Metro Mapping

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

All Maps Are Wrong, Some Are Useful


The purposes of doing Metro Mapping are:

  • Communicate the scope & scale of the programme to senior stakeholders.

  • Create a common reference model that’s understood and adopted by everyone.

  • Prepare for a discussion on business services - impact, risk etc.

  • Introduce the concept of a change-wide 'Services' model.


The benefits of doing Metro Mapping are:

  • Rapid understanding of which aspects of the business will be involved in a change

  • A mutual understanding of through visual language for the change programme

  • Productive discussions in workshops and planning sessions

  • The basis for all business change discussions; risk, progress, priority, and cost.

  • As an aid in budget approval.


The London Tube Map

“The Tube map (aka London Underground Map or the TfL Services Map) is a schematic transport map of the lines, stations and services of the London Underground, known colloquially as "the Tube", hence the map's name. The first schematic Tube map was designed by Harry Beck in 1931”. As a schematic diagram, it does not show the geographic locations but rather the relative positions of the stations, lines, the stations' connective relations, and fare zones. The basic design concepts have been widely adopted for other such maps around the world, and for maps of other sorts of transport networks and even conceptual schematics”. - Wikipedia

“The result was an instantly clear and comprehensible chart that would become an essential guide to London - and a template for transport maps the world over. Beck's revolutionary design, with certain modifications and additions, survives to the present day and is set to serve London Underground and its millions of customers for many years to come.” - TFL

The development of Beck’s Tube Map from 1931 to today, exhibits Design Thinking Principles:

  • iteration,

  • experimentation,

  • inclusivity,

  • simplification,

  • continuous development,

  • innovation.

Beck’s maps work because they are simple yet covey a lot of information. They have been adopted globally and are now the standard reference for metro maps. They are, however, inaccurate; they cannot be used to understand distance, but they do show how trains lines and stations intersect.

A Schematic for Change Design

Like so many new and novel ideas Harry Beck’s Tube Map was at first rejected by his management. Still, he persuaded them to try it out in a small pamphlet. It was an immediate success with the public. The problem Beck solved wasn’t an engineering one, it was one for the travelling consumer. And it worked to one key principle; it must be immediately easy-to-use by anyone.

It struck me that it solved a similar problem with the models we Business or IT Architects often produced. These models are for engineers, by engineers - complicated and arcane. And, because such models are hard to change, we're often out-of-date. The value of such models questioned. Are only produced to follow an architectural method or framework? Using these models with a business audience doesn't help the architect's credibility. Are they out-of-touch with reality? What needed is something business-friendlier, something like Beck’s Tube Map.

My first experiment with Beck’s style schematic was to see if I could create an IT operating model. After a bit of noodling on a Whiteboard, I produced four ‘Lines’ and around twenty stations. Six stations were ‘interchanges’ that connect two or more lines. This gave a sense of close interaction or many perspectives on a service or service cluster. Value chain sequence was also implied by placing ‘Demand’ at the top, and ‘Supply’ at the bottom.

I worked with the CIO to further refine the model before he presented it to the Executive Board. It was to be as part of a business case to expand the IT team. After the meeting, he told me that it was the first time the Board had understood the scope of the services provided by the IT function. Needless-to-say, he got his budget approved.