The process of shaping a product is a fascinating thing. All the strategies and product characteristics seem very clear, easy, and straightforward in your mind but, all of the sudden, the process quickly becomes more difficult and complex.
In this article, we’ll be addressing how to use impact maps to solve the initial decision-making process within minutes by adopting this practical approach. Enjoy and let us know in the comments section if you or somebody in your team have used impact maps [or similar techniques] and how it went.
Impact mapping is the method that helps you align the business big picture with your goals and what is truly necessary to build in order to achieve those goals and create a working strategy around it.
This strategic planning tool was created by Gojko Adzic, a software development author known for his contributions in the field. Impact maps were one of these great contributions to the Agile Methodology that now is widely used by Product, Innovation, and Business Managers around the world.
From a Dev point of view, impact mapping is the step that comes right before a Product Backlog.
Benefits of Impact Mapping
Prioritizing product features based on time, budget, user needs, business objectives, while keeping a good communication flow with technical teams can be challenging.
Impact mapping makes your team concentrate all the efforts into what is really important for the business and the user, it makes you ask the right questions in order to determine with precision what the development team needs to deliver to achieve the goals defined in the business plan.
Also, impact mapping:
- Sharpens strategic planning
- Aligns teams
- Clarifies product assumptions
- Enhances cross-functional collaboration
- Defines quality
- Makes road-mapping easier
In which part of the process is it a good idea to consider making an impact map?
- Before kicking off the project and right after you have set goals, budget, and user personas.
- During the product decision making processes
- When evaluating work impact on business goals
- During the planning of the next sprint
- If you are doubting the features defined as priorities are the right ones.
Who Can Use the Impact Mapping Technique?
Although impact maps were created as a contribution to the Agile Methodology, they’re often used in other units such as Business and Marketing.
One of the main focuses is to reunite important business, product, and development factors into one single chart that has the power to align teams and create a work strategy to address new priorities.
Therefore, this technique is used by Product Managers, Product Owners, Innovation leaders, Dev leaders, Chief Technology Officers (CTO), Chief Procurement Officers (CPO), Chief Marketing Officers (CMO), Chief Executive Officers (CEO).
Impact Mapping in Agile
Impact maps often have a very powerful effect when working under the agile methodology. These maps introduce a new feedback cycle on agile processes involving managers from other areas such as product, marketing, commercial, among other stakeholders in the highest level of the organization.
The maps offer an opportunity for the constant feedback and revision of the agile process, avoiding repeated sprints and delivering outputs that might have not been prioritized in the right way or that may have lost importance over time. Yes, we all want to complete the backlog but it is necessary to keep it aligned to the business vision, the goals, and the user needs.
Lacking a critical spirit and openness to receive feedback can lead to failure or, even worse, to invest resources in characteristics that weren’t relevant to the business.
Impact mapping allows you to escape that linear, flat trap of the agile process and keep up to date with priorities, even the ones that are not easy to see.
Impact Mapping Questions
The map is based on four essential questions:
- WHY: Why are we doing this?
- WHO: Who can help us achieve this goal?
- HOW: How do these actors affect the goals?
- WHAT: What can we deliver to achieve that?
Answering these questions in order will lead you to come up with clear and defined goals, justifications, methods, accountable people, and outputs. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into each of the questions:
1. WHY: Why are we doing this?
The impact map starts with the question that sets the base of all the work: Why? Although it sounds like the big idea of the business (and it is) it points to the goals we want to achieve.
Your goals should define the problem or specific requirements to be solved and are usually presented by the business component of the team or organization.
Outlining the business goals might take some work and some discussion, comparison, rewriting, and revisitation. Just remember to keep it simple and focus on a maximum of four goals per map. If you have one or two goals, that’s a win!
- Increase monthly sales
- Boost monthly product engagement rates
2. WHO: Who can help us achieve this goal?
In impact mapping the “who” is all about the actors. Actors are those who have a direct influence on the success of the business goals, this includes the product end-users and stakeholders such as decision-makers.
The key when defining the actors is to be specific and identify the top 3. For example, if you want to boost the product engagement of the app, are all of your end-users expected to engage with the new features, or is it just a segment? On the other hand, what are the departments of the organization that will be directly involved? What teams? These are important actors as well.
3. HOW: How do the actors affect the goals?
The “how” attempts to set the actors (question 2) from the perspective of the business goals (question 1): How can the actors help achieve the goals? From this question on, product and tech teams will be more involved in the answers.
Approach the solution thinking first on the direct actions that, displayed by these actors, will get you close to achieving the goals. Then, identify the indirect actions that might influence them, in case there are any that have a real, tangible impact.
A key to set your “how” in the right direction would be to understand what are the jobs your actors want to get done, instead of focusing on their ideas about how the software should be. Focus on the impacts that will help the actors get their jobs done instead of just delivering features.
4. WHAT: What can we deliver to achieve that?
At this stage of the impact map is when we focus on the deliverables: sections of the product, features, software. It’s here where we see the link between impact maps and the product backlog.
Many times, product and business teams start the mapping process being sure they have a “clear” idea of the “what”, only to discover in this stage that those ideas needed to be sharpened and aligned.
Breaking deliverables down into independent product chunks that provide a clear business impact to the goals that were defined in the “Why” stage of your impact mapping process can be very favorable. It also helps to filter out deliverables that don’t contribute as much as you had in mind.
In conclusion and from a business perspective, this process works perfectly bundled with other tools such as User Personas, Buyer Personas, Customer Journey Mapping, Roadmapping, and other similar ones.
Revisit your impact mapping. Measure, monitor, learn, and repeat the impact mapping session regularly.
When teams are clear about what and why each task is being carried out, the software is no longer developed for the simple matter of producing something or delivering something to the client; the software is developed to achieve real changes with a clear and verifiable impact.
Have you ever tried impact mapping in your organization?