How mapping creates a winning strategy

On Thursday, 27 May 2021, eSynergy welcomed Simon Wardley, the creator of Wardley maps – a framework for designing and evolving strategies

Simon has spent the last 20 years defining future strategies for companies in the FMCG, retail and technology industries, and is a former CEO and advisory board member of numerous successful start-ups (all acquired). He is also a fellow of Open Europe and a regular conference speaker and a researcher. Simon has twice been voted one of the UK’s top 50 most influential people in technology.

In this edition of eSynergy’s Tech Series, Simon explored situational awareness, explaining how it applies to technology and business and looked at how we can map our environment to identify opportunities and create a coherent strategy.

About Wardley maps

A Wardley map is a map of the structure of a business or service, mapping the components needed to serve the customer or user. The difference between Wardley Maps and other methodologies and frameworks is that it’s based on situational awareness and movement, it’s not just a static picture like a SWOT diagram or a Business Model Canvas.

How it all began…

This began for me around 16 years ago, while I was CEO at Fotango (an online photo service). I used to go around listening to other CEOs talking about strategy, recording the short words they’d use: I called them ‘business-level abstractions of a healthy strategy’ (also known as ‘common blahs’). From this, I deduced that – when it came to strategy – I wasn’t the only person making it up as I went along!

Anyway, I was in a book shop (in around 2004). I’d been reading so many books on strategy and getting nowhere. The book shop assistant recommended Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’. In it, Sun Tzu talks about five factors that matter in competition (below):

strategy cycle

This overlaps with something John Boyd, a US Airforce pilot called the OODA loop (below):

I was fascinated by this and, in particular, the issue of landscape. So, from here, I began looking at military history. One of my favourite engagements was the battle of Thermopylae (from where the story of the ‘300’ Spartans originates). Looking at the opposing forces – and considering the map – we can examine how this played out. With this in mind, I started to look at my organisation.

The origin of maps

Looking back at the maps I’d used in business before, I realised that actually they weren’t maps, they were graphs! The difference between the two is that, with a map, space has meaning so, if you move the position of something, it changes the context.

To make a business map, you require three things: an anchor, position and movement. With these three things in place, space will have meaning. The anchor is the product or business need – from here, I can create a chain of needs. The further down this chain something is, the less visible it is (this gives you the distance or position). Now I need ‘movement’. This means identifying the components – or stocks of capital – which all evolve, then putting them where I think they should be (giving movement).

Challenge assumptions

From here, you can build out your map, adding and moving business requirements. This allows us to challenge assumptions. It doesn’t matter if you’re engineering, operations, finance or marketing – we can all talk about the same environment with a single map.

The most common problem is that people optimise process flow without thinking how the thing has evolved. People and businesses are trapped by context; they’re trapped by all the previous stories that have been told. Mapping means that – as soon as you can show them the environment – they can ask themselves why they are doing something.

Patterns

There are three types of basic pattern you learn with mapping: leadership, doctrine and climate (below):

‘Leadership’ is self-explanatory, while ‘doctrine’ patterns are principles of organisation. ‘Climate’ patterns though are essentially, the rules of the game – they’re economic patterns. They’re how the map will change, regardless of what you do – which is useful for anticipation.

One of the first patterns you learn is that ‘everything evolves’. The second climate pattern you learn is that past success breeds inertia (Blockbuster video stores were a prime example of this – they were hugely successful but failed to adapt to the challenge of Netflix). The next pattern you learn is ‘co-evolution’: So, as something evolves, its characteristics change – and this allows for new practices. From here, the next pattern that emerges is that higher-order systems appear, creating new sources of value and worth.

… which is useful for investment…

Applying the patterns above means you can then easily identify where you need to invest.

Gameplay

The last of the patterns is ‘game play’. This means taking a product and turning it into a utility. You look at the consumption of your service – that’s metadata. You can then use that to spot who’s becoming successful; you can see that’s becoming important, so you can then develop a new service. It’s a very simple model: you get everyone else to innovate for you, you mine the metadata to spot future patterns, then commoditise to component services. If you do that, your rate of innovation, customer focus and efficiency all increase with the size of the ecosystem (below):

 

Organisation

Back when I was CEO of Fotango, things were organised in silos. We used to have lots of disagreements between these groups so, around 2003, I came up with the idea of having product owners. We had small cells which, we called ‘aptitudes’ – so aptitudes towards, engineering, finance, marketing, etc. The idea was that they would focus on their area and everything would be fantastic. Unfortunately, all that did was create more fights within the organisation. I concluded that we hadn’t separated the new stuff (dev) from the ‘core’ stuff – so this had to be done. Again, this created more fights. Essentially, nothing was evolving.

So, we organised around what we called pioneers, settlers and town planners…

Pioneers would build, run and operate the novel and new, failing a lot. Settlers focused on customer/user needs, the middle space, while town planners would build the highly industrialised components. We organised around a chief pioneer, chief settler and chief town planner: This meant that we now had common attitudes – and that our aptitudes ran across these.

To link it with our product owner cells, we used what we called the system of theft (below).

This meant that the pioneers would build and operate the novel and new, the settlers would come along and steal it from them – forcing them to carry on pioneering – with the settlers turning it into an ever more useful product, then the town planners would come and steal from the settlers, industrialising it and turning it into a commodity service – forcing the settlers to then go and steal from the pioneers again (creating a cycle). It worked like a charm.

But it only worked because we had maps…

Maps aren’t the landscape…

They are a representation of the landscape. So, when you look at one of these maps, there are two things you must know: it’s a map, therefore it’s imperfect. Secondly, they’re all based on models – and all models are wrong! Despite that, they’re very useful (for the reasons I’ve explained). Maps is a huge subject and there’s a lot to learn, but they can be used for simple things as well.

To watch Simon’s Tech Series presentation in full, and learn more about business culture and development, please click here.

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