USE EVOLUTION TO HELP YOUR TEAM

In this article, you will learn how to use the concept of Evolution to increase the efficiency of your team and your customer satisfaction.

WHAT IS WARDLEY MAPPING EVOLUTION?

Evolution is a core concept of Wardley Mapping that helps us evaluate the strength of the connection between our actions and desired outcomes. As the name implies, that strength is not fixed but changes in time. As we experiment, we gain confidence that we can meet our expectations through certain actions.

Evolution has four phases:

  • Phase I - make it work - where you try to build something for the first time, the connection between your actions and outcomes does not really exist. Think of building the first computer, the first internet connection or the first steam engine without any example nor prior knowledge of how to do that. It requires a lot of experimentation and brings interesting results which are, however, very difficult to use for any practical purpose. 

  • Phase II - make it deliver - in this phase you have a vision of the value you want to achieve. Prior knowledge hardly exist, you you need to take a few attempts to get things right; an example would be a first useful computer or a first working antibiotic.

  • Phase III - make it efficient - you know that getting certain outcomes is possible, and other people know it too. The focus shifts to doing it better, faster or cheaper than everyone else. The outcome does not change a lot, but the way of achieving it may. A car is a good example here.

  • Phase IV - make it ambient - everyone takes the outcome for granted. We do not pay attention to it unless it does not work. Using electricity, cloud or yearly car check up fit into this category.

This introduction is enough if you want to get the basic value out of the Evolution concept. However, as a matter of fact, the thinking beyond Evolution is much deeper, and you can discover it in Simon's book (available here).

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

We like things to be simple and that liking can manifest itself as an attempt to describe everything our team does with one phase label. Unfortunately, that is very misleading. Each of our actions can belong to a separate Evolution phase, and if we are not careful, we will fail to recognise the uncertainty in our projects because they typically consist of 80% of very predictable actions and about 20% of actions that bring unexpected results (Phases I & II). As you can imagine, the uncertain 20% generates unexpected costs and delays.

USING THE CONCEPT OF EVOLUTION 

If you are already familiar with the concept of Evolution, you can use it to describe your customer expectations and your product services.

When your customers expect Phase III but you are delivering II, it means that your delivery capabilities are not mature enough and you are solving times and times again a problem that should have been solved a long time ago. Or that you have promised something which is not currently doable and you are taking unnecessary risks. One way or another, you will underdeliver and your customer will grow dissatisfied and look for another vendor. 


If your process is more mature than customer expectations, it is good for you as long as you are the only provider with that process. Otherwise, you overcharge the customer and create a niche.

Look at the table below - you should be staying slightly ahead of your customers' expectations.

A Wardley Mapping Evolution Gap Identification Canvas

Figure 1: A canvas helping to identify the gap between your customers' expectations and your delivery capabilities. Two sample actions are already analysed there, too.

AN EXAMPLE

Imagine you are an online marketing agency that performs two basic activities:

  • creatively crafting the message

  • message production and distribution through social channels

Crafting the message is either Phase II (expensive and time-consuming, many attempts) or Phase III (larger agencies with well established creative processes or for simple products). The message distribution is likely in Phase IV (automated & predictable).

Now, it all depends on what customers expect. For example, if you assume your creative process is in Phase II, what can you promise to customers? Definitely, NOT a fixed price because you do not know how many iterations you will need to get the message right.

The situation gets even more bizarre if you discover things that everyone else has in Phase IV, but you are in I or II. That is a clear efficiency gap that you should close as soon as possible.

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Figure 2: A gap-analysis canvas with corrective actions.

Anyway, if you know what is your position, you can have a discussion about closing the gaps. Unfortunately, the specific actions you need to take depend a lot on the context, and are a combination of:

  • changing the pricing model, at least partially, to time&material for Phases I & II

  • replacing custom solutions with more mature external solution (f.e. custom blog software with Wordpress)

  • building predictable process around unpredictable things (we get the right marketing message within the first 3 attempts and we price accordingly)

GETTING STARTED

If you have read the article, you already know everything you need to use the concept in practice. You may download the Evolution Gap Template and include it in your workshop or retrospective session.

Or, you can hire a coach.