Video courtesy of iluli by Mike Lamb.

Wardley Mapping is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0, courtesy of Simon Wardley.


Wardley Mapping /wôrdlē mapping/ verb

The process of making strategic decisions (leadership) based on the purpose ("the game"), a description of the competitive landscape (a map), the external forces acting on the landscape (climate), and the training of your people (doctrine).

Strategy Cycle courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wardley Map /wôrdlē map/ noun

A value chain — a chain of needs — (users, needs, and capabilities arranged and connected according to dependency) mapped against the four stages of evolution (Genesis, Custom, Product, and Commodity).

The Art of War

Simon Wardley, in his search to understand how to evaluate strategy, found answers in military history and Sun Tzu: The Art of War. Sun Tzu's Five Factors — Purpose, Landscape, Climate, Doctrine, and Leadership — covered the minimum set of considerations required for strategic decision-making.

In military contexts, a map formed the basis for understanding the Landscape. But in the absence of a tangible competitive landscape, could there be such a thing as maps in business? To find out, see Simon's book or keep reading.

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In Wardley Mapping, Purpose is "the game" being played. It defines the scope of what you are doing and why you are doing it. It may be a moral imperative or just what motivates you to come to work every day.

Purpose is the first step in the strategy cycle. Because many leaders do not understand the importance of Landscape, Climate, and Doctrine, they commonly shortcut the cycle and jump straight from Purpose to strategic decisions in Leadership. This "strategy by gut feel" is an inadequate approach for strategic thought.

Strategy Cycle courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The climate may affect your purpose, the environment may affect your strategy and your actions may affect all... Your purpose isn’t fixed, it changes as your landscape changes and as you act. There is no “core”, it’s all transitional.

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A map of physical terrain is visual, specific to the battle at hand, and includes the position of troops and obstacles relative to an anchor (magnetic North).

Twelfth Army Group situation map, 1944. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

A map of a competitive business Landscape (a Wardley Map) is also visual and context-specific, but instead of magnetic North, the anchor is the User being served and their corresponding needs. And instead of troops, the map contains a value chain — capabilities necessary to fulfill the needs, arranged according to their dependency relationships.

The position of the capabilities on a Wardley Map is dependent on two aspects:

  1. Visibility to the user, which is a natural outcome of a component's relative position within the value chain, manually adjusted as needed.
  2. Evolutionary stage, as determined through evaluation of the component's general properties and characteristics.

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Making a Map

Wardley Mapping is a straight-forward process, and most difficulties boil down to concerns about making "mistakes" or doing the "wrong" thing. It is much more valuable to discard these concerns up-front, embrace the messiness of the process, and learn by boldly doing.

The process of mapping is also the process of constructing a model of reality. An incorrect model that is also useful is the definition of success.

To make a map:

  1. Identify the Users being served
  2. Identify the Needs to be met (think of these as top-level Capabilities)
  3. Identify the Capabilities needed to successfully meet those needs
  4. Determine the stage of Evolution for each Capability by evaluating its characteristics (if it's difficult to decide, try breaking the Capability down into multiple, smaller Capabilities)
  5. Draw the complete value chain — User at the top, Needs and Capabilities underneath, with dependency relationships included and Capabilities placed in Stages I, II, III, or IV of Evolution

The process can also look something like this...

1. Users and Needs

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

2. Capabilities

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

3. Value Chain

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

4. Wardley Map

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Capability Types

Capabilities can be Activities (what we do), Practices (how we do it), Data (how we measure it), or Knowledge (how we understand it). Their manifestations in the different stages are shown below.

Stage of Evolution

























Evolutionary Characteristics Cheat Sheet

The list of characteristics below may help as you determine how evolved something is. If you like, you can click cells to highlight them as you think.

Don’t worry if some of the terms are confusing... just use what you can. Like Chess, mapping is a craft and you will get better with practice.

