Doctrine or Dogma?

Challenge Your Wardley Mapping Assumptions in a Friendly Way!

Erik Schön
The Startup


Photo: Artem Maltsev on Unsplash.

You gotta challenge all assumptions. If you don’t, what is doctrine on day one becomes dogma forever after.

John Boyd, strategist, inventor of the OODA “loop”


It is important to challenge your own and your team’s assumptions — in a friendly way — in order to learn and get better at creating strategy. One way of doing this is using Wardley Mapping of the evolving business and technology landscape — making implicit assumptions explicit on a map.

When creating strategy, before doing context specific gameplays, it is important to start with assessing and improving your doctrine: the universally useful principles guiding your ways of operating, organising and communicating.

In the spirit of challenging your assumptions and avoiding doctrine becoming dogma, I share an experiment: a Wardley Map of Wardley’s doctrine.

This article has the following structure — skip the parts you already know:

  • How Can We Be More Certain to Succeed? Introduces strategy and visualising strategy using Wardley Mapping.
  • What is Doctrine and Why do We Need It?
    What are Capabilities and Why Do We Need Them?
  • How Can We Visualise Capabilities? Introduces Values Chains, System Anatomies, Anatomies of Excellent Development and Maturity Mapping.
  • How Can We Visualise Doctrine? Introduces Wardley’s doctrine and shows how it can be categorised, phased and visualised for assessment and improvement purposes.

How Can We Be More Certain To Succeed?

Parts of the world have always been volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — think of tsunamis, freak waves, wars, the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages, …

The Wave of the Future — Digital Transformation of The Great Wave. Illustration: Kirpich and Berry

Now, the digital transformation towards software and world-wide communication is increasing the speed by several orders of magnitude since bits travel so much faster than atoms. Organisations are struggling to cope with the massive changes in customer behaviours, products, services, and business models that this entails.

In essence: In a world where the rate of change will never be slower than today, how can we be more certain to succeed?

The answer, going back at least 2500 years to Sun Tzu, is strategy — “the art of manipulating an environment to gain a desirable outcome” (Simon Wardley swardley). You can never be completely certain, but you can create conditions for stacking the odds in your favour, e.g. through assessments, preparations and gameplays.

The Strategy Cycle

The Strategy Cycle by swardley (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Strategy Cycle is an iterative cycle for creating strategy and making strategy happen — combining Sun Tzu’s five fundamental factors (purpose, landscape, climate, doctrine, leadership), John Boyd’s OODA “Loop” (Observe, Orient, Decidem Act) and the two types of “why”:

  1. the “why” of purpose, e.g. a chess player wants to win every game and become a master.
  2. the “why” of movement, e.g. a chess player moves the queen to gain a better position.

Visualising the World Using Maps

Let’s look at a classic way of visualising the world for increased understanding and decision support: maps.

Map of Shanghai from 1814. Source: Katya Knyazeva. Illustration: Erik Schön

A map is visual, context-specific (in this case of the old town of Shanghai in 1814) showing position and components (here: the location of houses, roads, walls, rivers, bridges, …) and movement (“getting to X”) including an anchor (the Chinese sign for “north” at the top).

Geographical maps encode information about a given context much more efficiently and clearly than words written or spoken. Reading a map requires you to study and understand the language of maps, and, of course, practice using maps.

Visualising Strategy Using Wardley Maps

Geographical maps are visualisations of the world that guide us from A to B. Wardley Maps are visualisations of the technology and business landscape for a specific context showing technology and business evolution and guiding our strategic choices of what to do and not to do.

Here’s an example of a Wardley Map visualising the context of online gaming:

Wardley Map of online gaming. Abbreviations: PSN (Play Station Network), CDN (Content Delivery Network), API (Application Programming Interface). Illustration: Howard Rees

The vertical axis shows needs where needs at the top are fully visible to your customers to components completely invisible and far away from your customers.

The horizontal axis shows the evolution of the components:

  • Genesis: the unique, the very rare, the uncertain, the constantly changing and the newly discovered. Our focus is on exploration.
  • Custom Built: representing the very uncommon and that which we are still learning about. It is individually made and tailored for a specific environment. It is bespoke. It frequently changes. It is an artisan skill.
  • Product (+ rental): the increasingly common, the manufactured through a repeatable process, the more defined, the better understood. Change becomes slower here. Whilst there exists differentiation, particularly in the early stages there is increasing stability and sameness.
  • Commodity (+ utility): scale and volume operations of production, the highly standardized, the defined, the fixed, the undifferentiated, the fit for a specific known purpose and repetition, repetition and more repetition.

