“Teams are rarely limited by a lack of ideas, but rather the clarity in which they understand the problem they’re trying to solve together.”
Gathering feedback and new ideas is generally seen as good practice for all companies looking to improve their product or service. This information is gathered on the front lines by professionals who are highly knowledgeable in their particular field. Too often though, high impact feedback is not distinguished clearly enough from low impact feedback, and this can lead to a raft of issues when deciding on new features or fixes to work on. The problem is, professionals are not normally trained in how to think through an idea from start to finish in a pragmatic and impactful way. In this article, I will be diving into what impact mapping is and how it can be used to achieve maximum value and leverage from the feedback and ideas produced.
Impact mapping is summarised best on the Impactmapping.org website: “A strategic planning technique. Preventing organisations from getting lost while building products and delivering projects by clearly communicating assumptions, helping teams align their activities with overall business objectives, and making better roadmap decisions.”
Teams are rarely limited by the lack of ideas, but rather the clarity in which they understand the problem they’re trying to solve together. Like user story mapping, impact mapping is a technique that clarifies the “impacts” we’re trying to make before we begin developing solutions. One thing is certain – everything cannot possibly be built (and nor should it).
Although there are many similarities, impact mapping is more holistic and suited to both technical and non technical minds within an organisation. It encourages teams to provide clarity on the exact issue they are trying to solve and to think beyond what a new technical feature could do to fix it. It helps individuals and the team consider all of the possible ways in which the business might have an impact. What is often forgotten, is that with any new feature there are always deliverables outside of the technical implementation which need to be accounted for. For example, these could include new marketing materials, flows, landing pages, and business process changes, all of which can have a large and reverberating effect on the outcome of any project.
Even within a digital environment, it is common to still see a disconnect in knowledge and idea transfer between departments, making it vital to equip all the potential problem solvers in the chain with the right tools to communicate them clearly. Below, I have laid out how to run an impact mapping session aimed at a non technical group. Think about how this could be applied to your next brainstorming session.
How an impact map works
WHY: An impact map starts with a specific business goal, keeping in mind the S.M.A.R.T. criteria for a clear, concise description.
For example: 50% reduction in time between the end of a free trial and paid membership sign up.
WHO: The next step requires identifying the stakeholders or “actors”. This can require an in depth discussion, so to help you identify who is involved you can ask..
WHO can produce the desired effect?
WHO can obstruct it?
WHO are the users of our product?
WHO will be impacted by it?
For example: Account managers who need to check the genuinity of the businesses signing up, the finance team for manually validating payment methods, the marketing department for conversion flow management, and the new users themselves.
HOW: This step is about asking how our actors’ behaviour should change and what impact we hope will come from it.
HOW can they help us to achieve the goal?
HOW can they obstruct or prevent us from succeeding?
For example: The account managers should call new clients and walk them through their settings, the finance team should check new payment methods more frequently, and the marketing department should simplify the landing pages, emails and information required from the new user.
WHAT: Finally, what can we do as a team to support the needed impacts? We are trying to keep all options open, even in the final stage, as merely a simple change in process can achieve the same goal that a new feature can. On the map we call this section the “Deliverables”.
For example: Account managers will fill in non essential information, and finance will check new payment methods added to the system more than once per day. Marketing will test distractionless landing pages, and so on.
Your impact map should end up looking something like this:
Once you’ve completed a map, your options as a team become clear and this highlights where you can go from there. The deliverables can easily be split up further and turned into tasks to be put on the backlog.
In summary, impact mapping is a fast and effective way of aligning departments and experts on a common goal, while avoiding a clumsy solution first approach. Something as simple as a framework can change the productivity of an organisation. Check out sky scanner’s take on impact mapping and how it worked for them, or try an impact mapping session before you launch into your next project and see if it works for your team.