Starting a Wardley Map with a Mental Model Diagram

Last time, we discussed a team where, to secure funding, they needed to present a strategy of where and how to invest. The team began by holding a series of workshops that I facilitated. In those workshops, I introduced the concept of Mental Model Diagrams that helps to match users’ needs with features that support users in meeting those needs. 

Since our goal is to develop a strategy, we can combine our Mental Model Diagram with a Wardley Map. Using a Wardley Map will help us plot the user needs we identified and connect them to the client’s market and how they compete. We can then use this visual to both develop and communicate the strategy.

To begin the process, we refer to one of the Wardley Mapping doctrinal patterns of “Focus on user needs.”

Adding Customer Needs

An essential part of mapping is the anchor of user needs. Ideally, you want to create an environment where your needs are achieved by meeting the needs of your users.

– Simon Wardley, A smorgasbord of the slightly useful

We start the process of focusing on user needs by answering two questions:

  • Who are our users?
  • What are their needs?

In our case, our users are small business owners, and we’ve identified six key customer jobs:

  • Setup my online business
  • Grow my online business
  • Ship products
  • Customer service and returns
  • Understand my performance
  • Pay taxes

We’ll focus on “Setup my online business” and “Grow my online business” for now.

A Wardley Map showing a set of needs for small business owners related to e-commerce.

We’ve identified dozens of other, smaller customer jobs within each of those high-level jobs and grouped them into towers on our Mental Model Diagram, but for now, let’s add the high-level ones to our map. With our user and their core jobs laid out, that completes the top part of our Wardley Map.

Identifying Capabilities

The next step to building our map is to identify what capabilities the client requires to meet their customers’ needs. I always like to include two levels of capabilities on my Wardley Maps.

  • High-level capabilities: The products or services directly supporting user needs.
    • Site Builder
    • Domain Management
    • Catalogue Management
    • Promotions
    • Email Marketing
  • Low-level capabilities: The lower-level activities that support the high-level capabilities.
    • E-commerce Tools
    • E-commerce Marketing Tools
    • Analytics and Reporting
    • Payment Processing
    • Order Fulfillment
A Wardley Map showing user needs, and capabilities for an e-commerce application.

At this point, the map should reflect our current business. It should show the following:

  • How the company meets its user needs.
  • How the company competes in the market.
  • The supply chain of components we rely on to function.
  • What parts of our business we build in-house, using off-the-shelf goods, and which functions should be outsourced to partners.

Adding Industry Trends

One principle of Jobs-to-be-Done is that customers’ jobs change very slowly. Once we’ve created our Mental Model Diagram, most of it will be stable for years. Instead of searching for new, unarticulated user needs, which can be a risky and expensive activity, we can use our Mental Model Diagram to search for:

  • Needs that aren’t being served
  • Needs that are being poorly served
  • Needs that we can use new technology to serve better

To help answer these questions, we can start to plot additional elements onto our map:

  • What are the important elements in the landscape?
  • What trends are happening?
  • What new technologies affect our business.

I’ve identified four trends in this example scenario:

  1. AI Personalization and Recommendations
  2. Advanced Analytics and Reporting
  3. Mobile Optimization
  4. Advanced Shipping Options

I’ve also highlighted how these trends connect to the capabilities we’ve already identified. Understanding how each of these trends affects our ability to meet customers’ needs may indicate where it’s important for us to invest.

A Wardley Map showing user needs, capabilities and some industry trends for an e-commerce application.

AI Personalization & Recommendations has the potential to improve many of the capabilities we offer already. Another option could be for our company to be a leader in reporting and analytics, which are vital to supporting capabilities like promotions, email marketing, and customer relationship management.

Identifying areas to invest

Investment should only happen with a plan, so before deciding what trends we want to pursue, we should also add the supporting capabilities related to these trends to our map.

If we want to use AI to provide better personalization & recommendations to our users, our organization will need to develop capabilities in data science. We’ll also need to equip those data scientists with the right tools, which includes creating a data platform to support them.

A Wardley Map showing user needs, capabilities, industry trends and what investment might be required to pursue new opportunities for an e-commerce application.


From the initial ask to facilitate a meeting to brainstorm new software features, we pivoted to creating a Mental Model Diagram, which gave us a much richer picture of our customer needs and possible solutions. We then used that Mental Model Diagram as the foundation of our Wardley Map. After identifying our users and their needs on our map, we then expanded our map to show all of our business’s capabilities, key industry trends, and what areas we would need to invest in.

At this point, the client could use this map to support their ultimate goal of defining and presenting a strategy of specifying where and how they should invest.

One of the main challenges of a Mental Model Diagram is the effort required to collect and sort the data. Even though we only focused on two of our user’s Mental Spaces, we were already to identify a non-trivial picture of customer jobs, high-level and support capabilities, industry trends and investment areas. Expanding this exercise to cover the complete set of our customer’s needs could require using multiple maps.

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