Chapter 4: Doctrine

Welcome to the Learn Wardley Mapping summary series of Simon Wardley’s book on strategy and mapping in business. This is Chapter 4.

Simon continues his path through the Strategy Cycle, shifting from Climate to Doctrine. Doctrinal principles are consistently useful ideas we can apply to our organization regardless of the landscape. They are the beliefs we choose for our organization regarding communication, development, operation, structure, learning, and leading. They reflect the ideas we think work everywhere.

Simon gets us started with 9 initial Doctrinal Principles.

Focus on User Needs

The first principle is to always focus on user needs. To do that, we need to know who our users are. Are they customers, regulators, shareholders, or even our employees? The business can also be a user, but it’s important we put our customers first before our own motivations for profit, or we’ll fail to provide actual value.

Then, if we study the actual transactions between our organization and its users, map out our users’ landscapes, and yes, even talk to them, we can uncover their actual needs and their user journey. Along the way, we’ll likely uncover pointless steps, unmet needs, or even unnecessary needs we shouldn’t be meeting in the first place.

Use a Common Language

The second doctrinal principle is simple — to avoid translation errors, misalignment, and confusion, communicate between different functions of the business by using maps. Collaborating around a map can create an interface, a common language that enables coordinated action.

Be Transparent

Simon describes the third doctrinal principle as transparency — sharing maps so others can challenge and question assumptions. Of course, the obvious downside of inviting challenge is that it might actually happen. It can be uncomfortable and extremely difficult, but the upside of improving a strategy is too important to ignore.

Challenge Assumptions

Accordingly, the fourth principle is to challenge assumptions. Transparency and trust are necessary as prerequisites to get better outcomes through challenge.

Remove Duplication and Bias

The fifth doctrinal principle is to remove duplication and bias. As you collate maps from your organization, you may find the same kind of component on multiple maps or the same component in different stages of evolution. Are there really multiple instances of this component? Are we rebuilding something that already exists in the company or custom-building something that’s already a commodity? And is that appropriate or not? 

Too much duplication or bias does have a financial impact, but it more importantly diminishes the organization’s ability to develop more complex capabilities. Simon remarks on finding hundreds of duplicative systems in global organizations built through acquisition and shares something he calls a profile diagram — a collation of maps, identifying common components to reveal duplication and bias. He also shares a variant of this diagram called a capability profile diagram. It’s the same idea as the profile diagram, just organized by the high level capabilities present in a collated map.

Use Appropriate Methods

Doctrinal principal number six is to use appropriate methods. If we outsource a system that has a variety of components spread across the evolutionary axis of the map, and if we put in place a detailed contract with the vendor specifying exactly what will be delivered, we’ll be hit hard by change control costs.

Why? Well, a structured contract is fine for industrialized components, but the components in the uncharted domain are under constant change. We can’t specify what we need up front, because we just can’t know.

We need to break the system down and approach each component individually, building components in the uncharted space in-house with agile methods, buying off the shelf products in the transitionary domain, and outsourcing or consuming commodities in the industrialized domain.

Think Small

The seventh principle is to think small. We can’t pretend the system is simpler than it really is, so instead of treating the system as one thing, we need to break it down into its components. Knowing the details like this helps with managing the landscape but can also inform the design of our organization and teams, such as with cell-based structures.

Think Aptitude and Attitude

The eighth principle is focused on consideration of both aptitude and attitude in organizational design. Depending on context, teams need different kinds of skills (like marketing, engineering, finance, etc.) and different kinds of attitudes. Teams working in the uncharted, for example will need an attitude of experimentation, while teams working in the industrialized space need an attitude focused on volume operations.

These different attitudes, inspired by Robert Cringeley’s book, Accidental Empires, are:

  1. Pioneers for the uncharted,
  2. Settlers for the transitionary domain, and
  3. Town Planners for the industrialized.

These are all brilliant people, and each attitude builds and operates its own components in its domain.

Pioneers show us wonder but also fail a lot. We wouldn’t trust anything they build, but they make future success possible. Their discoveries are strange, confusing, and magical. Think core research.

Settlers turn the half-baked ideas into something useful. They make repeatability possible by listening to customers and improving, improving, and improving some more. They make the ideas profitable. Think applied research and differentiation.

Town Planners can industrialize ideas to take advantage of economies of scale. You trust what they build completely. They make things faster, better, smaller, and more efficient. Pioneers then use Town Planner components to build new things. Think industrial research.

Reflecting on Simon’s experiences in 2005, the ability to gain mastery in one of these three attitudes seemed to make people happier and more focused.

Design for Constant Evolution

The ninth doctrinal principle is the culmination of what we’ve learned so far — a way to mimic the constant evolution that’s happening outside of the company, but within it.

Simon describes a mechanism of theft, meaning new teams form to steal the work of earlier teams. In other words, Settlers steal from Pioneers in order to productize Pioneer work and force them to move on. Town Planners steal from Settlers in a similar way, resulting in new industrialized component services Pioneers can build on. And the cycle repeats.

Harnessing concepts from Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive, people can see how their team fits into the bigger purpose through mapping, gain autonomy through self-organization, and develop mastery by focusing on what they’re good at.

Simon certainly isn’t describing anarchy but a carefully constrained cell-based system with fitness functions, monitoring, and communication all structured in a hierarchy that enables distinct cultures to flourish, even for the executives.

Simon cautions that the Pioneer, Settlers, Town Planners structure is rare but that he’s seen nothing that comes closer to accommodating the evolution going on outside the organization. He recommends the “Boiling Frogs” paper by GCHQ as a starting point for the curious.

If you’ve followed along in Chapters 2 and 3 with your own map, great work. If you haven’t yet, now’s the perfect time to go back and catch up.

Take a look at your map and work with others to apply the various forms of doctrine we’ve covered, highlighted here in orange. If you get stuck, Simon shares a walk-through of doctrine on his 2005 map, towards the end of this chapter in the book.


To read the rest of Simon’s book, or to get started with Wardley Mapping for yourself, visit

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