Recently I have been obsessing about the idea of sharing team knowledge. I am seeing huge challenges in getting a team to understand certain things. Software development teams are constantly dealing with software in a state of evolution and transition, yet we really don’t have any tools to show and manage this.
Then I read about Wardley Maps. In it, Simon expresses his journey as a CEO of a successful company but still feeling lost. He was playing a chess game without the board. He eventually figures out that the great generals of wars and battles always had a map on which they would draw out their tactics and their plans. Yet in business, we have no such thing. So he makes one, as I will show you below.
This not only has implications for me when consulting my clients in their business but also got me thinking about how we do clearly show our architectural landscape and how to move through it. In order to see why mapping is useful, let’s discuss what is a map.
What Is a Map
Not everything visual is a map. Most things are only diagrams. In order to be a map, accordingly to Simon Wardley, needs 5 things:
- Visual – More than text.
- Context-Specific -Not all maps can be used for all purposes. A geographical map of Country territories is different than a topographical map of a city.
- Position – Where things are placed spatially matters. In geography, this is North, South, East, West etc.
- Based on an Anchor – Something needs to dictate the positioning of the space. In a geographical map, this is the “North” key.
- Movement. It needs to show something shifting position.
The below flowchart, for example, is only a diagram:
It is visual. It is context specific (Ordering something). However, it has no anchor for positioning nor does it have any movement. For examples I could re-arrange the diagram like this:
It still expresses the same thing. Also, it shows no movement. What is flowing through those arrows? Let’s add the necessary components:
It is still Visual and Context-Specific. The “Time” arrow is the anchor, positioning all the steps relative to their chronological order. And finally, we give it Movement by showing that it is an Order moving through this set of steps.
Why Are Maps Valuable?
Now we know what they are I want to explain their power. One of the maxims given to leadership is “provide a strong vision that people can align with, execute on. Don’t tell people what to do.” The Devil, of course, is in the details. What does this vision look like? I have tried different mediums myself and most of them have fallen short, creating lots of ambiguity in the team space.
Usually, a vision is something like “Let’s make our system the most resilient ordering system in the market!” This statement may sound inspiring and may be a good starting point but it is missing a lot of things. What is stopping us today from already beginning resiliency? what are the components needed to be resilient? What are the overall steps we are going to take from step A to C? Let’s turn this vision statement into a map:
Let’s see if it has all our elements. It is visual. It has the same context: Online Ordering. It has a chronological position relative to the anchor of time. In other words, each step is in chronological order. And it shows movement towards greater resiliency. It should be clear that our end goal is to get each of these steps to the top of the map.
And look how much more powerful it is than a vision statement! With this, the team can assess what components are most valuable to target first. They can make decisions base don’t he ordering of steps or other criteria. They can counter the map itself, saying a component should move up or down the map.
A vision statement is a good start, but it needs follow-up. Maps can be this follow-up, providing clarity to the team and providing a central point of discussion and execution. That is powerful. Let’s talk about a couple of different kinds of maps.
This idea of mapping lead Simon Wardley to create a way to map strategic business landscapes. Here is an example of one:
I am not going to cover all the details of this map, you can find them here. It has all the elements a map needs. The Value Chain is the positioning relative to a Customer, the anchor. It is visual. It is context specific to a software system. And it has movement in the Evolution axis.
This is something with which I am still struggling. I think this is where I want to focus most of my study and experimentation. We really don’t have much that can map the evolution of a set of software components.
However, I am determined to figure out what we can do here. I fully expect to post about this in the near future.
The idea of mapping has been profoundly valuable int he last few months. I not only can dominate a strategic landscape with Wardley maps in consulting engagements. I can also give guidance to my development teams by figuring out how to visually map the current state of our system to our desired state. And this has blown any other way of sharing a vision out of the water.