Growing Adaptive Organizations

Wardley Mapping

Wardley mapping is a visual method for exploring, understanding, and communicating strategy under circumstances of constant change.

  • What is your competitive environment?
  • Where should you focus? (Why here over there?)
  • What should you own and build in-house? What should you buy off-the-shelf or outsource?
  • Which methodologies should you use?
  • Where are your competitors relative to you?
  • What market changes can you anticipate?
  • How can you organize to accommodate continuous change?
  • Which context-specific strategic plays are currently possible?

What is a Wardley Map

A Wardley Map decomposes a product along the Value Chain (some prefer the term supply chain) to get deeper insights into the structure and the forces shaping the evolution of the market and the necessary decisions.

The vertical axis concerns with dependencies, the horizontal axis positions the elements along their evolutionary state, aka maturity.

The analysis cycle

While the map is a useful and actionable visualization of the situation, Wardley Mapping gets really useful by applying it the analysis cycle. The cycle uses the vocabulary of Sun Tsu (Wardley points out that it is about the same as John Boyd’s OODA loop.

A typical analysis goes along the cycle above.


Your moral imperative. The scope of what you are doing and why you are doing it. The reason others follow you.

Strategy is all about observing the landscape, understanding how it is changing and using what resources you have to maximise your chances of success. Obviously, you need to define what success is and that’s where your purpose comes in. It’s the yardstick by which you currently measure yourself. However, as this is a cycle, your very actions may also change your purpose and so don’t get to stuck on it.Simon Wardley in 

On Playing Chess


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.Simon Wardley in 

On Being Lost


A description of your competitive environment, including its features, your position, and any obstacles in the way.

To map your landscape:

  1. Know your users (who you serve)
  2. Know their needs
  3. Know the prerequisite activities to meet those needs
  4. Add position (connect users, needs, and prerequisites from top to bottom according to dependence)
  5. Add movement (place needs and prerequisites left to right according to evolutionary stage)

Determining Movement

The movement of a component along the X axis is determined by its stage of evolution.

Stage of EvolutionIIIIIIIV

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.Simon Wardley in 

Finding a Path

Evolutionary Characteristics Cheat Sheet

An interactive list of characteristics to help you determine how evolved something is (select cells to highlight).

Stage of Evolution
UbiquityRareSlowly increasing consumptionRapidly increasing consumptionWidespread and stabilising
CertaintyPoorly understoodRapid increases in learningRapid increases in use / fit for purposeCommonly understood (in terms of use)
Publication TypesNormally describe the wonder of the thingBuild / construct / awareness and learningMaintenance / operations / installation / featuresFocused on use
General Properties
MarketUndefined marketForming marketGrowing marketMature market
Knowledge managementUncertainLearning on useLearning on operationKnown / accepted
Market perceptionChaotic (non-linear)Domain of expertsIncreasing expectations of useOrdered (appearance of being linear) / trivial
User perceptionDifferent / confusing / exciting / surprisingLeading edge / emergingCommon / disappointed if not used or availableStandard / expected
Perception in industryCompetitive advantage / unpredictable / unknownCompetitive advantage / ROI / case examplesAdvantage through implementation / featuresCost of doing business / accepted
Focus of valueHigh future worthSeeking profit / ROI?High profitabilityHigh volume / reducing margin
UnderstandingPoorly understood / unpredictableIncreasing understanding / development of measuresIncreasing education / constant refinement of needs / measuresBelieved to be well defined / stable / measurable
ComparisonConstantly changing / a differential / unstableLearning from others / testing the water / some evidential supportFeature differenceEssential / operational advantage
FailureHigh / tolerated / assumedModerate / unsurprising but disappointedNot tolerated, focus on constant improvementOperational efficiency and surprised by failure
Market actionGambling / driven by gutExploring a “found” valueMarket analysis / listening to customersMetric driven / build what is needed
EfficiencyReducing the cost of change (experimentation)Reducing cost of waste (Learning)Reducing cost of waste (Learning)Reducing cost of deviation (Volume)
Decision driversHeritage / cultureAnalysis & synthesisAnalysis & synthesisPrevious experience

Based on Simon Wardley‘s Evolutionary Characteristics Cheat SheetCC BY-SA 4.0.


The forces acting upon the environment. The rules of the game, patterns of the seasons, and competitor actions.

CompetitorsCompetitors actions will change the gameMost competitors have poor situational awareness
ComponentsEverything evolves through supply and demand competitionEvolution consists of multiple waves of diffusion with many chasmsNo choice over evolutionCommoditisation does not equal Centralisation
Characteristics change as components evolveNo single method fits allComponents can co-evolve
FinancialHigher order systems create new sources of valueFuture value is inversely proportional to the certainty we have over it.Efficiency does not mean a reduced spendEvolution to higher order systems results in increasing energy consumption
Capital flows to new areas of valueCreative Destruction
InertiaSuccess breeds inertiaInertia increases the more successful the past model isInertia can kill an organisation
PredictionYou cannot measure evolution over time or adoptionThe less evolved something is then the more uncertain it isNot everything is randomEconomy has cycles
Two different forms of disruptionA “war” (point of industrialisation) causes organisations to evolve
SpeedEfficiency enables innovationEvolution of communication can increase the speed of evolution overallChange is not always linearShifts from product to utility tend to demonstrate a punctuated equilibrium

Based on Simon Wardley‘s, Climatic PatternsCC BY-SA 4.0.

