4 simple rules for how to start making Wardley Maps

I’ve been using and making Wardley Maps for a few years now. They are a hugely useful tool for me to be able to quickly understand a problem space, and also to quickly return to a problem I am looking.

One of the biggest hurdles for pretty much all people with Wardley Maps is that the finished map looks really clear, but actually making a map can be really challenging. Often this step is what puts people off even trying to make a Wardley Map. I was certainly intimidated by what I thought was needed, and it put me off trying for several years.

4 simple rules for simple Wardley maps

On a Wardley Map:

  1. vertical (see [2]) and horizontal (see [4]) position have meaning, but it is only relative to other elements of the Map
  2. “needs” relationship are modelled vertically upwards
  3. “anchors” are “components” that have no needs
  4. each “component” on a Wardley Map needs to have an evolution “score” relative to all other “components” on the same map and this is modelled horizontally increasing (“more evolved”) to the right

There are a few things to explain here, so let’s quickly do that:

The user need

A single entity in a map e.g. an activity, practice, data or knowledge

Something a higher level system requires. This is visualised by an Interface

A connection between components

With all those pieces, the 4 simple rules, and the definition of an Anchor, a Component, a Need and it’s corresponding Interface then you can relatively easily make a Wardley Map.

For more information on the symbols in a Wardley Map see Figure 61 in the Wardley Mapping Book.

A Wardley Map of “Me going to bed”

To prove to myself how easy it is, I thought I’d make a Wardley Map that I hadn’t made before using the above rules.

I have 3 kids at home, and 2 at university. I’m often the last one up at night, so what does a Wardley Map of the “user need” of “Me going to bed” look like?

Wardley Map for “Me going to bed”
A close up of the Wardley Map of “Me going to bed” — this is not a full Wardley Map because it does not explain the meaning of horizontal and vertical space but is shown in close up to make it easier to read https://onlinewardleymaps.com/#clone:TF2dVjDH9YyVjLthuC

I used the OnlineWardleyMaps.com tool to make this in a few minutes. There is a link here if you want to clone it and have a play yourself: https://onlinewardleymaps.com/#clone:TF2dVjDH9YyVjLthuC

A quick overview: each circle is a component and the “Going to bed” at the top is the user need or anchor. Needs are modelled vertically upwards so you can read

I started with the user need or anchor: I want to go to bed

And I thought about some of the things that need to happen.

I need to lock the door.

But I also need to check everyone is home before I do it.

And I need to put the bins out before I lock the door, otherwise I have to unlock it and lock it again.

All I actually need to do is lock the door, turn the lights out, and brush and flush. But these needs have other needs.

My wife and kids won’t be too happy if I turn lights out on them while they are still up. They can turn them all on again of course, but it’ll just annoy them.

I could have put turn lights out further to the right, because some of our lights are connected to our smart hub, and can be turned on and off from various apps. But some of them are not. And some of those lights get left on (which is annoying).

And my kids need to brush and flush before bed!

My wife needs to brush and flush as well, but that’s her responsibility, so I could probably remove that from this map.

But with just the anchor, component, need and interface and the 4 simple rules above, I’ve made a Wardley Map for the user need of “Me going to bed”.

This map is very simple. The evolution of the components is relative, and my wife is definitely more evolved than me.

As I have noted the turn out lights could have been further right meaning it is more evolved in the map, because we have smart lights. If we got more smart systems in the house, maybe lock the door could move right, or maybe it would move left because it would actually become less evolved because locks and doors have been around for hundreds of years!

For my family, the map might be very different. They might see the need for locking the door as much lower down the map than I do. The interesting thing is that in essence, this map shows two separate chains of needs and they are connected, but I don’t think that connection isn’t really useful to add. Maybe turn out lights needs lock the door. That could be a useful addition to the map. All maps are incomplete, and imperfect and there are always ways of improving them.

The point is that for me those positions make sense for what I want to use the map for. If I showed this to my wife or my kids, they might well disagree about the map because the position of the components has meaning. Who knows? Maybe that discussion might lead to my kids going to bed earlier or maybe they can be responsible for turning the lights out!

Conclusion and your turn!

It is a simple concept to take 4 simple rules and build a Wardley Map. From that base, you can add on a lot of complexity, and gain much more insight into business, strategy and many other areas.

Let’s go over the 4 rules again:

For Wardley Maps:

  1. vertical (see [2]) and horizontal (see [4]) position have meaning, but it is only relative to other elements of the Map
  2. “needs” relationship are modelled vertically upwards
  3. “anchors” are “components” that have no needs
  4. each “component” on a Wardley Map needs to have an evolution “score” relative to all other “components” on the same map and this is modelled horizontally increasing (“more evolved”) to the right

Everyone has to start somewhere. Wardley Maps are often seen as complex and difficult. What I’m trying to do is make it a lot easier to simply start. That initial hurdle can be very large.

Go to https://onlinewardleymaps.com/#clone:TF2dVjDH9YyVjLthuC and that should be a copy my “Me going to bed” map.

The interface is like this:

The onlinewardleymaps.com interface

Pick a simple user need that you have. Make it something you can easily think about, and on the left hand side where it says “anchor” change where it says “Going to bed” and update it to whatever your user need is.

Then add your own components in.

And when a component “needs” another component you put “->” on a line on the left.

And when you are ready, you can share it with me on twitter — https://twitter.com/pauldjohnston — or comment on this post.

And I’m sure swardley — he’s https://twitter.com/swardley on twitter — would like to see it as well.

A bit of background

See this tweet thread for where this post came from (screenshot below):

My tweet from November 17th starting the tweet thread about my Wardley Map Rules

Simon Wardley has created his example “cup of tea” Wardley Map without what are often thought of as the “normal” x- and y- axes of “Evolution” (x-axis) and “Visibility” (y-axis).

Simon Wardley’s “cup of tea” Wardley Map

This image comes from this tweet (screenshot below):

Simon Wardley’s tweet explaining how the x and y axes on maps are only scaffolding and unnecessary

Simon explains that the axes are there as “scaffolding” and to make it easier to understand. In other words, the axes are not necessary. It is clear that many people use these as parts of the map that are almost a requirement, because it’s difficult to understand without them.

This might be useful if you want to dig a bit further into Wardley Mapping.

He wrote a book on Wardley Mapping which is free on medium if you want to find out more.

His pinned tweet has more info on learning to map as well.

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Paul Johnston

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian