What Is Impact Mapping?
Impact mapping combines mind mapping and strategic planning to help a team explore what behaviors they should try to influence in order to reach a particular objective. Teams use impact maps to discuss assumptions, align with organizational objectives, and develop greater focus in their projects by delivering only the things that lead directly to achieving organizational objectives. This also reduces extraneous activities.
Impact mapping structures conversations around four key questions:
- Why are we doing this? The answer to this question is the goal that the project is trying to accomplish as measured by an objective.
- Who can bring the organization closer to this objective, or conversely who may prevent us from reaching the objective? The answer to this question identifies the actors who can have some impact on the outcome.
- How should our actors’ behavior change? The answers generate the impacts you’re trying to create.
- What can the organization (specifically the product team) do to support the desired impacts? The answer to this question identifies the deliverables, which will typically be software features and organizational activities.
Impact Mapping – An Example
Below is an example impact map for Deep Thought Academy, a private school described in Chapter 10 of Beyond Requirements.
Deep Thought Academy is a small, nonprofit, private school that enrolls children from preschool through eighth grade and boasts small class sizes that allow personalized instruction for all students.
When the school moved into its current leased facility, the school board at the time decided to expand the school by enrolling two classes per grade. (Up to that point there was only one class per grade, with an average of 15 students per class.) They started with kindergarten, and as that class proceeded through the elementary years, a second class was added to each grade.
This progression worked fairly well for a few years, but the school was finding it difficult to find enough students to fill the second class.
The school board could use an impact map like the one shown to identify potential actions to get to their desired enrollment numbers.
When to Use Impact Mapping
Impact mapping does not work in every situation. If you use the Context Leadership Model to analyze your products and initiatives, impact mapping is a good technique to use in the colt and bull quadrants, especially if there is uncertainty from the business perspective.
Gojko Adzic, Ingrid Domingues, and Johan Berndtsson wrote an article on InfoQ titled “Getting the Most Out of Impact Mapping” that describes four different contexts where impact maps can be useful. These contexts are based on two key factors: the consequences of being wrong (making the wrong decision) and the ability to make investments.
Most of the time when I have used impact mapping for IT projects, it has been in the iterate context. In these projects, we would create an impact map to identify potential deliverables, identify the deliverable we wanted to try first, deliver it, then check the resulting impact on behaviors, and more importantly on the objective, to see if the deliverable had the desired effect.
Contexts for Impact Mapping
Good ability to make investments and limited consequences of being wrong
An example is an initiative to change an existing internal product where small changes can be deployed to users incrementally.
In this context, your team can use impact maps to visualize assumptions, define desired business impacts, and explore user needs. Your team can use the immediate feedback from use of the solution to prove or disprove ideas quickly. You’ll find yourself starting with an initial impact map, delivering an item from that map, then evolving the map based on the result, potentially delivering another deliverable from the map.
You’ll want to take some initial time to define the desired impact, and then explore different solutions with small and directed impact maps that help design and evaluate deliverables against desired outcome.
Poor ability to make investments and limited consequences of being wrong.
An example is an organization that has several decision makers competing for limited resources.
In this context, you can use an impact map to drive stakeholder alignment and aid prioritization. You gather your stakeholders around an impact map to discuss the various deliverables that will help achieve a specific outcome and determine which ones will play the biggest part. In this case, multiple deliverables from the impact map can be delivered at the same time, and you aren’t as concerned about the impact of any one particular deliverable. The impact map can be a big-picture view in these cases.
You’ll want to detail the user needs analysis in order to make more directed decisions, and to drive prioritization for longer pieces of work. Usually only parts of maps end up being delivered.
This is the context that occurs the most in internal products.You try to get multiple stakeholders to agree on priorities.
Gojko Adzic described how he has handled that situation in an email exchange:
People pretty much know what they want (a transaction accounting system doesn’t need a lot of discovery, the domain is pretty clear to everyone), but there are too many things on the list and stakeholders need to align to agree on the priorities that will actually give the organization something big rather than a stream of stories.