The customer is the anchor of a Wardley map, similar to the north on a geographical map. We also see components (e.g. “Content”) and their positions and relationships, e.g. how “Content” needs or depends upon “CDN (Content Distribution Network”). These relationships form a value chain — a chain of needs — with customer needs and components arranged according to dependency — running from needs visible to the customer in the uppermost part of the Wardley Map to components least visible in the lower part of the map. And, finally, the red arrows show the evolution of components from uncharted to industrialised territory.

Wardley Maps have the same characteristics as geographical maps, i.e. it is a map that visually shows the evolution of a context-specific value chain using position and movement of components — with customer needs as the anchor.

Wardley Mapping enables collaboration for improved predictions and shaping the future by helping participants articulate, share and assess their perceptions and understanding of the environment. This leads to a common, shared context-specific language and a common, shared visualisation that can be used to guide decisions and actions on what to do. It also makes implicit assumptions explicit in an object — the map — which is much more easy to challenge than a person.

What is Doctrine and Why do We Need It?

Doctrine is one of Sun Tzu’s five fundamental factors of strategy. Sun Tzu’s eternal wisdom advises us to always start our journey by assessing and preparing by asking ourselves the following questions about our organisation as well as our competitors to know who will succeed:

  • Who has a more influential purpose?
  • Who has more skilled leadership?
  • Who is favoured by landscape and climate?
  • Who carries out doctrine more skilfully?
  • Who has more capabilities?
  • Who provides feedback more clearly?

Doctrine is universally useful principles guiding ways of operating, organising and communicating that can be applied regardless of context, landscape or climate. Doctrine is not covering values and associated behaviours. Doctrine is never eternally correct, it has proven to be consistently valuable for a large number of users for the time being. There will always exist better doctrine in the future as the world evolves and we learn more, hence the need to challenge doctrine to avoid that it becomes dogma.

Here are a few examples of Wardley’s doctrine:

  • Use a common language, e.g. Wardley Maps (communication)
  • Challenge assumptions (communication): “Wardley Maps allow for assumptions to be visually exposed. You should encourage challenge to any map with a focus on creating a better map and a better understanding. Don’t be afraid of challenge, there is no place for ego if you want to learn.” (Simon Wardley swardley)
  • Focus on user needs (development)
  • Know the details (operations)
  • Bias towards data (learning)
  • Move fast (leading)
  • Think small teams (structure)

Doctrine consists of principles that are valid irrespective of context; the implementation of those principles, however, will be different in different contexts. In other words, the principles of doctrine, the what and why, e.g. focus on user needs, are different from the implementation of doctrine, the how in context, e.g. the user needs for the most convenient tea shop in Kent.

What are Capabilities and Why Do We Need Them?

A capability is an ability to fulfil a user’s need, or, the ability of a component to fulfil the need(s) of another component in a Value Chain or a Wardley Map. This means that both products and organisations have capabilities and that capabilities can be used to describe their doctrine.

As we saw in the previous section, one of Sun Tzu’s questions at the start of our journey for assessing and preparing to know who will succeed is:
who has more capabilities?

How Can We Visualise Capabilities?

Here are four ways of visualising capabilities: values chains, system anatomies, anatomies of excellent development and maturity mapping.

Value Chains

A Value Chain is a visualisation of the dependency chain of needs starting with what the users value. Alternatively, it is a set of activities that an organisation performs — or capabilities needed — to deliver a product valuable for the users.

Example of a value chain of needs for an online photo service. Illustration: swardley (CC BY-SA 4.0)

System Anatomies

A System Anatomy is a dependency graph of functional capabilities for a product. It looks very similar to a value chain.

Example of a system anatomy of capabilities for a travel card reader in a bus. Illustration: Kristian Sandahl

System Anatomies have been used in very large-scale development of complex network products (hardware and software) since 1991.

Anatomy of Excellent Development

An Anatomy of Excellent Development is a dependency graph of capabilities for a team or organisation. It is used to visualise, assess and improve a team or an organisation. This anatomy stems from the System Anatomy and instead of showing dependencies between functional capabilities for a product, the Anatomy of Excellent Development shows the wanted capabilities for a team or organisation that are needed to fulfil the mission of being excellent at doing product/software development, i.e. a doctrine for product development. The capabilities are about what is needed and this is independent of context; exactly which methods and tools that are needed to realise the capabilities are context dependent.

