Thursday, August 21, 2014

Basic rules of mapping

I've been asked for a basic set of rules on mapping. Tough question, so I thought I'd simply write down the process by which I develop my own maps. This isn't a list you should follow in stepwise order but instead a continual set of guiding principles to be applied. Be warned, it's rough notes.

Focus on Needs
The most important part of any map is the user need. Take care not to confuse this with your own needs, they are not the same. Needs change over time, new needs can appears as activities evolve. Don't ever think needs stand still. If you have multiple types of users then there's nothing wrong with creating multiple maps.

Meaningfully Tiny.
When mapping you should always aim to break down systems into as small a components as possible. In some cases you might want to have a high level component and then go and create a separate map for it e.g. a high level map (think world atlas) and then more detailed maps for components of interest (think street view).

Act Appropriately
When looking at a map, you want to do the minimal possible for creating whatever it is that you've mapped. Look to outsource commodity components or consume utility services. However, for those things you need to build then use an appropriate set of methods e.g. agile for development of novel components, six sigma if you're building an industrialised service, lean if it's a product in between.

Challenge Constantly
Whenever you have a map, share it with others. Get them to question the map, challenge the assumptions and you need to listen! Look at the outside market, especially mature markets. Challenge biases. Remember the map is fluid, things will change over time.

Order! Order!
When using your map to plan your attack and try and change a market or to build and exploit ecosystems or to use any of a hundred different tactical approaches then remember the order!
  • Where before Why - understand where you can attack first.
  • Why before How - understand why you should attack one space over another.
  • How before What - determine how you're going to approach (the tactical plays) before the what of action.
  • What before When - determine what you're going to do to make this happen before finally adding in the when.

Good Enough
No map is ever perfect. You can spend a lifetime trying to perfectly map something by which time it has all changed. The purpose of a map is to improve situational awareness and it doesn't take a great deal to do this. Think hours, maybe days when mapping before you start to act. Longer than that and you're taking too long, though obviously if it's your first time at mapping then give yourself a bit of leeway. Remember your map isn't going to stand still, it'll change.

Adapt to Facts 
To repeat - No map is ever perfect -  be prepared to change it, to iterate, to adapt to the situation on the ground, to events as they happen and to new sources of information. A map is a fluid instrument. 

Record what worked, what didn't and what patterns emerged. Maps are fundamentally a communication and learning instrument as opposed to a pretty visualisation for a presentation. They're often messy but that's not a bad thing.

Probably the most important rule of all. You can't learn about mapping by reading about it. You have to go and do it, you have to try it. It's a bit like playing chess, there's only so far that reading books will get you. Eventually you have to play the game.

It's not really a catchy list but I thought it might help some.