Maps and Paths

A brief twitter exchange triggered some thoughts about expectations and how those determine whether something is a good A, a passable B or a terrible C.

Paths

Turn by turn navigation in a mobile app
Turn by turn navigation in a mobile app

When you want to go somewhere and you do not know the way, you need directions. Somebody or something needs to show you the path to follow. That’s what turn by turn navigation on your mobile does. Following this path does not mean you got to know the area. You know one just one way to get from A to B know.

Maps

London Underground map from 1908
London Underground map from 1908

A map, on the other hand, provides an overview, context and alternatives but no immediate path.
Using a map means you have to actively engage with the information, see for yourself which roads cannot be taken (maybe you are in a huge truck and the small sideways with wood bridges are not going to work for you) and eventually plot your own path.

Both maps and paths, are related but are far from being the same.

A useful analogy

This analogy works not just for navigating transportation networks.

If your company wants to build an information system to do X then usually it will give the job to someone with a path to get there. It does not need to discuss all the alternative technologies or architectures. When X can be achieved reliably, in-time and on-budget, then that’s usually already a great outcome. Getting such a path (think project) is commodity shopping.

On the other hand, when you want to do new things or old things in a very different way than before, a path is not the answer to that. This is where you need to work with a map. You need different viewpoints and scenarios to walk through. This situation requires you to discover and create a path. You can buy help for this process but you cannot skip the work.

(You might notice, that product or service roadmaps are specifically not maps. They are usually paths with a decreasing level of certainty towards the end. They can provide a heads-up to what might be coming but they don’t show alternatives, contexts or overview.)

To avoid disappointment and frustration it is important to be clear about what you expect.

Are you asking questions in user forums to get a map? Do you want blog posts to give you a path from A to B? Do you want to discuss options and discover/create paths?

For the SAP Community Platform getting answers to such questions will be important to avoid further disappointments.

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