Learn how some of the world's smartest organisations have used Wardley Maps to improve their awareness—adaptiveness.

Ubuntu I Amazon I GDS I HS2 I AirBnB I FSA I Salesforce
Ubuntu today is the dominant operating system in the cloud, but it was once a minor player with less than 3% market share. Ubuntu used maps to better understand the industry landscape and discover which of their bigger, but slower-moving rivals they could attack. They managed to capture 70% market share within 18 months. Executives at rival firms didn't know what had hit them.

The story started in 2008 when Simon Wardley (the creator of Wardley Maps) and a small team at Ubuntu mapped out the entire server market. They were trying to increase their awareness of what was going on around them and what they could do about it. They eventually agreed a series of strategic moves (stratagems) that are shown in the (simplified) map below.
The strategy put in play was to:

  1. Accept that RedHat owned the server operating system (OS) — for now
  2. Go after the future instead by making Ubuntu so simple to use that it became the dominant Guest OS on any future cloud service
  3. Acquire an open source private cloud (that imitated the dominant player) to help target customers transition to the new offering
  4. Leverage meta-data to identify emerging practices and adopt them, thereby continually improving Ubuntu through co-creation with users
  5. Scan the market for new emerging platforms to try to push them on to Ubuntu to capture future revenue streams.

Ubuntu (owned by Canonical — a relatively small company) literally stole the future from RedHat and the other giants in the field. It did this with a very modest investment and unique strategy (not copying a case study of someone else's past moves) that rivals simply didn't understand until it was too late.

Simon Wardley, creator of Wardley Maps explaining Ubuntu's strategy
(LeanAgile Scotland 2017)
Several Vice Presidents at Amazon are noted expert mappers, including Adrian Cockcroft who, in this short video, shows how his team uses Wardley Maps to understand how technology is evolving and where it can be deployed to meet user needs better than rivals.
Adrian Cockcroft, VP AWS speaking at MapCamp, London (October 2019)
Government Digital Service (GDS)
The UK Government Digital Service team were an early adopter of Wardley Maps, using them to deliver one of the earliest and best digital transformations in government services. Mapping was key to ensuring all technology investments were focused on meeting user needs:
Liam Maxwell, former CTO of UK GDS focusing people on a core mapping Principle
Mapping was central to the establishment of an effective 'Spend Control' function. This was delivering savings in excess of £300 million pounds annually and helped make the return on investment (ROI) of the transformation effort exceptionally successful:
High-Speed Rail (HS2)
High Speed Two is a major infrastructure project in the UK, looking to link the north and south of the country with a new high-speed rail link. The challenges they faced were to:

  • Significantly reduce costs
  • Deliver outstanding services
  • Be quick to adapt to new needs.

Understanding what to outsource from IT (to reduce costs and allow the team to focus on delivering outstanding services) was a challenge. The box and wire diagram (below) showing the IT architecture gave them no immediate clue about where to act:
Choosing which combination of methods (e.g. Agile, Lean or Outsourcing) was a choice with 387,429,489 million possible permutations:
Fortunately the CIO of HS2 knew how to map. With a small team he spent a couple of hours putting the entire IT architecture into this map, which showed things in context:
The answer was now clear: outsource all components on the right (as they're highly-industrialised); purchase off the shelf products for those components in the middle; use Agile methods to build components on the left in-house (as lots of uncertainty about these).
Furthermore, the team could now invite others to challenge their proposal and refine it, as well as better communicate what they were doing and why to non-experts.

HS2 were able to reduce IT costs by more than 95% that were re-invested elsewhere to made the project more responsive to customer needs.
When the US re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, it opened a door for AirBnB and others to enter this market for the first time. In a matter of weeks AirBnB created a wide, cross-functional team capable of creating the infrastructure needed to enter into this highly-specific market. Once they had accomplished their mission they disbanded again, as on-going operations could now be managed out of existing departments. AirBnB describes these as "elastic, vision-driven" teams and are key to their agile approach.

AirBnB use maps to ensure they have the "right" type of Project Managers (PMs) leading the different types of teams of they need (Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners) on projects. They have observed that "much of the work of product management is making sure everybody understands the what and the why [while] leaving it up to teams to figure out how to actually make that happen empowers them to do better and find more meaning in their work."
According to AirBnB, when "done right, the work of these three types of PMs forms a loop that makes the difference between a billion-dollar company and a one-hit wonder."
Food Standards Agency (FSA)
The UK government instructed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) not to extend a long-standing outsourcing contract and instructed them to also cut costs by 20%.

The FSA would have to bring all that work in-house while making cost savings at the same time. They turned to maps to help them get to grips with this challenge. Their first step was to map the current state of the organisation.
This chaos came as a shock (but not a surprise). How could anything get done in this mess? They decided to attack the challenge piece by piece. They focused on what their users needed and mapped out how they were meeting those needs today.

For example, communications were crucial to their users and this was how they were satisfying that need in November 2017.
They noticed that they were spending a lot of time and resources on things that were high-risk but that users didn't care about, because they were invisible sub-systems (bottom left of the map). The FSA were too focused on doing things right (efficiency) rather than doing the right things (effectiveness).

They decided to only 'custom-build' things that would differentiate their services in the eyes of users and rely on 'off-the-shelf products' or 'utility-services' for everything else. Department heads were told "if you think you're an exception to this, prove it". Very few could. The strategic direction of the FSA was starting to emerge — they could now explain to others where they were moving to and why.
Within a year progress was clear. This is the same need being met eight months later, with a much more manageable value chain and much less risk being taken on:
This process continued across the organisation. At the end of the year they combined the optimised maps into an all-organisation one, which they called their 'New World'. The difference from the one they started with is remarkable. By their own admission, they still have a long way to go yet but now they understand their landscape better and have a clear direction of travel, which they can explain to others better.
And they managed to reduce costs by 40% in the process, double the target set.
Salesforce are regular users of mapping, using them to "build and maintain situational awareness of their digital platform." This enables them to remain responsive to customers' needs and refine their strategy along the way.

In 2016 salesforce announced a shift in their long-held position of only hosting core services on their own infrastructure. Maps had enabled them to anticipate how the commoditisation of cloud-based technology and services would continue to accelerate and that a partial shift to public cloud data centres (AWS) made a lot of commercial sense. In a faster-changing world customers care less about the underlying "plumbing" of technology infrastructure but place greater value on the services built on top of them. Salesforce therefore decided to redirect their focus and resources to what mattered to customers instead.
Source: London School of Economics, "Building situational awareness in the age of service ecosystems" (2019).