Your First Patterns

Pattern 1: Everything evolves from left to right under the influence of supply and demand competition.

GenesisCustomProduct (and rental)Commodity (and utility)
rare, uncertain, constantly changing, newly-discovered.
frequently-changing, requires artisanal skill,
no two are the same.
Increasingly common,
more defined,
better understood.
Repeatable processes.
Change is slower.
Initial differentiation but increasing stability and sameness.
There are often many of the same kind of product.
Scale and volume operations of production.
Highly standardized.
Fit for a specific known purpose.
Repetition, repetition, repetition…
With time, it becomes commonplace and less visible.
The focus is on exploring.The focus is on learningand developing the craftThe focus is on refining and improving.The focus is on ruthlessly removing deviation, industrialising, and increasing operational efficiency.

Pattern 2: As components evolve, their characteristics change.

Future WorthLow Margin
Poorly UnderstoodDefined
ExperimentationVolume Operations
DifferentialOperational Efficiency
Competitive AdvantageCost of Doing Business

Doctrine (Self-Assessment)

The training of your people, the standard ways of operating, and the techniques that you almost always apply. Select cells multiple times to progress through colors indicating a weak, warning, good, and neutral (undetermined) status.

Phase 1: Stop Self Harm

CommunicationUse a common language (necessary for collaboration) Challenge assumptions (speak up and question)Focus on high situational awareness (understand what is being considered) 
DevelopmentKnow 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) 
LearningUse a systematic mechanism of learning (a bias towards data)
OperationsThink small (as in know the details) 

Phase 2: Becoming More Context Aware

CommunicationBe transparent (a bias towards open) 
DevelopmentFocus 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 
LeadingMove fast (an imperfect plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow)Strategy is iterative not linear (fast reactive cycles) 
LearningA bias towards action (learn by playing the game) 
OperationsManage failure Manage inertia (e.g. existing practices, political capital, previous investment) Effectiveness over efficiency 
StructureThink aptitude and attitude Think small (as in teams, “two pizza”) Distribute power and decision making 

Phase 3: Better for Less

LeadingBe 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)
LearningA bias towards the new (be curious, take appropriate risks) 
OperationsOptimise flow (remove bottlenecks) Do better with less (continual improvement)Set exceptional standards (great is just not good enough) 
StructureSeek the best Provide purpose, mastery, & autonomy 

Phase 4: Continuously Evolving

LeadingExploit the landscape There is no core (everything is transient)
LearningListen to your ecosystems (acts as future sensing engines)
StructureDesign 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 WardleyCC 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. (There may be arguments, but that’s not a bad thing.) Distributed? See this form-based assessment by Justin Stach.

Once you’ve assessed the status quo of doctrine in your organization, you can go about addressing areas of weakness. Simon suggests you do this in phases. The above self-assessment’s phases presents his best guess at the order in which you should tackle them.

Leadership (Gameplay)

The context-specific strategy you choose after considering your purpose, the landscape, the climate, and your capabilities.

Options by evolutionIIIIIIIV
AcceleratorsOpen approachesCo-operationExploiting network effectsIndustrial policy
Market enablement
De-acceleratorsExploiting constraintIPRCreating constraints
Dealing with toxicityPig in a pokeSweat and DumpDisposal of liabilityRefactoring
EcosystemSensing Engines (ILC)Two factor marketsAlliancesChannel conflicts & disintermediation
Co-creationCo-opting and intercessionEmbrace and extendTower and moat
User PerceptionFear, uncertainty and doubtArtificial competitionBrand and marketingBundling
Confusion of choiceCreating artificial needsEducationLobbying / counterplay
AttackingCentre of gravityDirected investmentExperimentationFool’s mate
Playing both sidesPress release processUndermining barriers to entry
CompetitorAmbushCircling and probingFragmentation playMisdirection
Reinforcing competitor inertiaRestriction of movementSappingTalent raid
DefensiveDefensive regulationLimitation of competitionManaging inertiaProcrastination
Raising barriers to entryThreat acquisition
MarketsBuyer / supplier powerDifferentiationHarvestingLast man standing
Pricing policySignal distortionStandards gameTrading
PoisonDesigned to failInsertionLicensing play
PositionalFast followerFirst moverLand grabWeak signal / horizon

Based on Simon Wardley‘s, On 61 Different Forms of GameplayCC BY-SA 4.0.


ContextOur purpose and the landscape
EnvironmentThe context and how it is changing
Situational awarenessOur level of understanding of the environment
ActualThe map in use
DomainUncharted vs Transitional vs Industrialised
StageOf evolution e.g. Genesis, Custom, Product, Commodity
TypeActivity, Practice, Data or Knowledge
ComponentA single entity in a map
AnchorThe user need
PositionPosition of a component relative to the anchor in a chain of needs
NeedSomething a higher level system requires
CapabilityHigh level needs you provide to others
MovementHow evolved a component is
InterfaceConnection between components
FlowTransfer of money, risk & information between components
ClimateRules of the game, patterns that are applied across contexts
DoctrineApproaches which can be applied regardless of context
StrategyA context specific approach


Get started by reading Simon Wardley’s free book. You can find additional learning resources and tools here.

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