The mapping technique I use (commonly known as 'Wardley map' - see figure 1) is imperfect. These maps are simply a representation of the problem but the act of making a map has some profoundly useful effects.
Figure 1 - A Wardley map
The useful effects are :-
1) It encourages you to think about USER needs. The map starts from the visible user needs and moves through the components necessary to make that need happen.
2) It encourages you to think about COMPONENTS. Rather than treating a system as one thing, mapping encourages you to break down complex systems into components and understand that a complex system is in fact many things.
3) It encourages you to think about METHODS. Rather than treating a system with one method, mapping helps people to understand that as a component evolves then its properties change (from uncharted to industrialised) and hence the methods you use are different. Use of multiple methods (Agile, Lean, Six Sigma) in a single system at the same time is appropriate. Hint: you can co-ordinate a mass of different components using different methods (agile, six sigma and lean) through a scheduling system such as a Kanban board.
4) It encourages you to think about CHANGE. Evolution is not static, the components evolve due to competition. Mapping teaches you that how you treat something today is not the same as tomorrow.
5) It encourages you to COMMUNICATE. One huge advantage of a map is that other people can read it and obviously compare to other systems. Having maps is extremely useful in identifying common components between systems, to avoiding duplication and for sharing plans and strategic direction.
6) It encourages you to CHALLENGE. If you can read a map then you challenge the assumptions made especially by comparing a map to the outside world. Is CRM really at the stage of custom built or are we custom building what is in fact common and ubiquitous and suitable for commodity provision?
7) It encourages GAMEPLAY. Once you have a map, you can ask questions about how to change it e.g. using open approaches to drive to an activity, practice or data (all can be mapped) to more of a commodity or slowing this down with dark arts, constraints or regulation. Manipulation is at the heart of strategy.
8) It encourages you to PLAN. Once you have a map, you can test various scenarios and examine the probability of effectiveness of one scenario over another.
9) It encourages you to LEARN. With a map, you examine the effect of a given play before and after. This helps in learning what plays work, how economic forces change the landscape and how force multipliers (e.g. ecosystems) can be used.
10) It helps you to MITIGATE risk. Examining different scenarios, breaking down complex systems into components and effective communication are all necessary mechanisms for mitigating risk.
11) It helps you to COMPETE. Mapping can equally be applied to competitors to discover points of weakness, inertia to change and tactical plays (e.g. Tower & Moat) that you can exploit against others.
12) It helps you to find OPPORTUNITY. Understanding that the uncharted space is all about differentials and the industrialised is all about operational efficiency enables you to identify potential areas for improvement and how to exploit it.
13) It focuses on CAPABILITY and ORGANISATION. Once you have a map it becomes fairly easy to identify what aptitudes (skills) and attitudes (pioneers, settler and town planners) are needed for each component.
Now, if competition, strategic gameplay, opportunity, communication, risk mitigation, capability, scenario planning, challenge, organisation and user needs are not important to you then you probably don't need a map. If however the above is important for you then a map - even an imperfect map - will help you. The beauty of maps is of course that they can be shared and it is this act that improves them.