Wardley Mapping the GI Bill — With Limitations

Jordyn Fetter
5 min readFeb 16, 2023
Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash

In recent years, I’ve been extremely hesitant to seriously leverage tools like Wardley Mapping despite their usefulness in receptive environments.

Long story short, there are two camps in the sector I’m from — the design-oriented folks who look for every excuse to call for a workshop decked out with sticky notes and whiteboards, and those who balk at even a whiff of the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff they believe gets in the way of the ‘GSD’ attitude they hold so dear.

As with most things, sticking squarely to either extreme is a hindrance to both collaboration and tangible progress. And so I welcome this excuse to dive back into the debate.

I say this as a disclaimer and scene-setter for the reflection I’m writing next, with my biases, baggage, and all. I do hope there are some golden nuggets in here for anyone reading this, though I’m finding it personally beneficial just to write more regularly again. Sass, stream of consciousness, and all.

And with that, let’s reflect!

Surface and Create Conflict

With a name like “Wardley Mapping,” it’s not obvious what you’re getting into. At its most basic level, it’s a strategy tool named after the guy who created it — Simon Wardley — and, wouldn’t you guess, is derived from the military concept of topographical intelligence, incorporating visuals, context-specific mapping, and position of components relative to an anchor point.

All jest aside, this tool can be used both for communication and for thinking, with the creators explicitly noting that there’s no ‘right or wrong’ placement of items on the map. The magic is in the conversations and conflict that occur through the use of the tool.

“To create common ground, create explicit conflict.”

Ben Mosior of Hired Though

In simple terms — If your team is in a rut or facing communications challenges when launching or managing a product or service, this is a great facilitation tool that helps intervene at the point of selecting data that guides follow-on decision-making.

My GI Bill Woes

After waiting 2+ years in the Texas Air National Guard’s commissioning queue and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel before getting an offer to a magnificent MPA program, the last thing I wanted to do post-military service was brave another multiple-months-long-wait to do something that should be turned around in weeks.

Yet here we are, 7 months into university waiting on the Veterans Affairs Foreign School Approvals Team to review the program in order to approve or deny using GI Bill benefits to fund it.

To be fair, I’ve learned that it takes about this much time to get a driver’s license in many countries, so I should really chill with my complaints and channel them into…

✨A Wardley Map✨

Wardley Mapplingiling

I used Ben Mosior’s Wardley Mapping Canvas for this exercise to identify the purpose of the program, the scope of the map, users, user needs, and their place on the value chain before jumping to the full map.

Turns out this is a challenging exercise to do by yourself in a library, even when, as a user, you have more insight into the process than the average person (forgive the resultant Frankenstein map pictured above).

It was fairly straightforward to map the basic needs of the primary users — veterans needing a clear, simple process for receiving their benefits and accurate, up-to-date & easy-to-access information to make informed education and financial decisions.


Capabilities toward the visible end of the value chain were also fairly obvious — the website, school comparison tool, application form (VA Form 22 1995), and statement of benefits behind a central login.

The challenge became identifying the capabilities which enable those visible elements and where they all sit on the stage of evolution.

If the right stakeholders were in the room — meaning users (veterans) as well as VA administrators, VA IT folks, and educational institution administrators — we could quickly identify where form data is being housed, how it’s being accessed and by whom, and whether certain capabilities that were currently being custom-built were available as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products or replications of similar apps in other areas of the federal government.

The good news — A VA team using a Wardley Map to center around the question “What are we in the business of?” could lead to outcomes such as:

  • Identification of capability gaps that need to be filled.
  • Swapping custom-built capabilities for productized versions at a higher quality, yet a lower cost.
  • Consolidation and streamlining of duplicate capabilities being provided by other government departments.

Key Takeaways

  1. There are no right answers. Beware prioritizing following a template or process over the outcomes it’s intended to facilitate.
  2. This tool is best leveraged when diverse stakeholders with insider knowledge are present.
  3. Ask “What are we in the business of,” “What do we uniquely do?,” and “How evolved is the capability in question?” to determine where to allocate resources.
  4. User needs and tangible capabilities are two different, but closely related things. Don’t fall for the shiny objects and miss the core benefit.
  5. Stay attuned to team friction points and disagreements — That’s where the most growth and alignment potential lies.

All in all, this was a fun personal exercise that I’m interested in testing out in the wild. When tensions arise in the workplace on what to prioritize and what to buy v. build, this tool will very likely come in handy.

Thanks for reading!

This blog is in response to a prompt from a Digital Transformation course I’m taking at University College London’s Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose, led by David Eaves and Mike Bracken.



Jordyn Fetter

Yelling into the void 73% of the time. What about? Mostly national security, leadership, and bureaucracies. ⚡🛣️💽⚡ at Second Front. MPA 22/23 at UCL IIPP.