Introducing Phase Line Mapping

TL;DR Phase Line Mapping is like Wardley Mapping, but at a smaller scale, the scale of projects or initiatives. Instead of the evolution axis, we have a phase line completion axis.

Phase Line Mapping attempts to bring topographical intelligence to project management, similarly as to how Wardley Mapping brought topographical intelligence to business strategy. Taking the classic tea shop Wardley Map, let’s assume we decided to replace the custom kettles we’re building with a supply of commodity kettles.

Wardley Map

Phase Line Mapping

A phase line is a synchronization mechanism that is similar to a milestone but different from a due date. It depicts changes in the phase of an operation without using dates, therefore, making it possible to coordinate without coupling to the calendar.

Phase Line Mapping retains the value chain scaffolding as the y-axis, in order to keep the project anchored to the outcome it is supposed to provide, while substituting phase line completion axis for the evolution axis:

Phase Line Map

We conduct vendor selection by trying out a few vendors (SuperKettles, HotKettle, and battery powered KettleGo):

We determined that HotKettle has the right stuff and select them as our vendor. We go through the purchasing process. Notice that we continue to use our custom kettles throughout:

We are hitting some snags with purchasing, but we’re almost there:

Purchasing complete, awaiting delivery:

New HotKettle kettles delivered:

We started our replacement in-place process and are now using HotKettles as well as custom kettles:

Our adoption of HotKettles is complete:

And at Wardley Mapping scale, we completed our transition to commodity:

Phase Line Mapping retains the required elements of a basic map. It is visualcontext specific, position has meaning, it is anchored in user needs, movement is present (across phase lines, instead of evolution), and it has components.

Phase Line Mapping has at least two of the three elements of an advanced map. It demonstrates flow between components and can represent different types of things. I am uncertain about what the project level climate looks like or if a stable climate exists. That remains to be seen.


I have made multiple attempts to share Wardley Mapping. Wardley Maps were intuitive and obvious to me (once I saw them), due to my life experience with topographical maps. However, my experience is not a shared context, and I found it difficult to communicate the value to someone who didn’t immediately “get it”.

The thinking with Phase Line Mapping is that many organizations are executing many projects and programs and are communicating progress in multiple custom ways. Phase Line Mapping is yet another (custom) way to demonstrate project progress across milestones. However, the hope here is to demonstrate mapping that is coherent with Wardley Mapping (same elements, things still move to the right), but where the feedback cycle is much quicker than your typical Wardley Map time scale. It can take years for things to move on a Wardley Map. By introducing a phase line axis, we can generate more feedback loops quicker while training people in Wardley Map intuitions.

My hope is that by being able to demonstrate Phase Line Mapping more broadly in projects, perhaps then, it will be easier to introduce a Wardley Map by saying: it’s like Phase Line Mapping, but at a larger scale, the scale of business. Instead of the phase line completion axis, we have an evolution axis.

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