The 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 shares 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 shaped by technological changes that, if not adopted, can lead to one being out-competed by rivals. This explains the obsessive focus on technology in both business and warfare. Yet technology brings its own problems.

Most new technologies are ‘higher-order systems’ built on top of older sub-systems. For example, (see fig. 43) ‘AI’ is built on top of older sub-components like ‘databases’, which are built on top of older sub-components like ‘computers’, which are built on top of older sub-components like ‘electricity’. Each technology thereby enables a higher-order system that then consumes it. Therefore, adopting the latest technology means using lots of other sub-technologies as well and the challenge is that no-one can master all of these components. This is why organisations form — to gather together people with diverse knowledge and skills who use these various tools to satisfy the needs of users, in exchange for which they get what they need to thrive, revenue. But here is the problem — how do you coordinate effectively the activities of such a diverse group of people?

Fig 43: (Very) Basic Map of AI

In the last chapter we criticised one of the approaches modern organisations deploy to meet this challenge of coordinating people and the various tasks they must accomplish. ‘Microsoftisation’ — where each department uses a different Microsoft tool to complete their own duties (finance using spreadsheets to manage budgets, IT using graphics applications to visualise the system’s architecture etc.) — creates a cacophony of noise and misunderstanding at the all-organisation level when different departments try to coordinate with each other. This is where the world of business is far behind the world of warfare for 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 job done but, when working with each other, they use maps to coordinate those activities. This is why, at their most basic, maps can be seen a common language enabling people from different functions to align effectively in pursuit of a common mission — how to out-compete your rivals.

Fig 44: 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 your organisation could possibly have. But then again if you were lost in a strange city and didn’t speak the local language, then opening up a map to find out where you were, what was around you (not just in the immediate vicinity, but far beyond where you can see) and how you can move reliably through this space, all whilst being able to track your progress as you went would almost seem like magic 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 nearly use Microsoft programs rather than maps.

So, without embarrassment or exaggeration, here are some of the benefits of Wardley Maps for your business:

  1. Create alignment — Focus all teams on the shared purpose of creating value for the organisation by identifying and satisfying the needs of users
  2. Navigate complexity — Adopt the most effective management strategies for the situation by understanding the maturity of the various components you use
  3. Anticipate future change — Develop foresight to see what is changing in your industry and the implications this will have for your organisation
  4. Gain strategic insights — Zoom in and out out to identify options for action at both the macro (industry) level and the micro (organisational) level
  5. Uncover new opportunities — Compare options for strategic investment into innovation, differentiation, or efficiency gains
  6. Mitigate risks — Make assumptions explicit in order to be challenged by others so hard to quantify risks are identified and can be managed
  7. Adapt quicker to change — Pivot in real-time and start shaping events, rather than sticking to a rigid plan and being forced to continually react
  8. Bridge the IT/business gap — Enable both sides to understand the other so better decisions about technology investments are made (rather than following trends and getting no ROI)
  9. Streamline project management — Uncover potential inefficiencies or misalignments to ensure resources are allocated effectively and projects deliver real value
  10. Develop real organisational agility — Encourage a structure of nimble teams supporting each other to deliver real value through effective collaboration.

In summary, Wardley Maps are a powerful tool for depicting how your organisation (and the wider industry) creates value today by satisfying user needs, seeing how this landscape is changing, and exploring where your options for action are. The clearer you can see the big picture — and the more widely you share it with key others around you — the greater your chances of identifying moves that 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. You can ‘out-think and out-move’ rivals by discovering and testing ideas on a map first. For, as Sun Tzu wrote:

“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

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Marcus Guest

Govern the state by being straightforward; And wage war by being crafty. — Laozi, Tao Te Ching marcus@powermaps.net PowerMaps.net