My beginner Questions about Wardley mapping

Hello there, I am very very new to Wardley mapping, so I apologise if my questions have already been answered, seem elementary or are “obvious”. I stumbled across Wardley mapping from a post on social media and watched a few videos on it on Youtube.

I think I understand some of the basics. However, there are things I just don’t seem to get.

I have a number of questions that I hope someone will be okay answering, even if they seem obvious or have already been answered.

Okay, here we go.

(1) Why does Wardley mapping mix Macro and Micro concepts at the same scale, weighting, relevancy or give it the same importance? I find it very confusing why it does this.

Example 1. In some videos the Wardley map will just say “Internet” or “Power”, these are very big macro things, and then suddenly it’ll say “website” as if its on the same level, scale, weighting, importance as Internet.

Or it’ll say something very micro like “Printing a document” and this is juxtaposed against macro issues like “Power” or “Internet” or “paper”.

IE: Paper is a big issue. It has to be sourced, but in a Wardley map its just juxtaposed at the same level as the document you are printing.

I’ve seen Wardley maps where they conflate big issues with small macro issues and I get really confused as to why it does this and why macro issues have the same contextual weighting as other smaller micro issues.

Example 2. On a video it talks about a user needing tea, which needs to be brewed, tea sourced, power, water, etc are all required to generate tea. But tea, water, power are very big macro issues when conflated with a kettle which isn’t.

Can someone explain why Wardley maps constantly mix macro and micro things and conflate them on the same map at the same contextual weighting, relevancy and importance?

(2). Relationship with Strategy

I’m not sure if I understand how Wardley mapping relates to strategy. As I understand it, the things closest to the user are the items one should strategise, plan and are considered “low hanging fruit”.

But is this really the case? Lets take the example of the brewing tea video.

In this video, there is a big assumption that you are in a “first world”, but what if you aren’t? What if the biggest issue is sourcing clean drinking water? Then given this, how does the Wardley map even help with strategy?

In both contexts all the map has told me is that I need a chain of events, items and resources to achieve a goal.

I’m missing the dots of how this relates to a strategy?

(3) What is the relationship, if any, between a Wardley map and a service design blueprint?

I see a lot of similarities between a Wardley map and service design blueprint; why would I choose Wardley mapping over a service design blueprint?


(3) The lines that connect the nodes.

What I’d like to know is what do the lines that connect the nodes meant to represent? Is it time, expense, lead time, a resource, something else?

For example, in the brewing tea video - there seems to be no correlation between the time to source the tea leaves and boiling the water to make the tea.

Is the distance between the nodes or perhaps the number of nodes that are connecting item A and Item B meant to show the number of steps, the cost, expense.

I’m just not sure what the lines are meant to be representing.

(4) Nodes that suddenly stop

So in the brewing tea video example, the node just stops at Tea. Or it’ll just stop at Water.

Why do nodes suddenly stop, whereas in other examples they don’t?

In one video it was explaining how Uber needs satellites, GPS, etc; and the rationale is that this the level of detail that is needed. But in that same video it neglects local laws, PESTLE issues, or environmental concerns/restrictions.

I just find it odd that sometimes nodes will just stop, and other times it goes deeper.

Is there a hard or fast rule to how many nodes deep a Wardley map should go?

(5) Explaining the context of a node

So, sometimes I’ll see a picture of a Wardley map and there’s a big assumption that everything on it is implicit or obvious.

But sometimes I’ll see a node labels sitting in space with no context of why its there or why its relevant.

So, this seems to imply that a Wardley map always needs a facilitator (documentation or person) to explain the decision choices behind certain nodes, or the relationships between them.

Here’s my question; can a Wardley map work with zero facilitation?

I appreciate my questions might seem repetitive, but I hope that I can learn from your responses and perhaps improve my own understanding of the tool, how and when to use it.

With thanks

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Hi there!

Why do people mix the macro and the micro?

I think the simple answer is that mixing the macro and the micro made sense to the map author at the time. They got what they needed from the process, so they moved on instead of doing another round of revision for macro / micro size things.

The process of discovering how to represent a situation with a map involves lots of testing and trying things out. People add whatever comes to mind, regardless of whether the parts are macro or micro. And that’s the right move, I think.

And since the entire reason they’re making a map is to understand something better or perhaps communicate an idea, once they’ve got what they need from making it, the map itself can be disposed of. The value of investing in it further to get it perfect probably has diminishing returns. But they chose to share it instead of throwing it away, since it might help others learn.

In short, I think it’s not a deliberate choice to mix macro and micro so much as a natural outcome of people engaging with the messy process of mapping, getting what they needed, and just sharing what they did.

But should you mix them?

I think it depends on who is making the map and for what purpose. Jabe Bloom and Cat Swetel both talk about timespans of discretion — the idea that folks tend to think about concerns corresponding to some length of time (could be 2 weeks, 6 months, 3 years, decades, etc.). With enough practice, anyone can think at any timespan, but your job and career path will tend to push you into a particular part of that spectrum.

3-year timespan thinkers will tend to have “chunkier” or more macro parts on their maps. While 2-week timespan thinkers will tend to have bits and pieces or more micro parts. Mixing together macro and micro makes it a bit more confusing, so keeping the same timespan of part could be really helpful for clarity.

