Get ahead. Get a map.

James Noakes
8 min readMay 22, 2020


Tools to help your organisation at this time…

World map projections

We are living in uncertain times. Truth is, we always have been. But it feels like those uncertain times are much greater now. You would be right to think so. Covid19 has changed the world– not just slightly but fundamentally. Why fundamentally? Because it has been a social, environmental, economic and health issue that has exposed and shaped our responses in each of these areas. It has highlighted cultural differences and filtered political opinion. It has instigated change from different attitudes. It has demanded a response in the short term and a long term plan. It has shown us new ways of doing things and laid bare the shortcomings of old ways that need change. That, in turn, has affected how organisations do business. It is time, therefore, for businesses to consider their customer journey in light of the new world we face. In short, there is a fundamental change happening.

What do you do if you are an organisation worrying about how to respond? What should you be doing in the future? How do you react right now? This piece is an attempt to help you bring a little bit of stability back into your planning and hopefully assist your organisation as you attempt to deal with this new world. It is not — as I am sure you will see — the only answer. Different things work for different people and different organisations. It is here to help and I hope it does.

I suggest there are three things that can help right now. Two things you can be doing right away, and one extra thing you can be preparing to do but which may take a lot longer. They are all related in some way to processes. They are all a type of mapping* but in different ways. After all, if you are going to get through this difficult terrain, best have a map. However, they are much more than that. They are three separate but linked tools. You can start them today. In reality, they should be exercises that never stop. They are…

1. Customer empathy mapping*

2. Customer journey mapping*

3. Wardley mapping.

Firstly, customer empathy mapping*. This is a tool used to understand particular customers or customer segments. It is an attempt to build up a persona about your customer. There are distinct categories of questions you need to ask…

· Who is the customer? What situation are they in? What is their role (eg passive or engaged?)?

· What do they need to do? What is the problem they are looking to solve? What is their decision making process? How will they know they have achieved what they want to achieve?

· What do they see? When they engage with you? When they look at the marketplace? Physically around them? What do they watch and read?

· What do they say — to you or about you or about their problem? What could we imagine them saying?

· What do they do? What actions do they take? How do they act?

· What do they hear? From you, from friends, from the market, from competitors etc?

· What do they think and feel? What are their pain points? What areas do they really see gains?

Answering these questions will give you better insight into your customers and enlighten you as to how you can help them. Building up a persona of the people you are serving can give you insight as to how they may react to certain changes — ones you make or changes coming from elsewhere.

You can do this alone but it is far better to do with others in your organisation, or others who can help provide more insight. It is even better if you can engage your customers themselves to understand first hand some of these challenges.

The easiest tool to use is this map from the XPlane collective. You don’t have to be an expert — it is better just to begin the thinking than wait until you have perfect information (because you never will). So give it a go. Try it out and see how you get on then come back to it having thought it over and see if any assumptions need changing. See how it compares to what you customers or potential customers tell you.

empathy map canvas
Probably the best Customer Empathy Map provided by Dave Gray at XPlane collective

Secondly, customer journey mapping*. This is an attempt to understand the whole journey from awareness of a problem that needs solving through to success that a customer undertakes. Understanding the journey a person has to undertake in order to become aware of, access, and use your product or service. This then gives you the opportunity to see where problems may occur; identify where friction can happen; address control issues and then consider where improvements can be made. Ultimately, you will then hopefully deliver improved engagement and sales.

When I was studying buyer-behaviour at university (far too many moons ago) there was an accepted standard approach of Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action (AIDA) that was used to explain the process people undertook. It still stands but, for me at least, it is a little basic and does not delve deep enough to truly get to understand the whole process. But don’t let great be the enemy of good. You can drive yourself potty by overthinking every step.

As an example, I remember being told that an airline did a “points of marketing” exercise where they identified every point where a customer could be influenced as to whether to travel with them — from check in desks to uniforms to gate distances and seat positions to adverts, staff, cleanliness, choice of soap and so on. They identified a million points (I am still unsure how accurate this tale is so apologies!). Now that’s a tall order to try and respond to, but do what you can with the information you have. It is a start and you can always modify, adapt and develop.

Ultimately you want to know how your customer decided and defined their problem, how they became aware of solutions (including yours), how they considered their options, how they made their decision and then how they accessed your produce/service. Then what their experience was like and how their problem was solved before considering how iterative the whole process is.

There are many templates to use. My particular favourite at the moment is this one from Columbia Road because it also breaks it down into stages. Feel free to experiment with others or even develop your own. The customer journey map itself is not the end goal — changing your offer so it best serves your customer is.

customer journey map
Sample customer journey map (Columbia Road)

Thirdly, Wardley mapping.

This is perhaps the trickiest, maybe the most difficult to do with any great skill but definitely the most rewarding. The best thing about it is that the whole thing is pretty much open source — you can read the book, search for and download the templates or discuss the approach for free. Only specific training comes with a cost. A downside for some may be that it takes a long time to become in any way good at it. Why? Because it relies on experience and insight and that can only be developed over time. But then the best things often take time.

It certainly has lots of ardent supporters (me included) and some even come together in groups to discuss, develop and support the use of Wardley mapping as a strategic tool for organisations. It brings situational awareness to your strategy development. It builds on the five factors from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) developed by USAF John Boyd but brings it off the page. It brings movement to a previously static approach to strategy.

basic Wardley map
Basic Wardley Map for online image manipulation service (including checklist for what constitutes a map*)

The best way of summing this up has already been explained by Simon Wardley himself. Here is just one video. However, it is easiest explained by saying if you want to navigate your way through a landscape then make use of a map. Unlike other approaches to strategy (SWOT analysis, PESTLE etc) a Wardley map includes position and movement because your strategy needs to understand where you are at and requires movement. See the checklist in the diagram above which shows what constitutes a map*.

Dig around it, watch the videos (this video is a nice intro from Hired Thought), spend some time on the book and, if you wish, try some of the courses or engage with the community. Ultimately though, take responsibility for developing better strategy and make use of tools such as this. I fully accept that this last tool requires a lot more engagement and development by you. That is a good thing!


So I have given you three tools that can provide some help to you at present. They won’t give you the answers but they will illuminate your way forward. They are not the only tools, and pieces like this can make it look easier than it is. Sometimes it is best to get people with experience and insight involved but you should certainly not be scared of giving it a go and trying to understand things for yourself. Each of these approaches should certainly be interesting, insightful and enjoyable. They should also help you begin to think about your organisation differently. I hope you do find them so, and I hope they really help. Best of luck.

Best wishes


*OK. So my apologies. They’re not all mapping tools**. They’re not all maps. (But convention calls them that). Customer empathy mapping and customer journey mapping are not maps. Again, sorry! Check out Wardley maps and you will discover why — because in a map, space has meaning. At best the first two are diagrams, but the reality is they are just organising tools that help you formulate your thoughts. They are not maps. (sorry about that). But that is OK — they can be useful in helping you understand your customer and their attitudes and how you interact with them.

**Wardley maps*** is about mapping.

***Like everyone, I am still learning more about Wardley maps and this constantly challenges assumptions I have made (even the ones in this article). Don’t be surprised if I do another piece on this in the future (how I know you must be desperate for that). Not that anyone needs more views on it, but it really does make you think!

As always, I welcome anyone challenging what I have written. I will never profess to having all the answers — we can all learn and accept insight and advice from others. So if you want to challenge or discuss this piece then please do so below or get in touch with me via



James Noakes

City Innovation Broker | Former Assistant Mayor of Liverpool | Environmental Professional | Smart City guy