Originally published June 25, 2016
One particularly coherent approach to “strategy” involves using a map to pursue increased situational awareness from which to execute various forms of gameplay. This technique is known as Wardley Mapping, and I highly recommend reading through An Introduction to Wardley (Value Chain) Mapping and watching Simon Wardley’s 2014 OSCON keynote.
I’ve been learning about and using mapping for a few months at this point, and pen/paper and whiteboarding have been my go-to methods (for good reason). I found myself eventually held back by the friction of the process, however, and embarked on a passive and meandering search for tools that might sate an impatient novice like myself. The three areas of concern were the construction of the value chain, the placement of nodes on the evolutionary axis, and the creation of a shareable artifact.
Most of the general-purpose technology I tried (Google Slides, PowerPoint, and various diagramming software) did not properly handle node connection and label placement, requiring complicated groupings and irritating workarounds that ultimately drove me back to whiteboarding. I also tried software purpose-built for Wardley Mapping, but it felt rather clumsy and got in the way of the actual mapping.
In the end, the whiteboard continues to be my favorite for constructing the value chain, but, after much coercion, PowerPoint can be rather good for playing with evolutionary placement and creating shareable artifacts. One must only use arcs instead of circles for the nodes and discover how to exploit the built-in label alignment/margin configurations. I’ve put together a PowerPoint template (you can download here). As you can see, it gets the job done:
It seems fitting that I’d end up lauding PowerPoint (I hate PowerPoint). Just goes to show that obsession with tooling is a double-edged sword.
Going back to physical means, I also experimented with Blu-Tack, post-it notes, and yarn on a big wall, per recommendation. Sometimes I struggle with node placement, and the physical awareness required by this technique seemed to provide a more grounding experience and opportunity for thought. There’s also something to be said for the constant visual presence of a work-in-progress map on the wall and the benefit of keeping computing devices out of the picture when working. I will definitely use this method whenever possible, alongside Microsoft’s apparently useful presentation software.
Wardley Mapping is a technique provided courtesy of Simon Wardley. The template is also provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.