Impact mapping is a visual mapping technique. Its purpose is to align the business and technical teams with objectives. It details how everyone understands the outcomes and the stakeholders of set goals. It focuses on users highest valued needs and how we deliver them. Finally, it enables decision making through a collaborative process.

When using impact mapping to improve products and services, we always start by understanding why? Why we are doing this? Without this understanding, we lack focus and have less ability to track the impact.

The Growth of Impact Mapping

Today, we’ve extended how Impact Mapping is used to gain further insights during the activity.

First, we set our target audience as the focal point of all discussions. This helps teams understand why and what will be the most impactful deliverables. Next, we align business goals to user needs and who the solution will be delivered to. Finally, we increase collaboration and communication between business units, and customers.

Ultimately, we focus on user needs while answering four major questions:

Why? (The intended purpose)
Who? (The actors)
How? (The impacts)
What? (The deliverables)

Discussing the Four Questions

Before asking these four questions, we suggest creating an agreement to always revisit “why are we doing this?” and “What is the purpose?” throughout the process.

To best address the four questions, form a cross functional team. Include key service and product designers, marketing creatives, consultants and business analysts. Also include existing users, clients or potential customers.

Collaboration is key, each of these people will bring a fresh perspective to the activity.

Start with creating assumptions. Then through discussions and discovery understand if these assumptions are true. Produce targeted goals and end-user deliverables aligned to the insights gathered.

Each of the four questions acts as a “mini-map”. It’s important to treat each as if there’s an end-goal of its own. Then collectively assess all four to ensure planned deliverables serve each quadrants end-goal.

The Why, or Goal

The “why” relates to the reason behind achieving the goal. It addresses why a business might do something for their intended customer and why those customers will care about it. Of the four questions, this is the one you’ll refer back to most often.

The Who, or Actors

In terms of “who,” teams take a wide variety of people into consideration. This ranges from employees, collaborators, customers and service users. As well as any interested parties who are either the focus of the deliverable or can push the project along.

Always keep in mind who the deliverable is intended for, as well as, who can help drive it forward. The key is to be specific, as broad definition can become bloated and unfocused.

The How, or Impacts

This question boils down to how we, as a team, can change certain behaviors and outcomes for the actors. It should provide detail as to the tangible improvements that will be delivered to the actor.

Also detail the flip-side where impacts could hinder an individual’s behavior. Some impacts will be competing, some conflicting, some complementary. All can help determine what to aim for, and what to avoid.

The What, or Deliverables

Normally, this question looks like “What can our team do to support a change in behavior?” The answer to this question brings about the deliverables which relate to impacts. These are options, and the outputs earlier on don’t need to be highly detailed. They should be improved as more details come to light. In other words, start with high-level deliverables. Then over time break down into high level features and further to low-level details items.

Keep in mind not all deliverables need to be created/actioned. Be open to using any other resources to help achieve the impact.

Two Types of Impact Maps

You can distinguish between two types of impact maps: the divergent and the convergent maps.

Divergent maps normally materialize at the beginning of the impact mapping process. Teams put all their ideas forward and identify the necessary elements. These include goals, actors, impacts, and deliverables. The maps grow and expand. After creating many possible goals, the team will decide on where to best focus their energies.

Convergent maps are the opposite of this process. As teams work on ideas, they narrow their focus to only goals that matter the most. Of course, minor goals are included and prioritised by how they support the major end-goal.

Tips for Successful Impact Mapping

Good impact mapping can incorporate other tools such as a lean change canvas and innovation. Activity examples include: User Stories, Measurable Objectives, and Adaptive Planning. These help goal prioritisation and actor “definition”.

It’s important to remember:

  1. Understand your users needs and goals first. Addressing these in the deliverables you create will produce far better outcomes. Goals shouldn’t be about building products, but how these products will delight your customers;
  2. Keep in mind the three types of actors: primary (their goals should be fulfilled), secondary (they provide various input), and off-stage actors (who observe).

In terms of priorities, you have to be very specific about what you need. Decide on the best impacts and most value deliverables. Don’t try to deliver everything to everyone. It’s all about the shortest, most effective way to achieve the goals.

Further Reading