3 maps to solve all your problems

A quick overview of three visualisation tools that are indispensable in our work

David GunnMay 2020

A quick summary of three different maps we use to help us navigate change projects with our clients.

Here at Something More Near we love maps. Maps of places, maps of problems, maps of situations… in fact anything that organises the key components of a situation in a spatial way. Mapping is something we do regularly on projects, and a key aspect of our changework methodology. These maps can come in radically different shapes and sizes - from SWOT analyses to customer journey maps - but they all share some basic characteristics that are indispensable for a few reasons. First, they help us to disentangle and analyse complicated questions. Second, they create visual assets that can be communal - something different people can view together, creating a shared reference point and (hopefully) shared understanding. And third, once you have built a map, you can move its pieces around, exploring different possible scenarios or future states before you make a decision about what to do.

We’re not a “one ring to rule them all” kind of organisation, and tend to have a pretty pragmatic, magpie approach to using different mapping tools - borrowing, adapting or inventing new approaches to maps depending on the challenge we’re faced with. But like good pennies, a few of them keep on turning up and have become a trusted part of our toolkit - simple. Here’s three kinds of maps that we regularly use to help us navigate change projects.

1. Three Horizons - practical futures

Published under a creative commons license, Three Horizons is a gift to the world from the folks at International Futures Forum. At its simplest level, its based on the idea of three different perspectives on change - the managerial (focused on today), the visionary (based on a future vision of the way things should be) and the entrepreneurial (looking at pragmatic changes to deal with pains of the present or help incubate desired futures). But as the documentation makes clear, this simple split can be used and interpreted in different ways, from helping groups plan innovation pathways to understanding how teams are likely to view and respond to each other. Although deceptively simple in approach, it's a surprisingly versatile tool to help different viewpoints converge around a shared vision of the future. 

Use when: you’re trying to navigate different perspectives on the future

2. Wardleymaps - unpicking a product

Comprehensively documented in a series of long and frequently compelling Medium articles, Alan Wardley’s mapping is another example of a mapping process that puts a distinctive spin on a familiar trope. What's great about Wardleymaps is that they combine three levels of analysis in one simple tool. First, they help you to critically analyse the composition of a product or service. Second, they ensure you keep the audience perspective in mind, and help you to avoid letting purely technical / engineering mindsets tell you what’s most important about a product or service. Finally, they also add a time dimension - helping you to think about how changes in the market might alter the relevance of your offer. When creating these maps with senior teams, we’ve often had moments when it quickly becomes clear your favourite feature will soon become a hygiene factor across the whole industry - and new actions are needed. All this, in one little diagram. Fair warning - they can take a little while to create (and a few headaches) but once they are made, they can be an invaluable tool.

Use when: you’re trying to understand how a product offer is constructed and where its strengths and weaknesses sit.

3. KUF - establishing a shared baseline

The KUF is a simple map created by the Something More Near team. It was originally designed as a quick-and-dirty tool to structure internal debates and avoid the dangers of groupthink - where subjective hunches masquerade as objective truths, and nodding heads hide the fact that a group holds multiple, unstated and often unshared assumptions on a given topic. KUF is a way to bring this stuff out to the surface in a way that opinions can be understood and debated in a more systematic and inclusive way. At its simplest level, it's a sorting device - where a free conversation amongst the team is organised into cards in three categories - things you as a group Know, things that are Unknown and your gut Feels about a given topic. At Something More Near, we tend to start here and then do further rounds of prioritisation to determine actions on a project - figuring out which of those KUF cards are most central to the task at hand, and what the next step of a team should be.
 Either way,

Use when - you need to rapidly establish a shared understanding of where you are and how to move forward.

So maybe these 3 maps won’t solve every problem - they don’t have much to contribute when your most pressing problem is a lack of milk in the fridge. But we’ve found them a pretty good “Swiss army knife” set of tools to address questions of creative strategy and change. Used in the right way, they help groups to process, understand and debate information in a way that’s clearer to understand for yourself as well other people that you work with.

David Gunn

David Gunn

Participation specialist. Major projects for Tate, World Health Organisation, Museum of London and Franco Manca. Co-founder of Something More Near.

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