Wardley maps, a primer

Posted on April 27, 2020 · 4 mins read · tagged with: #business #personal

This is a post I wish I had read a few years back. If you haven’t heard about Simon Wardle maps and you’d like to get a short primer on this technique, read along. The image above is used the simplest reference to an example of a map.

Why you might use it

Wardley maps are described by their author as Topographical intelligence in business. I started reading about them and trying to use them to understand some movements and trends in technology. They were helpful in answering questions like:

  1. Where this serverless thing is going?
  2. What it means serverless at all?
  3. Yet another platform: buy or build?

As you can see in every example there’s a bit of:

  1. business
  2. technology
  3. movement/change
  4. analysis

This would sum up my reasons to use them. Trying to orient yourself in a landscape of a specific tool, a technology or a trend. If you ever raised this kind of questions, Wardley maps can greatly help you.

Two axes

On each map you have two axes. In case of Wardley maps, the first (X axis) is the level of how unique/commoditized thing is. Think about a commoditized substance like sugar. For majority of cases you don’t consider one sugar brand different from another. This is a Commodity. On the other hand, think about Space X rockets sending things to an orbit and then going back to the Earth. So far there’s one company that did it, and for sure it’s not a Commodity, it’s something that was Custom Built. It’s moving towards being a Product/Rental but still, it’s far from getting Falcon as a Service. To sum up, the vertical axis has the following segments:

  1. Genesis, a.k.a. something specific, being worked on in a lab
  2. Custom Built, a.k.a. we’re building it ourselves
  3. Product/Rental, a.k.a. I can buy it from a shelve
  4. Commodity, a.k.a. indistinguishable from the others

The Y axis, represents how close or visible is a specific thing for a user. The higher thing is, the closer, more visible. You may again think about Space X. You probably want to be able to watch a sat-TV but you don’t care what kind of rocket placed your satellite in there. The watching acts is visible for you, the satellite and the process of placing it in the space, not that much.

Placing things

Now, you think of a technology, a problem, a business and try to dissect and put in the places on the map. Remember at the top of it, there’s this top thing (frequently, a user) that is most visible. Underneath, it has its dependencies that it’s built upon/derives from.

When placing the dots, connect them with lines that show this kind of dependencies. There’s much more to it, but for now, let’s start small.

The movement

The last, but not least, you can move things on the map! For instance, if we were drawing a map and included computation, the serverless approach would be a result of moving computation to the right, toward commodity. One may say that:

serverless is commoditizing computation.

The movement on the visibility axis (Y) can also be observed, by making things more visible for the top actor.


I think that Wardley maps are a really powerful tool, especially when combined with a movement or an evolution of a system. I’m far from putting an expert crown on my head, but I can already tell, that they clarified a lot in a few cases when I was thinking about where it will go and where we are now. As always with mapping, I encourage to embrace the fact that the map is not the territory. At the end let me provide you with some resources:

  1. Wardley maps from Simon Wardley himself
  2. Map and territory from Farnam Street