Impact Mapping: Does it Make a Difference in Building Better Products?
What’s impact mapping? When do you need it and how does it help product managers build better products?
If you’re after the answers to these questions, we’ve got you covered!
Ready to dive in? Let’s get to it!
- Impact mapping is a collaborative strategic planning technique used by product managers, product owners, and senior technical leadership, who work mostly in Agile software delivery.
- An impact map is a visual representation of the connections between the goals you want to achieve, the customers, and solutions.
- While impact mapping focuses on the interdependencies between the three, a customer journey map is a step-by-step breakdown of the actions your customers need to complete to experience value.
- Impact mapping allows businesses to make sure their product strategy is aligned with business goals and that all stakeholders are on the same page.
- The tool also helps assess the impact of each output on the desired outcome.
- Impact maps make roadmap management and prioritization easier.
- Product managers will find impact mapping useful in high complexity/high uncertainty situations.
- You should use impact maps when your team is involved in too many projects with no overarching goal, the goals are not clear or you’re experiencing issues with the prioritization of initiatives.
- Your map should always include information about the key goal. This is the outcome or change you’re trying to achieve.
- Actors, or user personas, are the people who can have an impact on your chances of achieving your goals. In SaaS, these are usually the users.
- Impact is how you influence the actors to achieve the objectives.
- Deliverables, also known as Product Backlog Items, are the features that enable you to make an impact.
- Some teams also add user stories and experiments to the impact map. Others distinguish between business impact and customer impact. The latter is how the user benefits from your deliverables.
- UXPressia and Miro are both great collaborative tools remote teams can use to create impact maps.
- Curious how Userpilot helps companies make a true impact? Book the demo!
What is impact mapping?
Impact mapping is a technique for collaborative strategy planning and product management.
The tool was initially used in Agile software delivery to set key business objectives and plan how to achieve them.
It became popular thanks to the 2012 Gojko Adzic book.
Software delivery teams liked the technique because it enabled them to assess the impact of features once they released them. Like other lean software methods, it allowed them to save time and money that otherwise would’ve been wasted on developing random functionality.
These days, it is a widely-recognized technique used not only in software product management.
What is impact mapping in agile?
Impact mapping is a technique that allows Agile teams to visualize the connections between business goals, their users, and the functionality they develop.
Consequently, it makes it easier for them to see how their backlogs are aligned with business objectives and stay focused on the key priorities.
What is an impact map?
Simply speaking, an impact map is a tree diagram presenting the hierarchy of goals and features.
What are the different levels? Bear with us! We’re dealing with it in one of the sections below!
Impact mapping vs customer journey maps
Impact maps and customer journey maps are two very different tools.
As mentioned, the purpose of the impact maps is to highlight the dependencies between the business goals, the users, and the functionality you’re developing.
A customer journey map, on the other hand, is a visual representation of the stages and tasks that your customer needs to complete to achieve their goals and experience product value.
The purpose of an impact mapping process in software development
Impact mapping enhances strategic planning, helps define quality improvements that will have the best impact on the overall goal, and manage roadmaps.
Impact mapping helps organizations develop product strategy and ensure its alignment with the business goals.
The senior leadership is mainly interested in long-term plans to deliver on the business objectives. However, such plans don’t allow for changes in market trends or customer needs.
Impact mapping allows more flexibility. It focuses on the general scope of the product which is enough to show the direction without restricting the options of the development team.
Defining quality improvements
Impact mapping also illustrates the impact each of the technical deliverables should have on different user personas.
It also illustrates how individual deliverable contributes to the overall objective and enables teams to measure progress.
Finally, impact mapping improves roadmap management and helps teams avoid scope creep.
By clearly communicating the goals, it helps teams prioritize deliverables that have the biggest impact. More importantly, it allows them to weed out those initiatives that will have no impact.
This makes sprint planning easier and quicker and enhances the team’s ability to realize product goals.
Why are impact maps important for product managers?
Product managers can use impact mapping at all stages of the product management process.
To start with, impact mapping is a solid product discovery technique. It gives the team a structure to explore which user persona may have the biggest impact on the business goals and what their needs are and how to best satisfy them.
Once they start working on the product, impact maps help teams keep their eyes on the goals and avoid falling into the build trap. As new feature ideas come up, it’s super important to stay true to the overall product vision and choose only those that will help you realize it.
Finally, as mentioned above, impact mapping helps senior stakeholders, product, and development teams stay on the same page.
As a result, the developers, marketers, and salespeople understand where the product is heading, while the senior stakeholders understand why you prioritize certain features over others.
When do you need an impact map?
Impact mapping comes particularly handy when you’re dealing with highly complex problems and with very uncertain outcomes.
In what situations should you use impact mapping?
To start with, you should create an impact map when you have a number of different projects in place but no clear overarching goal. The map will help you set the high-level vision.