Example of an Anatomy of Excellent Development visualising dependencies between capabilities in a product development organisation. Illustration: Erik Schön

Having a team or a leadership team discussing strengths and weaknesses with these capabilities will lead to a common understanding of

  1. the wanted product development doctrine — including friendly challenges to avoid it becomes dogma, e.g. based on experiences doctrine in other teams and organisations;
  2. what area(s) to focus on first when improving the overall capability of the team or organisation.

The illustration below shows examples of specific practices and tools (the “how”) that could be used to fulfil the capabilities (the “what” and “why”) in the Anatomy of Excellent Development. Which ones are selected depends on the needs and abilities in each specific context.

Examples of specific practices and tools that can help realise the wanted capabilities in the anatomy of excellent development. Illustration: Erik Schön

This approach has been used in very large product development organisations since 2006.

Maturity Mapping

A Maturity Map is a context-specific maturity model based on a Wardley Map informed by Cynefin. The purpose is to assess the capabilities of a team or an organisation in a way that reflects the context and provides guidance for improvements that can be selected dependent on that context.

What we are mapping is practice and the evolution of practice — Novel, Emergent, Good and Best:

  • Novel — this is new to us, it’s not well understood by anyone in the team or the organisation
  • Emerging — we are trying this out, it’s something we can begin to explain to each other
  • Good — we are getting to grips with this, we know there is room for improvement and can improve it in our context
  • Best — we’ve nailed it. It’s a practice we’ve established in the team and might not even mention it in a retrospective

In the Maturity Map example below, the context-specific mission (anchor) is to develop an online service for finding the right home. The Maturity Map reflects how we as a team go about satisfying that customer's need.

Example of Maturity Mapping for a team building a service to find a new home. Illustration: Chris McDermott

Assuming the organisation uses both context-specific Maturity Mapping and context-independent doctrine, the results of Maturity Mapping can be compared with the current doctrine to see if they are coherent. Hence, Maturity Mapping can inform new, revised doctrine — thus challenging current doctrine in a friendly way!

How Can We Visualise Doctrine?

Wardley’s doctrine can be categorised, phased, and, be visualised for assessment purposes using colour coding. What other means could we use for visualising doctrine?

Wardley’s Doctrine

The table below lists several principles for successful operation classified into six categories based on Simon Wardley’s experiences over the past 20+ years:

  • methods of communication
  • the mechanics of development or building things.
  • the operation of an organisation
  • how we structure ourselves
  • how we learn
  • how we lead

Doctrine is not to be taken as dogma — a rigid, formulaic theory that is not evolving. Instead, doctrine is to be challenged in a friendly based on new experiences and insights. It is possible and even encouraged for a team or an organisation to evolve its doctrine — inspired by skilled and experienced product development leaders like Simon Wardley (swardley), Don Reinertsen, Marty Cagan and Bob Marshall.

Wardley’s Doctrine. Illustration: swardley (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Phasing Wardley’s Doctrine

A visualisation of phasing of Wardley’s doctrine was recently suggested by Steve Purkis, the phases being the recommended order in which to implement the principles in the different categories:

Phase I: Stop Self Harm

Phase II: Becoming More Context Aware

Phase III: Better for Less

Phase IV: Continuously Evolving

Phasing of Wardley’s doctrine. Illustration: swardley and Steve Purkis (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Assessment Using Wardley’s Doctrine: Colour Coding Visualisation

Here are examples of assessments of two organisations concerning doctrine where the colour coding visually shows us that the first organisation needs to improve its doctrine significantly to compete with the second organisation.

Example of assessment of an organisation w.r.t. doctrine for a financial services company. Illustration: swardley (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Another example of assessment of an organization w.r.t. doctrine for a web engineering giant. Illustration: swardley (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Experiment: Visualising Wardley’s Doctrine

In the spirit of challenging your assumptions and challenging doctrine, here’s an experiment for visualising Wardley’s doctrine in complementary ways.

Below is a value chain for the communication part of Wardley’s doctrine. Note the similarities with an Anatomy of Excellent Development above.

Value chain of the communication part of Wardley’s doctrine. Illustration: Erik Schön

Here’s a Wardley Map for the communication part of Wardley’s context-independent doctrine. Note the similarities with a context-dependent Maturity Map. Also, note the experimental labels on the evolution axis which are based on experiences from assessments using the anatomy of excellent development above. When Wardley Mapping practices, we would normally use Novel, Emergent, Good (in context), Best (in context).

