What is an Impact Map?
An impact map is a visual diagram of a list of deliverables (features) that explains how they contribute to the main business goals of the organization.
The process of creating an impact map is best done in a workshop session with the senior technical stakeholders (including the product manager). This team of senior stakeholders should start with a blank whiteboard or piece of paper and then think creatively about how actors in the real world can engage in behavior that helps achieve these goals. Only then are features, and their contribution to helping the goal, considered.
The result is a diagram similar to that of a "mind map" that illustrates how each feature contributes (or not) to the overall goals of the business. This helps change the "shopping list" of features in the backlog to ones that have a clear link as to how they can help people engage in behaviors that the stakeholders care about.
An Impact Map Example
Examine the sample of a completed impact map:
There are 4 aspects to an impact map:
Goal - What is the desired business outcome that you want to achieve? In the example above, the client wishes to increase signups by 50% in the next six months.
Actors - Who are the people who can help you achieve this outcome? Could you partner with other companies? Can the existing userbase invite friends to sign up? Can someone pitch an article idea to a journalist as a way of increasing awareness?
Impacts - How can the actors help achieve the goal? What kind of actions can they perform? What kind of behavior change on their part would result in moving closer to achieving the goal? For example, existing users could share links on social media, send a discount code to a friend, or leave a positive review.
Deliverables - How can the tech team encourage the actors to change their behavior? What features can be built to enable these actors to carry out the changes? These features are referred to as deliverables.
Creating an Impact Map
Impact maps are best created by a team in a facilitated environment. A facilitator will increase your chances of success. Otherwise, the product manager facilitates the meeting on behalf of the participating senior stakeholders and decision-makers.
Begin with the highest priority goal that you want to achieve. Ask yourself the question, "Which actors can help us achieve this goal?"
The process of creating an impact map is a creative one so it's okay to make some slightly left-field suggestions when initially brainstorming which actors might be able to help achieve this goal. Team discussion should eventually align everyone towards a final set of actors.
During the discussion, it is natural to speak about how each actor can help - these are the "impacts" that each actor can make. For example, if you think that existing users can help achieve this goal, the question "how" might be answered by "inviting their friends, notifying friends of discounts, and sharing products or articles on social media."
When you think about an impact that an actor can make, it is often helpful to think about what behavior change you would like to see in these actors. It may be that existing users do not share content from your site on social media and you would like to encourage this behavior in the future.
In that case, you may want to look at the options you have to build a product or feature that would encourage a change in behavior. For example, if you want existing users to invite their friends to sign up, would it work to allow each user to curate a set of their favorite products into a storefront and pay them a commission for each product sold? Or would it be better to give the new user (the friend) a very generous discount on their first purchase? Would it help to give existing users a gift?
Don't simply take a list of features and start building them. Use an impact map to map out features that correspond with the desired behaviors of the actors. Do the deliverables have the impact you want?
Look at one of the deliverables above - for example, personalized stores.
You make the implicit assumption in your impact map that if you build this feature and make it available to existing users, then your existing users will use this feature and will invite their friends. When you look at the metrics in the days and weeks after the release of this feature, you should be looking to see if your assumption was correct - that existing users would interact with this feature and the number of users inviting their friends would increase.
Another assumption is that existing users who invite their friends make a significant contribution to the goal of an increased number of new signups. If you found that this was not the case - that lots of users were inviting their friends but the friends didn't sign up - then you may want to focus on other areas (impacts, actors) of the impact map.
If the desired impact had an influence on your goal, then it would be wise to focus even further on other initiatives where existing users can make an impact.
Impact maps provide a great way to host a workshop session where the participants are asked to think about the actual changes in behavior that they would like to see in the identified actors who can help achieve business goals.
This approach helps link the list of features in your backlog to how they can help customers and other actors engage in activities that are beneficial for your business.
You can also see the assumptions that you make when you build a feature - that it will have a certain impact and that this impact is something that contributes to the end goal. This enables you to see if your assumptions were correct after you build the features.
Impact mapping done in this way provides an intelligent way to brainstorm new features and illustrates one approach to prioritizing them.
Read the book on Impact Mapping by Gojko Adzic.
In the next chapter, we look at how to prioritize feature requests and examine five methodologies for prioritizing them. They will help you choose which elements to add to your roadmap.