In cases such as that, I’ve used impact maps to paint the big picture and get the stakeholders and tech leaders to agree on the key priorities related to impacts, where the work is then divided among several teams. Multiple things can get delivered at the same time, and teams don’t rely that much on measurement of impacts to decide what to do next (I still recommend measuring it to ensure that the thing was complete, but it’s not the driving factor as in the iterate part of the quadrant, because there is more certainty on internal effects).
Good ability to make investments and serious consequences of being wrong
An example is an organization that has budget available, but its customers and users can’t accept changes quickly, or the organization is working in a heavily regulated industry.
In this context, you can use impact maps to discover opportunities, identify options, and compare solutions. You’ll want to explore a variety of options through research with your users before deciding on your solution. Impact maps can help drive this experimentation and determine which solution is most closely aligned to the desired outcome.
You can explore different product options and user needs in multiple impact maps.
Poor ability to make investments and serious consequences of being wrong
An example is an organization that is looking to produce innovation products or has initiatives with huge financial risk, but a small budget or an onerous funding process.
In this context, you can use impact maps to help guide your research efforts. The impact map helps you to visualize your assumptions and identify what research will best support your product development efforts. Your initial impact map will describe your initial hypothesis, and you will add further details as you conduct user studies and user testing.
Why Use Impact Mapping
Impact mapping offers several advantages when used in the proper context:
It reduces waste.
Teams using impact mapping properly and in the proper context will deliver one deliverable at a time and measure the impact of that delivery on the objective. If they meet the objective, they can stop work on that project, satisfying their stakeholders’ need with a minimum of new code.
It provides focus.
Deliverables are selected based on how they contribute to behaviors that will enable the organization to meet its objective.
It increases collaboration.
The discussions that occur while the impact map is created can be very helpful for surfacing assumptions and establishing a sequence for the actions to take in the project.
It verifies that the team is building the right thing.
Using impact mapping helps teams ensure that they are focusing on the right outcomes. Teams are also provided with a mechanism to discuss and test their assumptions.
How to Use Impact Mapping
- Get the team and stakeholders together.
- Identify the objective (why).
- Think about people whose behavior can help the organization get closer to the goal, or people whose behavior will move the organization farther away from the goal (actors—who).
- For all the actors you identified, think about what behaviors you want them to start, or change, to help your organization get closer to the objective, or behaviors that are preventing your organization from getting closer to those objectives (impacts).
- For each behavior, identify possible things that the organization can deliver to help drive changes in those behaviors (deliverables).
- Decide which deliverable to deliver first to gauge its impact on the targeted objective.
Caveats and Considerations
Although the second branch is described as exploring a “how” question, the “how” is focused on how you would like your actors’ behavior to change, not how to deliver a particular piece of functionality. I find it better to refer to this as the impacts rather than “how,” to reinforce the idea that it is focused on behavior.
The third branch, deliverables, is the first mention of IT. The goal is to focus on behavior change first and then explore ways we can support that behavior change.
Just because you identified a lot of different options does not mean you should enact all of them. You want to reach the stated objective, but do it with the least amount of work possible, so once your team has diverged on a list of options, they should then converge on what they believe to be the best first option.
If your project has multiple objectives, do an impact map for each objective.
Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects
Software is everywhere today, but countless software products and projects die a slow death without ever making any impact. The result is a tremendous amount of time and money wasted due to wrong assumptions, lack of focus, poor communication of objectives, lack of understanding and misalignment with overall goals.
There has to be a better way to deliver!
Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects By Gojko Adzic is a practical guide to impact mapping, a simple yet incredibly effective method for collaborative strategic planning that helps organisations make an impact with software.
Impact mapping helps to create better plans and roadmaps that ensure alignment of business and delivery, and are easily adaptable to change.
Impact mapping fits nicely into several current trends in software product management and release planning, including goal-oriented requirements engineering, frequent iterative delivery, agile and lean software methods, lean startup product development cycles, and design thinking.
The links to purchase Impact Mapping from Bookshop.org are affiliate links. When you purchase a copy of Impact Mapping via these links you’re also making it possible for me to continue to send these weekly emails. You’re also helping to support local bookstores. Thanks for your support!