Stage of Evolution





Ubiquity Rare Slowly increasing consumption Rapidly increasing consumption Widespread and stabilising
Certainty Poorly understood Rapid increases in learning Rapid increases in use / fit for purpose Commonly understood (in terms of use)
Publication Types Normally describe the wonder of the thing Build / construct / awareness and learning Maintenance / operations / installation / features Focused on use
General Properties
Market Undefined market Forming market Growing market Mature market
Knowledge management Uncertain Learning on use Learning on operation Known / accepted
Market perception Chaotic (non-linear) Domain of experts Increasing expectations of use Ordered (appearance of being linear) / trivial
User perception Different / confusing / exciting / surprising Leading edge / emerging Common / disappointed if not used or available Standard / expected
Perception in industry Competitive advantage / unpredictable / unknown Competitive advantage / ROI / case examples Advantage through implementation / features Cost of doing business / accepted
Focus of value High future worth Seeking profit / ROI? High profitability High volume / reducing margin
Understanding Poorly understood / unpredictable Increasing understanding / development of measures Increasing education / constant refinement of needs / measures Believed to be well defined / stable / measurable
Comparison Constantly changing / a differential / unstable Learning from others / testing the water / some evidential support Feature difference Essential / operational advantage
Failure High / tolerated / assumed Moderate / unsurprising but disappointed Not tolerated, focus on constant improvement Operational efficiency and surprised by failure
Market action Gambling / driven by gut Exploring a "found" value Market analysis / listening to customers Metric driven / build what is needed
Efficiency Reducing the cost of change (experimentation) Reducing cost of waste (Learning) Reducing cost of waste (Learning) Reducing cost of deviation (Volume)
Decision drivers Heritage / culture Analysis & synthesis Analysis & synthesis Previous experience

Based on Simon Wardley's Evolutionary Characteristics Cheat Sheet, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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While understanding the competitive Landscape is extremely helpful, it's also important to understand the Climate — the external forces acting upon it. These are the broader rules of the game, the patterns of the seasons, and competitor actions.

Below are two patterns you've already encountered.

Pattern 1: Everything Evolves Through Supply and Demand Competition

If the conditions exist that a person or groups of people will strive to gain some form of advantage or control over others due to a constraint (i.e. a limitation of a resource or time or money or people) then we have competition.

If competition exists then the components effected will evolve until they become industrialised. This impacts everything from activities (what we do), practices (how we do something), data (how we measure something) to knowledge (how we understand something).






Focus on exploring

Focus on learning and developing the craft

Focus on refining and improving

Focus on ruthlessly removing deviation, industrialising, and increasing operational efficiency

Pattern 2: Characteristics Change as Capabilities Evolve

The characteristics of a component in the uncharted space are not the same as the characteristics of the same component when it becomes industrialised.

A company has to manage both the extremes along with the evolution between them. It’s really important to remember that there is a transition from uncharted to industrialised. Don’t organise by the extremes alone.

Uncharted Industrialised
Chaotic Ordered
Uncertain Known
Unpredictable Measured
Changing Stable
Different Standard
Exciting Obvious
Future Worth Low Margin
Unusual Essential
Rare Ubiquitous
Poorly Understood Defined
Experimentation Volume Operations
Differential Operational Efficiency
Competitive Advantage Cost of Doing Business

Table of Climatic Patterns

Below are Climatic Patterns that can be studied and integrated into strategic thinking about Competition, Components (Capabilities), Finances, Inertia, Prediction, and Speed. Mouse over each cell for more detailed descriptions.

Competitors Competitors actions will change the game Most competitors have poor situational awareness
Components Everything evolves through supply and demand competition Evolution consists of multiple waves of diffusion with many chasms No choice over evolution Commoditisation does not equal Centralisation
Characteristics change as components evolve No single method fits all Components can co-evolve
Financial Higher order systems create new sources of value Future value is inversely proportional to the certainty we have over it. Efficiency does not mean a reduced spend Evolution to higher order systems results in increasing energy consumption
Capital flows to new areas of value Creative Destruction
Inertia Success breeds inertia Inertia increases the more successful the past model is Inertia can kill an organisation
Prediction You cannot measure evolution over time or adoption The less evolved something is then the more uncertain it is Not everything is random Economy has cycles
Two different forms of disruption A “war” (point of industrialisation) causes organisations to evolve
Speed Efficiency enables innovation Evolution of communication can increase the speed of evolution overall Change is not always linear Shifts from product to utility tend to demonstrate a punctuated equilibrium

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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With an understanding of the Landscape and the external forces acting on it (Climate), next is the training of your people in the standard ways of operating and the techniques that you almost always should apply.

