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  • Writer's pictureKrzysztof 'Chris' Daniel

10 recommendations for effective storytelling with #wardleymapping

People use #WardleyMapping in two different ways - to orient around a particular challenge or to tell a story.

Orienting is messy. It requires collaboration and frequent map updates when collaborators identify new observations, hypotheses and patterns. Shared situational awareness is the output of this process, and we get a map as a byproduct. It can look like in the Figure 1 below - very messy and completely unreadable.

It is the process of mapping that matters, not the map itself.

Figure 1: A map I have cocreated long time ago. It is not useful to anyone who was not a part of that conversation.

However, telling a story with #wardleymapping requires a completely different approach. Often, your audience does not understand mapping and is not familiar with the patterns.

The moment you show a map similar to Figure 1 to your audience, you trigger a fear response - people will either try to fight what you have to say or they will mentally flee the scene. One way or another, your message is lost.

Therefore, the first recommendation of storytelling with #wardleymapping is to start with a blank canvas. The blank canvas is not threatening, it is an empty thing with no message but with a promise of something new and exciting. You can disarm a lot of anxiety and reduce potential pushback with an empty map.

Figure 1a: A friendly, encouraging, empty map

The second recommendation is to give no introduction to the mapping. This is not a mapping session; you do not work with your audience to build a shared understanding from scratch.

If the invitation requires 15 minutes mapping overview, you have lost it. The majority of people will resent you for talking about mapping instead of what they expected you to talk about. Also, a long introduction to the framework itself gives the audience the time to evaluate and criticise mapping.

This is very undesired as it distracts people from your message, and if the audience does not like the mapping, it can extend that dislike to you and your story. You do not want that. You want the audience to go through the journey of your thinking, and appreciate the heavy work that you have done if possible.

Now, talking with the help of #wardleymapping would be very difficult without the concept of Evolution. It is the only thing you have to explain, but there are some more rules to follow if you do want to keep the audience attention:

  • explain you will use some vocabulary during your story, and it would be good to agree upon meaning of some words to avoid misunderstandings

  • promise it will not take longer than four minutes. Again, four minutes is not a lot, people will grant you four minutes of their attention without too many questions.

  • keep your promise and explain the Evolution in less than two minutes. Show that you respect their time. It builds rapport.

Remember, the goal is not to make the audience fluent with the concept of Evolution but to tell your story and develop mapping intuition. I constantly replace 'Genesis' with the word 'Experiment' because I found people get the concept faster in this way.

Then comes the most critical moment of your storytelling. Start with a single component everyone can relate to. You want people to follow your thinking path, so you have to align them around something they all understand. If you get this wrong, you will waste precious time trying to build a group cohesion.

For example, when talking to the management about the IT issues, you can start with "business applications", as in the Figure 2. Note, it is an intentional violation of the 'Start with user needs' principle. You can get to user needs later.

Figure 2: Start with a component everyone recognises.

You must justify the positioning of your first component on the Evolution axis. Offering any explanation diffuses the group scepticism, and you demonstrate your preparation and increases the trust in you and your methods. If anyone did not get the concept of Evolution earlier, they will get it here.

Do the build-out of a small number of important components, as shown in the Figure 3. Each component must be relevant for the audience, and you have to explain not only the positioning, but also why the component is important. Do not scare your audience away. If you add too many components, your audience will reject your entire message. Use generalisations, abstractions and simplifications as you need to.

Figure 3: Map build-out

Put anticipation and decisions at the end. So far, you have been sharing your assumptions about the environment, in a very structured way. Now it is time to show what you think will happen, and what should be the audience response. There is a risk your audience will not like your proposal and reject your thinking to reject conclusions, so you have to avoid betting on one direction of travel. Instead, give at least three plausible ways to move forward, and have trust in your audience. They are smart.

Figure 4: Last image that should stay on the screen.

The journey into your thinking does not end when you display the last slide. It barely starts there, so after presenting your maps, encourage the people to share their thoughts. Stay silent until they start talking. This is the moment where the connection is born and you both start learning from each other.

Last but not least - the discussion matters more than the map. Use 25% of available time to present and use the rest to engage your audience. My experience is that if you talk for more, people will forget what you have said, and you will need to reexplain some things times and times again. If you have too much content, trim it.



  • start with a blank canvas

  • don't give the mapping introduction

  • but explain the Evolution in less than two minutes

  • start with a single component everyone can relate to

  • justify the positioning of your first component

  • do the build-out of a small number of important components

  • put anticipation and decisions at the end

  • give at least three plausible ways to move forward

  • encourage the people to share their thoughts

  • use 25% of available time to present, use the rest to engage your audience

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