Wardley Map of the communication part of Wardley’s doctrine. Illustration: Erik Schön

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this way of visualising Wardley’s doctrine or context-independent doctrine in general — how would this visualisation be valuable? How could it be improved further? Let’s continue the conversation using Medium’s “Responses” function below or on Twitter.


  1. Strategy can help your team or organisation to be more certain to succeed in a world where the rate of change will never be slower than today — although there are no such things as a guarantee ;-)
  2. Just as maps are valuable in visualising the geographical landscape and guiding choices of paths on our journey, Wardley Maps are valuable for visualising business and technology evolution and guiding our strategic choices and gameplays.
  3. Wardley Mapping helps you make implicit assumptions explicit on the map, thereby making it easier to challenge them in a friendly way.
  4. Always start with assessing your own and your competitors’ doctrine and capabilities before making strategic choices and gameplays.
  5. Doctrine is universally useful principles guiding ways of operating, organising and communicating that can be applied regardless of context.
  6. Doctrine is never right, it has proven to be consistently useful and valuable for the time being. There will always be better doctrine in the future. Therefore, challenge doctrine in a friendly way to avoid it becomes dogma, e.g. by using context-dependent methods like Maturity Mapping, and, by curiously investigating different doctrines.
  7. Assessment of doctrine is traditionally visualised by colour coding the principles in a table.
  8. The experiment in this article shows a complementary way of visualising the assessment of doctrine by mapping it in a Wardley Map, thus challenging — in a friendly way — the current orthodoxy.

Curious Questions

Let’s continue the conversation using Medium’s “Responses” below or on Twitter, e.g. around the following questions:

  • What does your team’s or your organisation’s doctrine for guiding how you work, organise and communicate look like?
  • What part of your team or your organisation’s doctrine would you like to challenge in a friendly way?
  • Would you be willing to try Wardley Mapping your doctrine?

For Further Inspiration and Learning

This write-up is based on my session at the Map Camp Germany online event, on July 29, 2020: Doctrine or Dogma — Challenge Your Assumptions in a Friendly Way (video, slide deck)

You can find my work on leadership, strategy and Lean/Agile, e.g. the books The Art of Change, The Art of Strategy and The Art of Leadership, at Yokoso Press, Medium, SlideShare and YouTube.

Additional articles, books, presentations and videos for further inspiration and learning are listed below.


Duka & Hribar: Anatomy of Excellent Development
McDermott (Chris McDermott): Maturity Mapping
Richards: Boyd’s OODA Loop, pp. 142–165 in Necesse, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2020
Schön (Erik Schön): Strategy in Action
Wardley (swardley): An Introduction to Wardley Mapping


Cagan: Inspired — How To Create Tech Products Customers Love
Marshall (Bob Marshall): Product Aikido — The Exemplar Doctrine
Reinertsen: Principles of Product Development Flow
Schön (Erik Schön): The Art of Leadership — Purpose and Integrity for Sustainable Success
Schön (Erik Schön): The Art of Strategy — Steps Towards Business Agility
Taxén: The System Anatomy — Enabling Agile Project Management
Wardley (swardley): Wardley Maps


Sandahl: What is a System Anatomy?


Borchardt (sue borchardt): Getting Strategic on Peace and Justice
Boyd: On Doctrine
Burgauer (Marc Burgauer): Mapping Your Maturity
Lamb: Investing in Innovation
Schön (Erik Schön): Doctrine or Dogma?
Schön (Erik Schön): The Art of Strategy — Steps Towards Business Agility
Wardley (swardley): Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones


Holger Gelhausen and John Grant for inviting me to talk about Wardley Mapping in business at the Map Camp Germany online event.

Leslie Macpherson, Hendrik Esser and Marc Burgauer for helpful feedback on earlier versions of this article.

Simon Wardley (swardley), Bob Marshall, Chris McDermott, Marc Burgauer, Gordon McMahon, Åke Sundelin, Jonas Wigander, Inga Lill Holmqvist, Lars-Ola Damm and Hendrik Esser for inspiration around strategy, doctrine, Wardley Mapping, Maturity Mapping, capability mapping, system anatomies and anatomies of excellent development.

Björn Tikkanen, Henrik Kniberg and Jonas Boegård for encouragements to write things up.

This is provided as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the author, Erik Schön.



Erik Schön
The Startup

From hacker, software researcher, system engineer to leader, executive, strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfChange #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy