I’m really enjoying Challenge Mapping

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken every opportunity to play with Challenge Mapping and I’m really enjoying it. I even sneaked it into my ‘Outcomes all the way down’ webinar appearance the other week!

For the uninitiated (and also for the seemingly many who have seen it without knowing it by name), it’s a great way to generate those How might we…? (HMW) questions often associated now with the Design Sprint movement. Challenge Mapping and HMW have a much longer history than that however, and I’ve included some references in the page for the Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes (IdOO) pattern.

One of Challenge Mapping’s pioneers was Min Basadur, and here from him is a tweet showing some example output:

How Challenge Mapping works, very briefly: From an initial, anchoring challenge – something we’d like to achieve or solve – variations on these two questions:

  1. Why is this important?
  2. What’s stopping us? 

Answers can be re-framed in HMW form as required.

Visually, the Why and What questions respectively take us up and down. As well as that vertical axis – typically showing increasing levels of abstraction going up – “Why else..” and “What else…” allow for some sideways expansion also.

Try it! Here’s a little example suggested by my Challenge Mapping buddy Andreas Wittler:

  • Assuming for the purposes of this exercise that any legal barriers are now behind us, start by naming a key challenge (work-related or otherwise) around returning from lockdown.
  • Why is this important?
  • And perhaps: Why is that important?
  • What stops us?
  • Why is that important?
  • What else stops us?
  • etc
  • Note down your answers and after you have finished, try reframing them HMW-style

My first opportunity to experiment came about a few weeks ago thanks to our weekly Agendashift #community Zoom (named after the #community channel in the Agendashift Slack). In a hastily-arranged practice session with Andreas, we tried Challenge Mapping as a simpler, 2-question alternative to 15-minute FOTO, Agendashift’s Clean Language-inspired coaching game and our go-to tool for generating outcomes. We then trialled it as the opening exercise for a Strategic Mapping with Outcomes workshop.

It was a very interesting trial and let me say a big thank you to all my workshop participants! It borderline failed but with some great learning: it was more involved than I wanted for a kick-off exercise and it requires some extra work to generate outcomes, but still it does the job it was designed to do extremely well. We now use it not as a FOTO alternative (whew!) but either side of it in these two places:

  1. To explore the vicinity of an obstacle, adding some extra depth to the first O of the abovementioned IdOO pattern
  2. To refamiliarise ourselves with an outcome – IdOO’s second O – as we begin to action it – moving into ideation, solutionising etc

Its next outing comes as soon as this Thursday, where we’ll be using it for the second of those two purposes. The Probe! workshop is a short (2-hour), standalone version of the our longer workshops’ Elaboration, with some fun new material borrowed from Impact! and Wholehearted:OKR. Join us if you can!

Upcoming workshops

With yours truly unless otherwise indicated:

And for the latest, check the Agendashift events calendar.


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