Sometimes a tool comes along that gives you an entirely new way at looking at something. Just such a tool is Wardley Maps. The maps allow you to plot innovation maturity, ‘business climate’ and user needs symultaneously. This combination provides fresh insight into potential opportunities for your business.

If you’re grappling with strategic questions right now, and especially if you’re in a fast-moving sector, consider using Wardley Maps, developed by Simon Wardley.

How do they work?

Wardley Maps combine three ideas:

  • An innovation continuum – from ‘Pioneers’, through ‘Settlers’, to ‘Town Planners’
  • The concept of climate
  • A value chain mapping – from user needs on down

I first used them recently with an executive team who were creating a new entity within their larger group. Their mission was to define their value proposition. We used a simplified version of the map to plot different aspects of their value proposition. See the photo from the workshop below.

The map was valuable in several ways:

1. The group could use it to organise a variety of ideas
2. It gave them a mirror to help them see how pioneering or otherwise they were being
3. It opened a conversation about the threats and opportunities of “platform plays” in their sector – at the ‘Town Planner’ end of the spectrum

The innovation continuum

The Pioneers operate at the genesis end of the spectrum – the uncharted realm a place of experimentation, optionality and weak signals. The Town Planners are at the commodity end – standardisation, open strategy, platforms, APIs, open testing. The Settlers productise the successful experiments of the Pioneers. The Town Planners commoditise and scale the products created by the Settlers.

Of course, it is somewhat subjective as to what qualifies as ‘genesis’ vs ‘commodity’, and indeed, those in the group I worked with disagreed on the positioning of some items. However, this might be the point: it drove a great discussion.

The map helped them to test each other on how pioneering they really were and whether indeed being pioneering was something that should be important to them.

The new insight for me in using the map was the conversation it spurred about platform business models. At this moment in history, we’re seeing a significant opportunity for technology companies and increasingly service providers to pivot from developing and exploiting their assets to becoming an ecosystem of exchange for others (think Airbnb, Uber, JustEat etc.). In terms of the map, this was represented by the opportunity to move from Settlers with products to Town Planners with platform propositions.

The map appeared to help bring more people into the conversation about the opportunities and threats in this domain. This is where climate comes in.


As Wardley explains in his 2015 article,

All the components in the map are evolving from left to right due to supply and demand competition. As they evolve their characteristics change from an uncharted domain (the uncertain, rare and constantly changing) becoming more industrialised (the known, the common, the stable).

We could consider the rate of evolution of the sector in which a given proposition sits as being the climate that product or service is experiencing. Wardley takes this consideration of climate from Sun Tzu’s five factors of strategy.

Using this idea of climate allowed the team to discuss how quickly they were likely to be able to remain differentiated in a particular sector or sub-sector and how imminent was the threat of a ‘platform-play’ eating their lunch (or indeed, as mentioned above, the opportunity to become the platform).

Value chain

The y-axis of the map allows people to plot the value chain of a given offering – or “chain of needs” as Wardley puts it – that ultimately serves an end-user need. As you descend, the progression of needs become increasingly less visible to the user. We also may see sources of value lower down the y-axis serving multiple higher-order needs. See Wardley’s example map below for a TV company with electrical power at the bottom-right.

I hope you found this introduction useful. Do let me know if you try them out.

If you’d like to learn more about FirstHuman could help you to launch a new proposition, please get in touch.