Very often, your organization may have goals but they are not clear, and the stakeholders may understand them differently. Even worse, they may have different goals. Impact mapping can help you redefine the problem and ensure high-level alignment.
Finally, use impact mapping when you have problems prioritizing different initiatives, especially when you’re building a complex product. Impact maps can help you identify the ones that have the biggest impact and help you achieve the product goals.
How to structure an impact map
By now, you already know about the tree structure of the impact map. But what exactly goes into the product map and how to structure it?
Impact mapping starts with goal setting.
Product managers along with the senior stakeholders need to decide what they want to achieve and why. This will explain why you are doing all the things.
The goals could originate at different levels. They come from the business strategy or the product strategy.
What are examples of goals?
Improving customer satisfaction or increasing product adoption are two common product manager goals.
Apart from choosing the goals, you also need to choose the right metrics to ensure you have a reliable way to measure progress.
Actors in the context of SaaS are the users.
Every product is likely to have more than one user type, which we sometimes call a user persona. Each of them has different needs, a different idea of value, and uses the product differently.
Some of the actors, the on-stage ones, are easy to identify. For Jira, the well-known project management tool, these could include the scrum master, the product owner, the product manager, or the developer.
Others, like the administrators, work off-stage, so they’re more difficult to find. However, they are often equally if not more important.
Some of the actors have the potential to create a greater impact than others, so this is often where the first stage of prioritization takes place.
To improve the product for each of the groups, you need to know their jobs to be done, their company background, and their pain points.
Impact is how you achieve the overall goal by influencing the user personas.
For example, if you want to improve product adoption, you could do it by improving user onboarding. However, the onboarding experience needs to be personalized for each of the user personas to make sure that they experience product value in the quickest and most direct way.
Deliverables are the actual features and functionality that you develop to make the desired impact on your actors. If the goals are the outcome, the deliverables are the output of your work.
If you want to build on the onboarding example above, these could be an interactive walkthrough or a checklist built in Userpilot and customized for each of the users.
To make sure your users get relevant guidance, you would need to segment them and trigger the relevant in-app guidance for each of the segments independently.
Bonus: User stories
Some teams like to enhance their impact maps with user stories.
This is when you combine the information about the actor, the impact, and the deliverable in one package that is easy to interpret for the developers.
Want a specific example?
As a scrum master, I want easy in-app access to the self-service resource center so that I can solve my problem without leaving the app or contacting the support team.
Bonus: Extended impact mapping
Another way to beef up your impact map is by adding information about the customer outcome. That’s how you create the extended impact map.
The extended impact map below uses Scrum terminology. That’s why you see persona instead of actor and PBIs (Product Backlog Items) instead of deliverables. Impact has also been renamed — as Business impact — to reflect its true nature.
However, the main difference is the customer outcome. This is what the customer persona benefits from the initiative. So the customer outcome from improved onboarding is being able to start using the product more quickly to get their jobs done.
Some teams extend their impact maps by adding the experiments as the last level.
These are the ways to validate their ideas and assumptions, like prototyping or fake door testing. If you add this level to your impact map, it’s going to look very much like an opportunity solution tree, a product discovery tool developed by Teresa Torres.
Impact mapping template tools
Now that you know the benefits of impact maps and what they’re made up of, let’s check out some tools that you can use to create them.
UXPressia — user persona and journey mapping tool
UXPressia is a dedicated tool for creating user personas, customer journey maps, and impact maps.
The tool is very intuitive and easy to use and the impact maps are easy to read. The key advantage of the application is that your whole team can collaborate remotely and take part in multiple impact mapping exercises.
UXPressia also allows you to integrate the user persona you’ve created before. Once your impact map is ready, you can easily export it into different formats like pdf or png for easy sharing.
The main downside of UXPressia is the cost, especially for larger teams. Smaller teams working on up to 3 projects can get away with the Starter plan which comes at $160 per user per year.
However, if you need more than that, you will have to pay $360 per team member for the Pro plan.
Miro — whiteboard collaborative strategic planning tool
If you’re strapped for cash and still want to use a quality impact mapping tool, Miro could be the answer.
The free plan comes with 3 editable boards. It may not seem much, but there’s no limit on how many frames you have in each of them. If you organize it properly, you can easily use it to create multiple maps.
If not, the Starter plan comes at $96 per person per year and gives you unlimited boards.
And that’s not the only advantage of Miro. While it is not a dedicated impact mapping tool, its diagramming functionality allows you to create great maps. And once you learn how to use it, there’s so much more you can do with Miro.
Like UXPressia, Miro allows remote teams to collaborate in real-time on their projects. This is enhanced by integrations with popular video conferencing apps and project management tools like Jira and Confluence.
Impact maps created in Miro are also easy to export, especially if you have any of the paid plans.
Impact mapping is a powerful collaborative planning technique that improves alignment between the leadership and the developers, and helps them stay on track when delivering on the product vision.
If you’d like to learn how Userpilot can help you achieve your business and product goals, book the demo!