Chapter 17. The (Many) Benefits of Mapping

Marcus Guest
5 min readOct 25, 2023


“Instead of using multiple different ways of explaining the same thing between different functions of the company then try to use one. A map”— Simon Wardley⁠[1]

As we explored in Book One,[2] modern businesses share some similarities with warfare — namely, there’s on-going competition with rivals and a huge amount of uncertainty as we don’t know what our rivals will do next. As in warfare, modern businesses are also shaped by technological changes that, if they do not adopt them in time, can lead to them being out-competed by their rivals. This perhaps explains the obsessive focus on technology in both business and warfare. Yet technology brings its own problems.

New technologies are ‘higher-order’ systems built on top of older sub-systems. For example, in the map below (see figure 43 ) we can see that ‘AI’ is built on top of a series of ever older sub-systems: ‘databases’, ‘computers’ and ‘electricity’. Each of those technologies (which were once new and exciting themselves) enable ‘higher-order’ systems (like AI) to operate on top of them, which then consume those low-order systems, increasing the utility of them. Therefore, whenever we adopt the latest technology we’re also adopting lots of sub-technologies as well and the challenge is that no-one is a master all of these components. This is why we organise — we gather people with the knowledge and skills of various tools to satisfy the needs of end users who, in exchange, give us what we need to survive and thrive (i.e. revenues). But this creates a problem — coordinating the activities of a diverse group of people.

Fig 45: (Very) Basic Map of AI

In the last chapter we highlighted how modern organisations have become ‘Microsoftised’ — with each department using their own favoured Microsoft tool to perform their duties (with finance using spreadsheets to manage budgets and IT using graphics applications to visualise the system’s architecture etc.). While this works well enough inside the department it leads to a cacophony of noise and misunderstanding at the all-organisation level when different departments try to coordinate with each other as no-one speaks each other’s (Microsoftised) language.

This is where the world of business lags far behind the world of warfare. Army generals don’t need to know how to sail a ship to coordinate activities with someone from the navy; and admirals don’t need to know how to fire field artillery to coordinate activities with someone from the army. Each uses whatever tools they need to get their jobs done but, when working with each other, they use maps to coordinate their activities. This is why, at their most basic, maps are a common language enabling diverse people to align in pursuit of a common mission — how to out-compete your rivals.

Fig 46: Coordinating Activities with a Map

Yet Wardley Maps have many other benefits also. So many in fact that listing them can make one sound like a snake oil salesman hawking a ‘cure all’ for every problem an organisation could possibly have. Then again, if you found yourself lost in a strange city where you didn’t speak the local language and someone gave you a map, which helped you immediately see what was around you (and not just in the immediate vicinity, but far beyond as well), identify how to move reliably move through this space and track your progress as you went then this might almost magical, if it wasn’t for the fact that we all use maps in our every day lives (except that is in our business lives, where we use Microsoft programs). So, without embarrassment or exaggeration, here are some of the (many) benefits of using Wardley Maps for your business:

  1. Create alignment — use maps to focus all teams on a shared purpose (creating value by identifying and satisfying user needs)
  2. Navigate complexity — use maps to understand where the uncertainty is and the most appropriate methods to use
  3. Anticipate future change — learn to see what’s changing where in your industry and the implications this will have for your future
  4. Gain strategic insights — use maps to zoom in and out and identify options for action at both the industry and organisational levels
  5. Uncover new opportunities — use maps to understand where to focus on innovation, differentiation, or efficiency gains
  6. Mitigate risks — make assumptions that business decisions are being based on explicit so they can be challenged and risks quantified
  7. Adapt quicker to change — use maps to pivot quickly in real-time, (rather than sticking to a rigid plan and reacting late to change)
  8. Bridge the IT/business gap — with maps both sides can understand each other and make better decisions about technology investments
  9. Streamline project management — use maps to identify inefficiencies and red flags on projects early so they’re more likely to deliver value
  10. Develop real organisational agility — use maps to structure teams around the value they’re creating.

Wardley Maps are a powerful tool for depicting how your organisation (and the wider industry) creates value today, but the method is equally powerful in helping you see how your landscape is changing, and where your options for action are. For the clearer you see the bigger picture — and the more widely you share it with key others around you — the greater your chances of identifying moves that can exploit conditions in your favour. You no longer need to put all your resources into a single, copycat idea and then hope rivals don’t counter it because now you can ‘out-think and out-move’ rivals by first exploring and refining ideas on a map.

“The victorious army only enters battle after having first won the victory, while the defeated army only seeks victory after having first entered the fray” — The Art of War, Chapter 4



Marcus Guest

Govern the state by being straightforward; And wage war by being crafty. — Laozi, Tao Te Ching