Below is one of the doctrinal principals worth considering carefully.

Principle 1: Use Appropriate Methods

In any large system, multiple methods (e.g., agile or lean or six sigma) may be used at the same time. You will need to be mindful of the particular context where each is appropriate.

Courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Table of Doctrinal Principles

Below are Doctrinal Principles that can be studied and integrated into organizational behavior. Simon recommends starting with the basics (Phase 1). Mouse over each cell for more detailed descriptions, and click cells multiple times to make a self assessment, rotating through weak, warning, good, and neutral (undetermined) statuses.

Phase 1: Stop Self-Destructive Behavior

Communication Use a common language (necessary for collaboration) Challenge assumptions (speak up and question) Focus on high situational awareness (understand what is being considered)
Development Know your users (e.g. customers, shareholders, regulators, staff) Focus on user needs Remove bias and duplication Use appropriate methods (e.g. agile vs lean vs six sigma)
Learning Use a systematic mechanism of learning (a bias towards data)
Operations Think small (as in know the details)

Phase 2: Becoming More Context Aware

Communication Be transparent (a bias towards open)
Development Focus on the outcome not a contract (e.g. worth based development) Be pragmatic (it doesn't matter if the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice) Use appropriate tools (e.g. mapping, financial models) Think fast, inexpensive, restrained, and elegant (FIRE, formerly FIST)
Use standards where appropriate
Leading Move fast (an imperfect plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow) Strategy is iterative not linear (fast reactive cycles)
Learning A bias towards action (learn by playing the game)
Operations Manage failure Manage inertia (e.g. existing practices, political capital, previous investment) Effectiveness over efficiency
Structure Think aptitude and attitude Think small (as in teams, "two pizza") Distribute power and decision making

Phase 3: Better for Less

Leading Be the owner (take responsibility) Think big (inspire others, provide direction) Strategy is complex (there will be uncertainty) Commit to the direction, be adaptive along the path (crossing the river by feeling the stones)
Be humble (listen, be selfless, have fortitude)
Learning A bias towards the new (be curious, take appropriate risks)
Operations Optimise flow (remove bottlenecks) Do better with less (continual improvement) Set exceptional standards (great is just not good enough)
Structure Seek the best Provide purpose, mastery, & autonomy

Phase 4: Continuously Evolving

Leading Exploit the landscape There is no core (everything is transient)
Learning Listen to your ecosystems (acts as future sensing engines)
Structure Design for constant evolution There is no one culture (e.g. pioneers, settlers and town planners)

Adapted by Tasshin Fogleman from this tweetstorm and Better for Less, courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Additional Instructions

By examining the doctrine in an organization, you can get an idea of how adaptable it is and how well it will respond to external change or gameplay. You can do this with your own organization, or with other organizations.

In-person? Gather several people from different levels of the organization and perform the above self-assessment together. Distributed? See this form-based assessment by Justin Stach.

Once you've assessed the current state of doctrine in your organization, you can go about addressing areas of weakness, starting with the first phase.

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Leadership (Gameplay)

Given your Purpose, the Landscape, the Climate, and your Doctrine, now you can make an informed decision about which strategy is appropriate for the context and take action against it.

Conditions and Consequences

For most of us, the traditional idea behind strategy is the deployment of people against some objective. "If we do X, then we will achieve Y!" This approach entails a "means-ends" model, which creates only first-order effects and limits leadership to the choice of which objective to pursue.

