ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Success Mapping


Published: 02 Dec 2015 Updated: 11 Apr 2022 Update History

Exclusive content
Access to our exclusive resources is for specific groups of students and members.

Systematically discuss how you will achieve your strategic objectives


Figure 1. An example of a Success Map

Success Mapping is a process used with executives to clarify the aims of the organisation. It can be used for a business, a department or a function. I will start by describing what a Success Map is and then proceed to talk about the process of Success Mapping.

A Success Map is very similar to a Strategy Map in that it contains a set of linked objectives that describe what the organisation is trying to achieve. In Success Maps, the links between objectives describe how the organisation works (see figure 1).

Background to Success Mapping

Success Mapping has its origins in soft systems methodologies, but the first real success maps were described as “mental models” by Eccles & Pyburn in 1992. We have developed this approach to Success Mapping at Cranfield over the last 15 years and used it across a wide range of companies and organisations in both the private and public sector.

In developing a strategy you need to know why something is important, what is to be delivered and how this is to be achieved. As a result, Success Mapping starts by asking what? is to be achieved and how? this is to be achieved. Once this basic structure is in place, this needs to be tested, bottom up, by asking why? This is explained next.

Success Mapping Practice

Figure 2, A "what/how" example

The what/how approach is a simple technique for translating a top level business goal into the series of sub objectives necessary to achieve this goal.

The process is to develop a structured set of business objectives during a series of facilitated workshops involving the management team. The job of the facilitator is to encourage debate between the senior managers around the core objective of the organisation. Once this has been agreed, the facilitator steers the debate from 'what is to be achieved' to 'how this should be achieved'.

For example, a company wishes to increase its financial returns. Having agreed the 'what', the debate moves on to 'how' this should be achieved. The management team see two main methods - growing revenues and reducing costs. After debating the exact meaning of these concepts for their business, these two become the main 'hows' for implementing the strategy (see figure 2).

The question now turns to how the revenue will be increased and how costs will be cut. The 'hows' for increasing returns now become the 'whats' for the next level down. The facilitator could say 'what we are trying to achieve is an increase in revenue, how are we going to achieve this?'

Once the basic structure has been put in place, the Success Map should be tested bottom up by asking “Why?” The reason for doing something at the lower level should be answered by the objective in the level above. If it isn’t the case then there is something wrong with the logic and that needs to be looked at further.

This approach may seem almost too simple. In reality, most executives have in their heads a form of mental model of how they think the organisation works. They think they know which levers to pull to change things. This may be true, but in reality each executive has their own model and each mental model is different because these models haven’t been shared. By conducting a Success Mapping process these mental models are exposed, shared, discussed and debated.

This process gets messy as there will be competing views of what is to be achieved and how. The place to start is by capturing these different views and creating a messy Success Map that contains all the things that can be done to deliver the goals of the organisation. In subsequent workshops, these different approaches need to be discussed and whittled down to the vital few that form the final Success Map. This process is actually determining the strategy of the organisation as key decisions are being made about what will be done and how. The process engages the management team in that discussion.

The final Success Map will encapsulate the management’s belief of how action at one level affect outcomes at the next level, drawing these beliefs into a cause and effect diagram.

One refinement

It is useful to create a Success Map from the organisation’s perspective, but this technique can be used to really understand other stakeholders. In the private sector, as a minimum I would recommend developing a Success Map from the customers’ perspective as well as the organisation and its owners. Doing this creates a real understanding of what customers’ wants and needs are, which can be synthesised into the final company Success Map.

In the public sector, I would suggest Success Mapping the requirements of each of the Key Stakeholders. I did this for the London Underground public private partnership and it created real insight into the competing requirements of the stakeholders and greatly help share learning across the team members involved.

Obviously, doing this is a step in the process of creating a single success map for the organisation and you will have to balance the time required against the expected benefits.

Benefits of Success Mapping

Success mapping has a number of benefits:

  • The process is as important as the Success Map that results from the workshops. The discussion and debate are absolutely key elements in this approach.
  • It is a simple process, but it does need someone to facilitate the discussion and debate.
  • Because the process is simple, the workshops engage line management in developing the strategy of the organisation.
  • The process will surface differing views of how the organisation operates and competes.
  • The final Success Map will be a synthesis of all the different mental models people have in their heads. It will be better than any individual’s model and will help share understanding.
  • The process creates commitment to implement the objectives captured by the Success Map.
  • The Success Map produced will represent on one page what the organisation is trying to achieve, why and how. It is a very effective for communicating “what success looks like” to the rest of the organisation.

Issues and pitfalls to be avoided

There are a number of issues to be aware of taking a Success Mapping approach:

  • Success Mapping is an inclusive approach and requires input from the team. This is difficult in some cultures and environments where people are either used to being told what to do or too readily defer to authority.
  • Success Mapping is a learning approach. That means, the map isn’t determined in advance of the workshops. This is uncomfortable for some chief executives who want to completely determine the strategy of the business.
  • The Success Mapping workshops have to be seen as the fora in which strategy is being made. If this is the case, the discussion and debate becomes very real to all those involved. This heightens involvement and improves the outcome.

However, if some members of the team think that decisions made in the workshop can be overturned later, the process will unravel.

  • Think carefully about who you involve and who is left out. Ideally, the whole team needs to be present. I have faced situations where the team want to leave an individual out, because they have an issue with that individual or the part of the organisation that individual leads. That kind of issue need to be resolved before the workshops start, but every member of the team should be there, have an opinion and a role to play.
  • Don’t give this to a staff team to do. This is for the leaders and line managers of the business as they have to own it and implement it. In my experience, staff teams will create a good map, but it won’t be understood or owned by the business. If you need staff involvement, let them help in the facilitation and project management.
  • There are occasions when team members don’t feel they are getting what they (or their part of the business) want from the process and you need to be aware if this starts to happen as it can become very disruptive to the process.


  • Andy Neely, Chris Adams & Mike Kennerley (2002), The performance prism, the scorecard for measuring and managing business success, FT Prentice Hall, London.
  • Mike Bourne and Pippa Bourne, (2007), Balanced Scorecard – Instant Manager, Hodder, London.
  • Mike Bourne and Pippa Bourne, (2011), Handbook of Managing Organisational Performance, John Wiley & Sons, London.

Research update

Since this article was published, further research has been carried out into Success Mapping

These articles and others are available below to logged-in ICAEW members and ACA students.

Latest research

Online articles

The Library provides access to leading business, finance and management journals. These journals are available to logged-in ICAEW members, ACA students and other entitled users subject to suppliers' terms of use. 

More support on business

Read our articles, eBooks, reports and guides on strategy, risk and innovation.

Strategy, risk and innovation hubeBooks on business strategy and planning
Can't find what you're looking for?

The ICAEW Library can give you the right information from trustworthy, professional sources that aren't freely available online. Contact us for expert help with your enquiries and research.

Changelog Anchor
  • Update History
    02 Dec 2015 (12: 00 AM GMT)
    First published
    11 Apr 2022 (12: 00 AM BST)
    Page updated with Latest research, adding related articles on strategy. These new resources provide insights, case studies and perspectives on this topic. Please note that the original article from 2015 has not undergone any review or updates.

Some of the content on this web page was provided by the Chartered Accountants’ Trust for Education and Research, a registered charity, which owns the library and operates it for ICAEW.