Saturday, February 03, 2024

A good enough map

I’m often asked whether we can add a new axis onto a Wardley map or some new legend; to be blunt, I prefer not to.

When you create a Wardley map, you first start by identifying users and their needs. For example, a Tea Shop has users like the business that wants to sell cups of tea to members of the public who will hopefully drink it. The Public and the Business are connected through a cup of tea.

Figure 1 - 
Users and their need for a cup of tea

Once you have users and needs, you expand it by considering what capability and components are needed to make a cup of tea. This creates a graph, a chain of what is required.

Figure 2 - A chain of the cup of tea

But it’s not any old graph; we order it by placing the users at the top and then the components according to how visible we think they are. For example, a cup of tea needs at least three components — tea, hot water and a cup. Now, what is the most visible element? How often do you ask for “a cup of Earl Grey” or an “English breakfast, please”? Is this more frequent than you talk about the type of cup? Is that more often than you enquire about the hot water used?

Once we have ordered the chain, we go through the entire chain asking “how evolved” each component is and placing the components according to an evolution axis from the genesis of something entirely new and never done before to more of a commodity. This creates the Wardley map.

Figure 3 - The map of a cup of tea

Finally, we tidy this up by adding a line of evolution at the bottom and an indicator for the value chain. NB. There can be many value chains on a single map; there is, in practice, no y-axis because that is contained within the chains themselves; it’s more of a directional indicator, i.e. the further you go down the chain then, the less visible the components become to things higher up the chain.

Figure 4 - A Wardley Map

Using this map, we can now:-

Challenge what we are doing — “Why are we custom building kettles?” or “Why is the cup more visible than the tea”?

Add missing components — “Have we thought about staff to make the tea?” or “What about milk?”

Add missing users — “What about regulators?” or “What about staff? Don’t they have needs?”

Add missing needs — “What about a nice place to sit?” or “wifi?” or “A payment method?” or “How about some biscuits!”

We can use the map to discuss how to manage and measure the system, how and where the landscape is changing, where we should focus on improving operations, and where to differentiate. There is an awful lot to be discussed with this simple but imperfect map.

However, that discussion does require thought, communication and challenge. As simple as it is, the map provides massive information compression compared to text. To compensate, it also delivers a constraining framework (a strong opinion in both the view of value chains and evolution), which enables discussion despite the vast amount of information. Even with this, I have found in research meetings that two hours per day is the maximum time people can work on maps without becoming mentally exhausted. Mapping may be simple, but it is also mentally challenging.

Adding another axis will increase the effort required and the potential for confusion. That alone would make them less valuable. So, yes, you could add more axes, colours, symbols, or more of everything in our attempt to build the perfect, all-encompassing, 15-dimensional, AI-driven supermap of the future. However, adding these features doesn’t make the maps more understandable or useful. Instead, stripping stuff away might be the better path.

Figure 5 - The super map of the future, courtesy of ChatGPT.

The maps are good enough for me until something better and simpler comes along. I follow the path of Less is often More.