Introducing Wardley Mapping to Your Business Strategy

Since it’s creation in 2005, Wardley Mapping has been embraced by UK government institutions and companies worldwide. This is thanks to its unique ability to factor both value and change into the strategising process. It’s a powerful, fascinating tool that far more organisations across the world should be implementing today to make key choices for their future growth.
Ahead of my wider Wardley Mapping strategy discussion at GOTO Copenhagen this year, I have put this article together as an overview of Wardley Mapping for business strategy, including the fundamentals of creating a map, how to interpret it to form patterns, and why it works so effectively for corporate decision-making today.

Wardley Mapping: An abbreviated overview

In this article, I will go through the core aspects of how a Wardley Map is created so that you can begin to consider its use in your organisation. 

These maps can look complicated at first, particularly maps with more connections, but to get started you need to understand

  • Purpose
  • Anchors (Users)
  • Needs and Capabilities
  • The Value Chain (Vertical Axis)
  • Evolution (Horizontal Axis)

Purpose

To create a successful Wardley Map, you must first have a clearly defined purpose. This may be to solve a particular problem in your company, like a lack of sales, or to evaluate all of your solution features as an SaaS. 

Your purpose will define the overall scope of your map, and what you’re trying to achieve by creating it.

The Anchor (User)

Wardley Mapping is not a mindmap or a graph; it’s a map because it has an anchor. Simon Wardley, the inventor of Wardley Mapping, explains the difference between graphs and maps succinctly in this video

An anchor is what your strategy revolves around. If you’re Wardley Mapping to assess your market, for example, your main anchor would be your customers. Another simple example below shows a Wardley Map for an HR recruitment strategy, with a job candidate as the anchor.

Source: HR Value

You can find more information on this map and all the others I reference throughout this article in my curated collection of Wardley Mapping examples from a diverse set of business domaines.

Needs and capabilities

The needs on a Wardley Map are simply what each of your anchors needs to have or achieve within what you’re mapping. In the example above, the candidate needs a job. 

Then, you have to map your current capabilities, which are all the things your anchor has to have to support their needs. Once you’ve identified needs and capabilities, you can start to connect them.

This example for the Neeva search engine below shows a single, clear need for their search engine customers – find “something” – followed by a large number of capabilities, as well as offered features and what their competition is doing.

Value chain (Vertical Axis)

As you start to create your map, you’ll naturally be creating a value chain based on how visible, and invisible, needs and capabilities are to your anchor. 

A good example of this is this review of the video games industry below, where streaming, social media and store locations are more visible to the Player and Influencer anchors than publishers or development platforms.

Evolution (Horizontal axis)

The ability to track evolution and change is what sets Wardley Mapping apart from other business strategising tools. When mapping needs and capabilities, you must map along the horizontal axis across four stages:

  1. Genesis – rare, poorly understood, uncertain. 
  2. Custom-built – people are starting to understand and consume this capability.
  3. Product (+ Rental) – consumption is rapidly increasing.
  4. Commodity/Utility/Basic Service – this capability is normalised and widespread.

You can better understand each of these 4 states using this table, also found on this website and in Simon Wardley’s book on Wardley Mapping.

The below map goes into great detail on the tech stack and capabilities of Airbnb and is a good example of how mapping across the value chain and evolution provides a unique visual only offered by Wardley Mapping.

Strategising through Wardley Mapping

The above explains the fundamentals of designing a Wardley Map. There are also some helpful explainers on creating your first map on the Lean Wardley Mapping website.

Once you know the basics of how to map, and you’ve practised enough to be confident in your results, you can implement more complicated strategies to use your map for key decision-making. Some approaches to this include:

Understanding Patterns – how to spot the patterns between your capabilities. 

Climactic Patterns – these are the basic rules of the Wardley Map and how it evolves. You can use the table tracking these patterns to review potential changes to your strategy.

Anticipating Changes – including more advanced connection-making like subgroups, inertia and the Red Queen effect.

Doctrinal Principles – this is a table of universally useful patterns that you can apply to your Wardley Map to consider your current situation. 

Gameplay Patterns – this is a table of traditional business strategies you can use to influence your map and, by extension, your purpose or market.

Fool’s Mate – a near-universal strategy for using your map to understand where to make changes through evolution.

Why Wardley Mapping is Perfect for Business Strategy

Wardley Mapping can be an invaluable tool in business planning and key decision-making thanks to the following factors.

Topological Visualisation

Wardley Mapping allows your business to visualise markets or scenarios topologically, meaning it takes into account things that change over time. 

In business, the one constant is that everything changes. Wardley Mapping can help you prepare for those changes, react ahead of time, and project key decisions for the future even before they’re necessary.

Topological Visualisation

The ability to view concepts in a changing environment also makes Wardley Mapping great for tracking patterns between capabilities or anchors.

This allows you to consider how crucial decisions might impact other aspects of your business model, or identify which areas demand particular consideration.

Uniting Senior Leaders

Wardley Mapping allows all senior decision-makers to view the same data visualisation of a market or situation objectively.

By then applying doctrines and patterns, management teams can discuss potential changes within a unifying environment, with a clear way to visualise and consider the impacts of these decisions through modifying the map.

Wardley Mapping Strategy At BigCorp – GOTO Copenhagen 2023

I’ve written this article as an introduction to my upcoming talk on October 3rd at GOTO Copenhagen 2023. 

From 09:40 – 10:30, I’ll be discussing how Wardley Mapping can be utilised in senior decision-making scenarios, as well as how I think it should be applied today.

You can find out more about the talk, as well as the other speakers joining the conference this year, on GOTO Copenhagen’s website. I hope to see you there.

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