Pragmatic Wardley Mapping reviewed

Andrew Gibson
5 min readJul 11, 2022


My review of this course is quite critical. I found it deeply annoying at times. But I’ve already recommended it to others. It is a quick and easy introduction to the world of Wardley Mapping. For some people that’s exactly what they need.

At the end of the course, there is a wonderful Bonus section. In it, you see the instructor engaged in mapping exercises with “real people.” This is where the instructor’s charisma and leadership are very evident. This is someone talented and powerful. He knows how to help people. Unfortunately, for me, those traits don’t come across in the main teaching.

The first bonus case study adds a whole bunch of missing pieces. After watching it, the confusing “Evolution” module made sense. In particular, it showed a worked example of how to select types of capability to measure evolution.

Based on the case studies included, I have a lot of respect for the instructor.

Without the bonus material, the course left me cold. With it, the course made sense.

tl;dr my recommendation is to do the course. But don’t expect it to make immediate sense. Instead, treat it as immersion therapy which will pay dividends once you go through the use cases.

Hereafter is a review of the main body of the training…

The introduction to this course is confusing. It focuses on metaphors for working life.

For example, the struggle to apply in practice the understanding gained through study. Good teaching of theory is rare. Many courses like this argue that what we need is more “practical” training. I disagree.

Next, hierarchical approaches to leadership are discussed and disparaged. There is an appeal for Facilitative Leadership. Fine. But, I paid to learn about Wardley Mapping, not to hear theories on leadership. I move on…

The next section addresses the benefits one might achieve from Wardley Mapping. You’re asked to fill out a form to assess which of several categories of benefit you would like to get. I found this to be a useful exercise. It stimulated my imagination and helped to process the material.

Next, more explanation, which again felt a bit woolly. I wondered what the concepts meant. The terminology was accessible, but ambiguous. I found myself longing for some clear, well-defined theory. A return to practical exercise cheered me up again. And, the prompts to follow were clear and motivating.

With the exercise complete, it was back to the next section. Again, the instructor explained things without explaining. “Do this.” “You should be able to read it this way.”

At this point my bullshit alarm got triggered and I had to order a coffee before continuing. But, in the end, this oscillation between hazy explanation and immediate practice actually worked. I found it frustrating at times, but I was learning.

The course is reminiscent of the wider experience of the Wardley mapping universe. People state things which only partly add up. It’s not that you don’t receive any value. It’s that you need a strong gag reflex. You need the ability to ignore a lot of pointless trappings. There’s useful stuff buried under the rubble.

About half way through the course, I got very confused. The concept of choosing “evolution characteristics” lacked enough explanation. I was angry. I wanted to complete my map! The prompt to complete steps wasn’t clear. I ordered another coffee. Then I guessed what to do and did it. That’s how I know I’m a qualified Wardley Mapper ; )

An actual picture of me taking the course

At various points the instructor claims to know what you’re thinking. Or, he advises you to take a next step that assumes a specific context. For example, I had chosen to do a map about buying a house. This is something I’ve been working hard on for many months. The instructor says “if you can… stop mapping! Start taking action!” — Wow, thanks. If only I had thought of that….

This problem is due to the course being too short. Buried at the very end is discussion of “asking questions of your map”. “Stop mapping, take action” makes sense once you’ve asked a question (and received an answer). But, at this point we’re learning mapping. The point of a map being something against which you can ask questions should be front-and-centre at the top of the session.

But, even without that context, the section on iteration is useful. The instructor does their best when demonstrating interaction with a map. Practical examples of adjusting and augmenting the map help to imply its purpose.

Two useful rules about chasing a value chain are very handy. “Follow your curiosity” and “Follow the pain”. These are presented as a tool for the less adept. Sign me up.

The instructor cites a telling anecdote during the penultimate “Common Obstacles” section. He identifies the use of a “y-axis” as a ruse used by Wardley to fool executives into accepting his modelling technique. His advice is to ignore the y-axis completely.

This is a good example of the slight “snake oil salesman” feel within this mapping community. There is a sense of benevolent bullshittery which seems to come along with the territory. Even Sun Tzu gets a mention. I always keep Art of War on my “bullshit bingo” card.

The conclusion is unconvincing. The instructor proclaims “strategy is now part of your skillset.” Wow! Awesome! Just like that!

“Go read the book” is the ending advice. That is exactly what I will do next. But, I’ll definitely be wearing my waders.



Andrew Gibson

Business and technology in the software engineering space