An alternative approach is to examine the conditions that would make desirable consequences inevitable. Instead of pursuing one particular objective, the cultivation of the inherent potential within the situation to enable second-order effects makes many different desirable outcomes possible. Means-ends thinking is tactical in nature, while conditions-consequences thinking makes a grand-strategic approach possible.

Think of it like tending a garden. What are the conditions that enable life? Success isn't about putting seeds in the ground. Success is an inevitable outcome when the seeds, soil, lighting, watering, weeding, pruning, pest control, temperature, and seasons are all considered and integrated into a complete picture of what it means to have a garden. Any one of those conditions can threaten the success of the garden if not accounted for.

When you map, think about second-order interventions. Once you get past the basic doctrinal problems, like correcting bias, reducing duplication, focusing on user needs, and making maps in general, you'll start to reflect your more strategic intentions in the maps themselves (e.g., "We want to accelerate the evolution of this component."). The least brilliant thing to do at this point, however, is to brute force your way to that outcome.

Instead, study the inherent potential of the context closely. What are the indirect options that create multiple desirable possibilities, of which that outcome is one? See Deciphering Sun Tzu for a more in-depth exploration of these ideas.

Table of Stratagems

Accelerators Open approaches Co-operation Exploiting network effects Industrial policy
Market enablement
De-accelerators Exploiting constraint IPR Creating constraints
Dealing with toxicity Pig in a poke Sweat and Dump Disposal of liability Refactoring
Ecosystem Sensing Engines (ILC) Two factor markets Alliances Channel conflicts & disintermediation
Co-creation Co-opting and intercession Embrace and extend Tower and moat
User Perception Fear, uncertainty and doubt Artificial competition Brand and marketing Bundling
Confusion of choice Creating artificial needs Education Lobbying / counterplay
Attacking Centre of gravity Directed investment Experimentation Fool's mate
Playing both sides Press release process Undermining barriers to entry
Competitor Ambush Circling and probing Fragmentation play Misdirection
Reinforcing competitor inertia Restriction of movement Sapping Talent raid
Defensive Defensive regulation Limitation of competition Managing inertia Procrastination
Raising barriers to entry Threat acquisition
Markets Buyer / supplier power Differentiation Harvesting Last man standing
Pricing policy Signal distortion Standards game Trading
Poison Designed to fail Insertion Licensing play
Positional Fast follower First mover Land grab Weak signal / horizon

Based on Simon Wardley's, On 61 Different Forms of Gameplay, CC BY-SA 4.0.

A Scenario

As an example, where might you focus in the below scenario (view in MapScript) if you wanted to increase competition around content?

Image produced with MapScript, based on a scenario by Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

To increase competition in content, the obvious option is to cause the industrialization (evolution) of the creative studios. More competition among studios would result in more, better content, so how could we make that happen?

A naive move might be to launch an independent creative studio or form a strategic partnership to advance one particular studio, but that game can all-too-easily be lost. There are more interesting options in the lower-level constraints (a Fool's Mate).

If there were more competition among production systems, for example, the barrier to entry for new talent and therefore new creative studios would be lowered. An open approach would accelerate that process, indirectly causing increased competition among creative studios and ultimately content.

Chances are, the existing creative studios won't have the situational awareness to recognize the play for what it is. In fact, they might support it in the name of short-term cost savings. Wild! Read more on this scenario in Simon's post, Fool's mate in Business.

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Name Description
Context Our purpose and the landscape
Environment The context and how it is changing
Situational awareness Our level of understanding of the environment
Actual The map in use
Domain Uncharted vs Transitional vs Industrialised
Stage Of evolution e.g. Genesis, Custom, Product, Commodity
Type Activity, Practice, Data or Knowledge
Component A single entity in a map
Anchor The user need
Position Position of a component relative to the anchor in a chain of needs
Need Something a higher level system requires
Capability High level needs you provide to others
Movement How evolved a component is
Interface Connection between components
Flow Transfer of money, risk & information between components
Climate Rules of the game, patterns that are applied across contexts
Doctrine Approaches which can be applied regardless of context
Strategy A context specific approach

Image courtesy of Simon Wardley, CC BY-SA 4.0.