Defining strategies and priorities with Impact Mapping
How often, lost between features, specifications and other details, do we lose sight of the goals? This is how Impact Mapping can help up.
What is Impact Mapping
It is a collaborative planning technique, created for those teams who want to “make an impact” with their software.
The “Impact Map” represents the strategic vision to generate a particular outcome: we want to trace the possible impacts to be produced on every actor and/or role to obtain their contribution to the desired result. Every traced impact is associated with possible actions to be taken in order to trigger it.
You must think it is a very difficult thing to do. Actually, by following few simple tips, it reveals itself as an almost fun procedure, tidy and clear.
How to work on an Impact Map
We need to work on 4 levels:
Why ➝ Who ➝ How ➝ What
The key thing to keep in mind on the entire course is the Why: the Goal.
In this, Impact Mapping really works effectively.
For the teams it is often hard to fully understand this without overshadowing the outcome we are aiming for: to-do lists are usually filled out, without having a clear connection to the purpose for which they are created.
• Example of Impact Map for a music information site. Source: impactmapping.org.
So, building an Impact Map turns this perspective upside-down: it starts from the overall design, keeping the goal in the center, also visually speaking. The actions to be taken to achieve this could only start from here
Let’s do it together.
It is clear that the first step is to define the goal we want to achieve. We start from right here: we talk about the final goals, the desired outcomes, why it is important to pursue them and how we realize we have achieved success.
As you can see, the goal has to be clear and smart: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
The second step is aimed at persons, roles, professionals and users.
We associate to every goal those who can help achieve it, including those with seemingly marginal roles or within the organization.
We link all the identified actors to the goal, so they can give or receive an impact in the achievement of the goal.
For every actor we list how their impact can lead to the goal.
In this way, we create and evaluate a set of viable options taken from different perspectives, while the focus remains on the goals, not on the features.
This is what we call divergent thinking phase, you may have heard about it in design thinking: not every single identified impact must be pursued, rather from many options derive optimal choices and risk tolerance.
Finally, we relate potential actions to trigger the impacts we have previously listed: defining which steps could make us reach the goal.
This is the right moment to go into the operational details, always in the Impact Map picture that we are building, keeping in mind the fixed target we want to achieve!
Prioritizing should be easy as pie, the shared comprehension is more correctly built and there will be less chances to get lost in quibbles and minor details.
At this point, let’s get into it: planning is implemented and then updated, always from a data-driven angle.
As the plan is being implemented, we might find that some of our assumptions are not aligned with reality, some actions are not triggering the impact that we are expecting or a certain impact is not taking us the the planned goal.
How do we find out?
By conducting experiments on our deliverables and verifying how they work in relationship to the goal:
an Impact Map, like every plan, is based on our prerequisites, that have to be proved.
When assumptions are not confirmed, the Impact Map will be very useful: appropriate modifications to the original plan might be easily detected, if not even present already.
Why Impact Mapping
In 20tab we have been introducing this work technique for some time now, both when we start a project and in the various release steps and product enhancement. (We explain how we approach each project here!)
Building the Impact Map with our clients represents the strategic vision for the activities to do together, and it allows us to:
- align ourselves on the final goals of our actions, and keeping them at the center of our strategic choices;
- avoid to get lost in the details of the requested features, bringing into focus the reasons behind the requests and possible alternatives to be evaluated before getting to work;
- identify the priorities and emphasize the impacts and the actions that allow us to get closer to the results quickly and at a lower cost;
- building a shared knowledge of the project, thanks to the recap contained in the map.
Impact Mapping is essential for the product management’s needs, but I find it very useful in situations when a strategy and a plan of action need to be determined or adapted. In all those cases in which an obvious and simple answer does not exist.