Creating your first Map

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The first rule of mapping is to not worry about getting it right. Don’t try to be perfect, and don’t worry that you don’t know how to do it. This article will cover the basic structure, but a lot of the value of the map is the questions it generates for you and your colleagues. Make a map that is wrong, discuss it with other people, notice something wrong with it, and draw an improved map. The thing you noticed that was wrong will probably be an interesting insight about whatever you are mapping, and suddenly, you have learned something! Then throw that map away and draw another one tomorrow.

Here is a step-by-step process for drawing your first map:

  1. Print out the framework, or just sketch your own version of it. File:Mapping template
  2. At the top of the page, write User needs Need, replacing User with your main customer / stakeholder / user, and Need with the product / service / outcome they need.
  3. Under the user need, draw a line to a circle for each of the components that are required. E.g. if the user needs a cup of tea, at the next level, the cup of tea needs tea leaves, it needs hot water, and it needs a mug. You might also write that it needs a certain amount of time to steep.
  4. For each of the components listed in step 3, decide where they belong horizontally. Look at the cheat sheet for descriptions of each column. Just get the components in the right general area for now; nuance can come later. The valuable activity at this step is to think about why you put a component in a certain place, and then use the drawing to see if other people agree. The discussion and communication is where the magic happens.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for each component until it feels like a trivial level of detail. How far down you go, and how many components you list (in step 3) is like the zoom feature of an electronic map - there isn’t one correct setting, instead you move back and forth depending on the question you are trying to answer.

That’s it! You have drawn your first map! Now what? How do you get insight?

There are many ways to progress from here. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what you can do next:

  • for each component in your business, draw where you think the rest of the industry is (horizontal axis). If there is a big gap here, ask yourself / your team why?
  • add another user who has slightly different needs for the same product. E.g. in addition to the customer for your tea shop, add the employee, the shop manager, the landlord, and the tax man. This will start to flesh out all the activities in the business.
  • notice things that are farther to the left of the chart, and ask if they are really unique. If not, how does your business change if you use a more off-the-shelf component here? If it is unique, is this your company’s key value proposition? How are you improving your own unique knowledge in this area? E.g. if you have hard-to-find tea leaves on your menu, does that require a tea leaf expert, and do they required trips to India or China to maintain that expertise?
  • notice things where you don’t know what the next level components are, and ask around your organization or industry until someone knows - this will teach you something new about your business, and the answer might be surprising.