What It 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 products 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 delivery 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 impact map
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 the uncertainty is 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The other context that occurs most frequently in internal product is align, where you try to get multiple stakeholders to agree on priorities. Gojko 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).
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 estab- lishing 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.
Adzic, Gojko. Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects. Provoking Thoughts, 2012.
How I Fell In Love with Impact Mapping by Em Campbell-Pretty
Want to know more?
If you learn better with video rather than reading, you may want to check out Analysis Techniques for Product Owners Live Lessons, a set of video training sessions that show you how to apply analysis techniques to product ownership. Lesson 5.1 focuses on impact mapping.
Analysis Techniques for Product Owners is available on Safari – O’Reilly’s online learning platform. Sign up for a 10-day free trial to view the video lessons.