, what they can even see is different. The things that you might miss about the world might come shouting out to someone else. And reconciling the two perspectives is no small matter. It takes time and effort to wrestle with the worldviews until they start to be even remotely sensible together. It’s a lot of work!

The map itself reveals only the surface of their worldview. It’s just a glimpse of a deep and unique perspective. Like wearing a pair of glasses that let you see what the other person sees in the world, even if just a little bit.

So what do you do? As a teacher, I’m tempted to lean on the crutches of form. In other words, did you make a thing that looks like a Wardley Map. I’m looking for parts of a system that connect together to create some kind of value for people out there in the world, where those parts are positioned left to right, just so.

Unfortunately, all that can really get me is an assertion like, “Yep, that’s a Wardley Map.” And that’s not very useful feedback!

So I’ve been thinking… what can I do instead?

It’s about the questions

My favorite thing about Wardley Maps is the questions they pull out of you. What questions beckon, when you stare at someone’s map?

The first question is probably some variation of, “What!?” (It’s a good question.) But we want to go deeper. The “what” question is just about getting oriented. To start making sense. We want some better questions.

I’ve written about questions before, and off the top of my head, here are a few that I like to ask:

  • What is this thing?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • What does it depend on?
  • What does it enable?
  • What’s missing?
  • What hurts?

Pick a part of the Wardley Map, any part that calls to you, and get curious about it. Ask yourself questions, like mine, or your own.

Do you have answers? Can you find out?

Even if you only share your questions, inviting the map’s author to answer them is feedback in itself.

If they know the answers, that’s great! The dialogue can continue until you can find something else. If they don’t know the answers, you’ve just helped them find a hole in their thinking. Success!

Are questions the only kind of feedback? Certainly not! But if you find yourself unsure how to help when someone shares a map, asking good questions is a great place to start.

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