You can order the ebook from Amazon. Note that this is also an affiliate link, but buying the ebook won’t support local bookstores, but will still help KBP.Media.
Thanks for your support!
Impact Mapping Website
Gojko Adzic put together ImpactMapping.org to introduce the impact mapping technique and provide links to a wide range of resources. Go to the website for an overview of the resources available to learn more about the technique.
Take a look at the following resources to get some more specific information.
Product Discovery and Impact Mapping Technique
Product Discovery helps an organization to see whether its planned features or additions to the product are in alignment with the overall company goals or not. Parth Amin explains how to use Impact Mapping as a part of product discovery to identify the features that do not add to a goal and that you don’t need to do.
Impact Mapping – a cheatsheet
Tom Donohue put together this impact mapping cheatsheet which you can use as a reminder, or help you run an impact mapping session.
My Key Takeaways From Impact Mapping
Saeb Amini received the Impact Mapping book as a gift from his company, Telstra Purple. Saeb it a great and easy read while being full of gems. A lot of the concepts resonated with him, especially because he already knew about the concept, but he still picked up a few ideas. Here are the golden nuggets he wrote down as he was reading the book.
The folks from ProductPlan explain that Impact Mapping is a graphic strategy planning method to decide which features to build into a product. As it begins with the intended goal and extends out from there, all identified features have a direct impact on achieving that goal and a clear rationale for how they will do so.
Getting the most out of impact mapping
Ingrid Domingues, Johan Berndtsson and Gojko Adzic compare the various approaches and community feedback and investigate how to get the most out of iImpact mapping in different contexts. The conclusion was that there are two key factors to consider for software delivery using impact maps, and recognising the right context is crucial to get the most out of the method. The two important dimensions are the consequences of being wrong (making the wrong product management decisions) and the ability to make investments.
Lead an agile transformation with Impact mapping
Let’s imagine that the top level of your organization has decided to go on an Agile transformation and is relying on your expertise to lead it. But you don’t even know where to start. According to Cédric Tamavond and Yoan Thirion that’s where impact mapping comes in handy.
Requirements Elicitation Using Impact Mapping
Since impact maps focus on the delivery of business value, the folks at Satalyst felt that impact mapping created a great platform for requirements elicitation by helping to focus the thought processes of stakeholders on the value they would like to see as the product or project outcome. This in turn provides guidance towards what needs to be changed, stopped, started or implemented to get to the desired value outcome, thereby presenting the high level requirements of your customer.
How to Use Impact Mapping to Elicit Insights and Create Value in Early Discovery Conversations
A method called Impact Mapping is gaining traction in software development. It helps teams make better decisions. But impact mapping can also be used to generate valuable ideas before anything is built – during the discovery phase. In a fierce market, being able to elicit such insights when selling can be critical for winning over a prospect. Jakob Persson describes how it works.
Impact Mapping: How to focus on outcomes in product management
Aligning work around outcomes instead of just chasing the next feature idea is one of those things that product teams often want to nail, but rarely get right. It’s because most frameworks product teams use prioritize tangible rock-solid features over hard-to-measure effects.
Just look at how obsessed some Scrum teams are with the number of user stories they can squeeze into a sprint, their velocity, or the number of pre-defined feature ideas they have to “refine” through what Tim Herbig likes to call “Alibi Product Discovery.”
But all this talk about a mythical unicorn called “outcomes” won’t help teams break the wheel. Instead, they need to be able to connect individual features to behaviors worth changing and metrics that matter for the business.
Tim describes how Impact Mapping can help you connect individual features to behaviors worth changing.
Product strategy – Impact mapping in practice
Whether you’re extending a big project or you’re on your way refining your startup’s MVP, it’s always a challenge to prioritise the features truly worth the investment. How do you create a viable product strategy? Can you keep things relevant, yet simple enough to understand and adapt along the way?
Alexandru Bolboaca found that Impact mapping is a useful technique to get on the right track to building a product roadmap. Easy to be applied, the Impact mapping it’s definitely worth a try by your team. Alexandru provides a quick intro to impact mapping, along with a couple of examples of using the technique.