6 Ways to Map Your Product Ecosystem for Expert Insights

I recently watched a wonderful film titled The Lost City of Z. Although the film is slightly depressing if you’re the wife (Sienna Miller) of the main character Percy, as he goes on many adventures alone.

In the first portion of The Lost City of Z, Percy gets commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) of England to lead a small mapping expedition to the north-western boundary of Bolivian which follows the Amazon river. Heavy survey gear was packed for trekking through the jungle and floating in the Amazonian frontier. The RGS knew the river existed and was a border of Bolivia. However, Percy and his team still need to survey the location of the river to document precisely where it flows and accurately draw maps on paper.

(Historical note: In real life, the expedition occurred because Bolivia sold rubber lands to Brazil, and Brazil, in turn, requested the RGS survey the lands.)

I find it interesting that mapping is not simply taking a known set of facts and putting them on paper. One has to go out and explore the terrain. One has to know where the lands characteristics truly are. Despite knowing there is a river one still has to explore it.

Making a Map is Exploring

How does mapping the Bolivian border apply to mapping products?

A map of product ecosystem map is a way to visualize and illustrate how various parts of your product are connected. Complex product ecosystems contain many abstract ideas that can be hard to point at and discuss. Creating a map provides teams and partners a shared understanding that they can reference.

When building a map it will be tempting to use memories and general concepts of a product to construct a product ecosystem map. Maps can be made this way but will lack accuracy.

A better starting point to map a product is to think about exploring a products ecosystem rather than only compiling your knowledge. In place of rivers, jungles, and boundaries products have software stacks, users, integrations, APIs, hardware, locations, and data. All the product elements represent land characteristics and become landmarks on the map.

Exploring is imperative to understand how a product’s characteristics are linked. And more over so that understanding can be shared, reviewed, iterated and challenged by others.

Mapping your product is an exploratory process. It’s about going into the unknown.

Ultimate Frameworks For Your Mapping Expedition

These mapping frameworks have a shared approach which includes initially guessing what is known then replacing all the guesses with facts when interacting with real customers, technologies, and challenges.

If you want to start mapping your product, business or ideas here is a list that will get you going:

1. Business Model Canvas

This is the mainstay in the land of start ups. It allows startups to map their business models. Business model canvas

2. Empathy Map

This mapping framework is used to create a shared understanding and empathy for people on a team. To deepen understanding of people’s observable experiences, thoughts and feelings (inside and outside of our minds). Empathy map

3. Customer Journey Map

This mapping framework illustrates the process and customers interactions that happen as a product is used. I don’t know who originated this idea as I’ve discovered various iterations.  Starting point for Customer Journey Map

4. Lean Canvas

This mapping framework can be seen as an iteration of the Business Model Canvas with a focus on Lean Startup and the problem-solving part of a business model. Lean canvas

5. User Story Map

This mapping framework is more about mapping how we should build something. It’s more a “how” map and less of a “what” map. User story map

6. Porter’s Five Forces Model:

This mapping framework is from Michael Porter the famed strategist. I first heard of the model when reading the Understanding Michael Porter. This map is different than the rest here as it’s more a map of what borders and influences your product or business, and less about the product its self. Starting point for Porter’s five forces

The Real INSIGHT of Product Maps

I’ve used all of these mapping frameworks at one point or another.

Utilizing these 6 models to map various parts of a product will likely yield new insight. The power of making maps is not just the output of having a map but the process of mapping. You have to explore to make your map complete! Exploration is what creates a deep understanding of a product and the ecosystem it resides in.

Related Post:
Mapping Automated Workflows To Mobilize Genius.


Also published on Medium.