A Simple Systems Mapping Technique

Our Censemaking Methods Series continues with a focus on helping your visual thinking practice by introducing the simple Sketchnote and how it can help transform your team’s understanding of systems.

Diagrams have a unique way of breaking down the complexity of systems, don’t they? Imagine a tool that lets everyone see and understand a concept from the same viewpoint. Sounds exciting, but is it possible without a lot of training?

When we try to map out a product or service ecosystem, it might sometimes feel like a maze. After all, there’s an entire realm of practice dedicated to systemic design. From synthesis mapping to service design canvases, we have numerous methods at our disposal to navigate through system intricacies and identify potential pitfalls, breakthroughs, and golden opportunities.

Yet, there’s a catch. Many of these techniques need a long runway in terms of training. And let’s face it, in fast-paced sectors like healthcare, it’s tough to pause and dive deep into methods that demand significant learning.

Enter the solution: the System Sketch Map.

Your Quick Guide to Sketch Mapping

Think of a sketch map as your on-the-go visual tool. It doesn’t matter if you’re using simple arrows and blocks, doodling stick figures, or creating intricate illustrations. The beauty of sketch mapping is in its immediacy. No more fretting over being an artist or mastering a new technique. A sigh of relief for those of us who often say, “But I can’t draw!”

Here’s how to dive in:

  1. Start Simple: Just draw your system. That’s your only instruction. Don’t focus on visual conventions (boxes and arrows, icons, etc..) or making something beautiful, it just has to be coherent.
  2. Choose Your Tools: Whether it’s colorful pens, sticky notes, or crayons, pick what’s comfortable and handy. Ideally, go for large canvases like newsprint or whiteboards to encourage group involvement.
  3. All Hands on Deck: Group participation is the heart of this exercise. Aim for 4-6 people per group.
  4. Time-Box It: Typically, a 30-50 minute window will work.
  5. Act More, Think Less: This isn’t about perfection. Aim for clarity and coherence over precision. Let the ideas flow!
  6. Flexibility is Key: Remember, there’s no right or wrong. It’s all about individual perception.

What comes out of this process? A vibrant map that speaks volumes about how participants perceive the system. Post-drawing, it’s enlightening to discuss and understand why certain elements are placed, sized, or colored a certain way. This collective reflection helps us understand symbolic choices and representations without any undue influence.

In essence, what you see is the unfiltered reality of how people perceive a system (whether that’s a network, an organization, or a set of roles).

The power of sketch mapping lies in its simplicity. Within a couple of hours, you can unearth profound insights into the system’s underlying assumptions, connections, and key elements, all without stretching your resources.

Curious about sketch mapping or looking for insights on innovation techniques? Reach out! I’m always eager to chat and support you on your journey to learning design and change-making. Want more? Get tips, techniques and tools delivered right to your inbox by subscribing to The Design Loft newsletter. A tip sheet and training program all rolled into one.

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