Something Jabe has talked about is narrative complexity. His PhD thesis is about time… and in particular things like translating strategic intent across timespans. He’d say something like… “Everybody gets 15m to tell a story with their map. That probably means you can only have X number of parts in the map itself. The stories told at a 2w timespan are going to use very different parts than the stories told at a 3y timespan.” The important thing from his work for our purposes is that mixing up timespans creates narrative incoherence… folks working on 2w timespans hear 3y narratives and go WTF, since they aren’t translated coherently into progressively shorter timespans… But I think I’m digressing… Anyway!

I know @chris.daniel has been thinking about long-lived maps (instead of disposable maps), and I think if a map is going to live for a while and be shared around, paying attention to that timespan issue (macro or micro parts) is a wise move from the narrative standpoint above. Furthermore, I think timespans (2 week components vs 2 month components vs 2 year components) might be a helpful version of macro / micro distinction to use.

How does WM relate to strategy?

While it’s true that users tend to care about the things they actually see, that does not in and of itself make those things more “strategic.”

I usually say that Wardley brought us three things with his method.

  1. The Value Chain: A way to model and visualize org and market systems as dependency trees, subordinated to user needs.
  2. Evolution: An appreciation of the changing qualities of things (and resulting implications) as they are subjected to the forces of capitalism.
  3. Methodology for Situational Inquiry: A bunch of suggestions for how to interrogate our model of the world (the map) in order to surface obvious opportunities and create conditions for discovery of more nuanced options.

Making maps creates knowledge. Knowing things that others don’t creates asymmetry. Asymmetry, exploited well, produces advantage. (For non-competitive scenarios, I usually replace “advantage” with “extreme competence.”)

If you want to understand how something like Wardley Maps can be used for strategic concerns, I highly recommend Derek M. C. Yuen’s book, Deciphering Sun Tzu. I have some notes here. Study deeply Yuen’s discussion of conditions-consequences thinking, and over time the relationships between Wardley Mapping and strategy will become clear. (Sorry I don’t have an easier answer… it’s hard to put into words.)

Service Blueprints?

They have some similar qualities. In fact I sometimes steal from service blueprint ideas (e.g., using “layers” like front vs back, etc.).

The key difference, though, is that a service blueprint uses horizontal space to represent a process flow (i.e., time), while Wardley uses horizontal space to represent evolution (i.e., the qualities of the parts, as implied by their position in stages 1-4). I can’t emphasize this enough… the evolution of a part tells you SO MUCH about how to approach it.

Big secret: You can still do a lot of Wardley-style situational inquiry (#3 above) on other diagrams like service blueprints. But it’s easier to talk about the implications of evolution when you have the system laid out in terms of evolution (as in, in a Wardley Map) in front of you.

Relationships

Relationships in a value chain are about dependency, from top to bottom. I have a quick video that goes over it within the first minute:

How deep should you go?

This is completely at the discretion of the mapmaker. Because reality is infinitely detailed, the people making a map have to decide when to stop and when to keep going. If a node suddenly stops, it usually means the mapmaker is assuming there’s nothing interesting to explore there.

As you map, you’re not trying to make a “complete” model of the situation. Instead, you’re just trying to leave knowing just a little more than you did before. If you have 15m to map, you might leave knowing just a tiny bit more. If you have 2 hours, maybe you’ll dig into some of the weirder edges and leave knowing a lot more. It all really depends on what you find interesting, how much time you have, what’s actually rewarding and useful, etc.

So, there’s no hard and fast rule, but I tell beginners to only explore things that are interesting or important to them. More advanced mappers probably ought to find ways to get challenge (e.g., from peers), so their assumptions don’t remain untested.

Are maps ever standalone?

I’m an extremist on this point. :wink: I think maps in general require facilitation.

Could you make a map that works without facilitation? Yes, totally. But the effort required to codify the component definitions, relationships, intents, etc. to be completely clear for the audience may be extreme, compared to the longevity of the map. (Cat Swetel talks about writing expiration dates on maps, since over time the market often moves out from under us AND our understanding of a situation changes as well.) If a map is only good for 2 weeks, it doesn’t make sense to spend a week documenting all its little facets so it makes sense as a standalone artifact.

Of course, if you are sharing a standalone map with folks who already totally “get” your context… then maybe you have a decent chance of it making sense right off the bat. But that seems to be the exception, not the norm.

From the facilitation angle, I like using a map as a prop for a discussion. It’s a background artifact that helps us get on the same page through inquiry (e.g., “What does that mean?”). I also like making a map behind the scenes (for my own awareness), and then remaking it with the audience from scratch. That gives them the chance to contribute, and they also get to see it build from the ground up.

You’re asking good questions! Ping me on Twitter or on here if you want to chat further. I also run LearnWardleyMapping.com, in case that’s a useful resource. Cheers!

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A nitpick. I interpreted this section as an implication that mixed scales in a map are an artifact of not spending enough time on perfecting it. I want to highlight that explicitly mixing the scales can be useful, in order to, for example, show the interdependency of scales.

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Please close my account. With thanks

@chris.daniel can you help with this?

It was through Ben that I go started on that book. Still chewing on it :slight_smile:

Adding (complementing with) a chain for the chapters

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