Wardley Maps Advocacy - Top-Down versus Bottom-Up


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On July 20 a small group from the mapping community got together to discuss top-down versus bottom-up Wardley Mapping advocacy.

Aleksandar Simovic [AS], Ben Mosior [BM], Chris Daniel [CD], John Grant [JG] Chair, Kim Sia Sim [KS], Marcus Guest [MG], Philippe Guenet [PG]

The main discussion points have been summarized below:

[MG] I’m currently based in Moscow. This for me is a sales focus. How do we convince people? I hear Simon Wardley talk about it taking thirteen years. For those of us who have businesses that’s not feasible. So, we have to speed that up in some way. We’re not going to have cases to work with. Simon has said “you don’t learn to play guitar by listening to Jimi Hendrix”. My retort is you listen to Jimi Hendrix and it makes you want to play the guitar. Maps are very easy to get people to use. We’re focusing on two ways; teaching maps with free online webinars, that’s the bottom-up approach. We’re going to pitch that as strategy; essentially the best strategic tool that’s not taught in business schools. We are aiming for people to jump ahead of the game by learning situational awareness, anticipating the future and effective communication. That then becomes our sales funnel. On the other side, we’ll use mapping to address specific high-level executive needs, particularly around spend control for CFOs.

[PG] I’m French and currently based in London. Wardley Maps can be a hard sell because you need to reach into the top of the organisation. An alternative approach is product management. We see people transforming, but for what reason? A common outcome to aim for is cost reduction and reducing your workforce. What happens is you stop transformation because people fear for their jobs and try to make themselves busy. Unless you have a strategy to utilise capacity you are planning to save, you are going to be in a situation where your transformation is going to stall. You need to go up the value chain. The chain of product management is a good starting point. You can then talk about product strategy, focusing on user needs and aligning the organisation around products and an understanding of the principles of pioneers, settlers and town planners.

[BM] I’m based in Pittsburgh, USA. The approach of targeting leadership and trying to create a coaching culture is an incredible challenge in a lot of enterprises because of established dynamics. That’s kind of a centralised approach. I think I’m looking at this problem from more of a decentralized approach. My theory is you can create pockets of competence in an enterprise and, if you’re working with a smaller organisation, maybe that pocket encompasses the entire organisation. So, I’m focusing on individuals and smaller organizations and the occasional pocket within a larger enterprise. What I am focusing on is reaching that “how did I miss that?” moment. When you have the words for the things on a Wardley Map and you understand the basics, it is experiencing that first moment of insight. Everything I do in terms of design is to focus on minimising the time before someone experiences that moment. If we can create those moments, people will have clarity. I’m pretty confident you can get there in about an hour if you sit down with them. This then feeds into the learning process as people will come back for more. Having the creative commons book is really useful because people will be motivated to read it. There is a lot of value in trying to work with leadership but I may not be the person who has the patience. I’m very much interested in individuals. Where it gets interesting is when we talk about product management. I ask the question which individuals highly value a method that can help them make sense of the operational mess they are in. Product managers and operations managers are such a good fit.

[AS] I’m from Serbia and my time is currently split between Paris and Belgrade. I agree, in the US company I work for, product managers, project managers and the COO were more inclined to learn Wardley Maps. The engineers recognise the significance of Wardley Maps but, in this instance, lack the depth of understanding of the operations and longer-term perspective.

[BM] I’ve been thinking about the education experience. It is not about strategy but about doctrine. In order to learn certain aspects of the Wardley doctrine, you have to have a map.

[MG] I think it’s easier to sell doctrine to executives because they think they have strategy done. Mid-level staff are more willing to learn strategy via Wardley Maps because they don’t have the resources to study for an MBA.

[CD] I am based in Poland. What I have observed is mapping is too big and as such is difficult to teach. People usually don’t have the time to apply the attention to learn it. What I’m trying to do is to cut mapping into small pieces and show use cases. For example, if you want to do outsourcing, then use mapping this way. If you want to deal with a change in your company, use this recipe. If you want to establish learning within your company, then use mapping in this particular way. With this approach, we remove plenty of content. Basically, instead of spending a full day explaining what are maps and how to use them, with less content to digest we can do the same in two or three hours. I hope that over time people who think they know strategy will retire and they will be replaced by new people that learnt to map when they were working on products.

[JG] I am based in the UK. Looking at this from a much higher level, I am naturally drawn to the bottom-up approach. Bring your own device (BYOD) was a kind of bottom-up culture. A security nightmare for IT departments but with sufficient momentum that senior management had to eventually devise solutions and policies. The key question is what motivated staff to bring their own laptops and smart devices to work? It simplified things. It helped people get the job done, and it improved productivity and morale. Similarly, individual developers will introduce tools and frameworks to development teams that change the workflow leading to new processes and innovation. However, bottom-up, in terms of evangelism, is not always effective or appropriate. A charm offensive that can illustrate how co-operation, collaboration, situational awareness, and planning can be simplified using Wardley Maps may work equally well for top-down and bottom-up. Imagine watching snooker for the first time. I’m sure most would find it baffling and complicated. Why can you only strike the white ball? Why does the referee keep placing the balls back on the table? After watching a few games on TV, most people will grasp the basics and start to enjoy the game. The commentator provides step-by-step commentary while pundits explain the rules, provide anecdotes and enumerate the player’s options from a given position. What might work as a community effort, is producing a series of low budget mapping videos. Get two people in a room plus another with mapping experience to act as a guide or narrator. Using only a whiteboard, sticky notes, and plain language hit record and then publish the results.

[PG] The real value of Wardley Mapping is it writes the strategy in such a way that implicitly takes care of the ecosystem. Although there is a desire for cost-cutting, there is a pivot of organization towards value finding and innovation finding, and I believe Wardley Maps supports this very well.

[BM] When we think about top-down versus bottom-up, I am reminded of decentralized versus centralized approaches. An interesting book, The Starfish and the Spider, talks about the ideal structure for a given context is finding the right balance between decentralization and centralization and finding a way to maximize the benefits of each aspect in the current context. When I hear top-down or bottom-up mapping, I think of how we can proliferate mapping in that way. In a given context, in a given industry, in a given company, there’s a different balance to be struck. What capabilities do we need to develop to support top-down or bottom-up approaches?

[KS] I am based in Singapore. My motivation is probably slightly different from most people here today. As an engineer, I am outcome driven, and I tend not to evangelize one particular methodology. I would agree; you need to be able to show that Wardley Mapping solves problems.