7 basic questions that lead to an actually useful strategy, and how to answer them with a Wardley Map

If you want to figure out the best solution to a given problem, you have to first understand the situation you are in. Most people skip the “situation” step, and wind up with a strategy that isn’t anchored in reality.

I’ve been working on a leadership development program about understanding, communicating, and executing strategy for the last four years. Recently we decided to offer a cohort-ized version of Ben Mosior’s “Pragmatic Wardley Mapping” [affiliate link] course to our leader-participants, which Ben designed to give “the fastest time to value” to people who want to get started with the Wardley Mapping strategic thinking tool.

We’ll be working through the course material and discussing it in small groups over the month of June. I’ll be sharing what I learn for those who want a more rigorous way to take smarter risks and make better decisions.

I hope as a result that you’ll have a better understanding of whether and where Wardley Mapping might help you in your situation, and whether Ben’s course might be a good way for you to get started.

Here is what I’ve heard so far.

The absence of nuance guarantees unintended consequences

You can use Wardley Mapping to help take stock of your current situation and intent to discover strategy playing out by default. It is a tool for visualizing your strategic situation at personal, organizational, or market level in terms of how needs get met.

Once you get your understanding of the situation out of your head onto paper it can be critiqued by yourself and others. This allows you to use facilitative leadership: bringing other people in to learn and share together to create transparency and buy in. How? Negotiation! Not negotiation of an outcome, but of shared meaning and context.

Two types of luck

In poker you can make perfectly good decisions and still have bad outcomes. If there is an 80 percent chance that a decision will lead to a good outcome, and you take it, and you get a bad outcome, did you take the right decision?

You can look at any outcome as being defined by the quality of your decisions and luck. But at what ratio? And what do we mean by luck?

Actually there are two types of luck:

  1. Unnecessary luck: Stuff that seems random or chancey but could be understood and planned for given will, time, and energy
  2. Necessary luck: The actual chaos that comes from 8 billion people interacting with a chaotic universe

Given bounded rationality we can never make perfect decisions, we have to go for good enough decisions. And when we decide, we act in accordance with what you map out and believe to be true.

Use meaningful specificity to turn messes into smaller messes

Buzzwords are great examples of messes that need to be interrogated and decomposed. Digital transformation, agile, scale, sustainable. A good way of moving through the mess and starting to separate out the competent parts is asking “with respect to what?” to add meaningful specificity that turns big messes into smaller messes and reveals how we disagree.

The absolute TLDR of a Wardley Map is that “users have needs that are met by capabilities”. Then add evolution driven by market forces. We make visual models of value dependencies, add in the impact of evolutionary market forces.

Your model will look different than everyone else’s, and discussing the differences helps us get a better understanding of the situation we are in. When we have a better understanding of our situation, we get better at picking the right problems and proposing valuable solutions and reducing the impact of unnecessary luck.

Strategic thinking is largely knowing which questions to ask

There are 7 basic questions asked in a Wardley Mapping session:

  1. Who are your users?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. What capabilities come together to meet those needs?
  4. How evolved are those capabilities?
  5. What are the anticipatable patterns that are playing out (climate)?
  6. How should we be behaving (doctrine)?
  7. What moves can we make (leadership)?

The best strategy is the one that generates the most options. If your strategy generates one option then you’re just accepting the default.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I’m learning about the Wardley Mapping strategic thinking tool and discussing it with you. What is your experience with learning how to map? Where did you find the most value? How did you apply this approach in the real world?

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