Impact Mapping And Why It Matters In Business

Impact mapping is a product development technique based on user design, mind mapping, and outcome-driven planning. Impact mapping is an agile technique intended to help teams connect individual product features that can impact the user behaviors while connecting to the key, guiding metrics for the business.

Understanding Impact Mapping 

Many product teams understand the importance of outcomes but nevertheless succumb to prioritising the development of much more tangible features.

Impact mapping was designed to help these teams gain clarity on outcomes that are comparatively hard to measure or appreciate. It is a collaborative methodology that seeks to help agile teams connect individual features to behaviours worth changing – all the while satisfying metrics that matter to the business.

Impact mapping combines elements of mind mapping and strategic planning and is prevalent among start-ups and large enterprises alike. Over the years, it has been adapted for use in:

  • Facilitating innovation workshops.
  • Aligning stakeholders with legacy enterprise projects.
  • Software delivery process improvement.
  • Instituting organizational-wide improvement.
  • Testing strategy definition.

The four key questions of Impact Mapping

Four key questions in the form of levels help stimulate conversation during product development. This conversation forms the basis of a visual and structured mind-map. 

The fifth and final level is not based on a question but instead on validating the solutions arrived it in the first four levels.

Let’s take a look at each below.

Level 1 –  Why are we doing this?

In other words, what goal is the project trying to achieve in the form of an objective? Why is this goal worth pursuing? The “why” can be made more tangible by articulating ambition. What is the timing of the goal and what difference does it seek to create?

For example, a business may have an ambition to increase average Net Promoter Score from 7 to 8 in the next 12 months.

Level 2 – Who can bring the organization closer to an objective? Alternatively, who might prevent the organization from achieving that objective?

Who are the actors who have the potential to impact the outcome? Identifying the most obvious actors is easy, but the real value lies in uncovering “second-degree” actors. In addition to external actors such as customers, consider internal actors such as key stakeholders, marketing, customer service, and administrative support roles.

Level 3 – How should the behaviour of actors change?

Put differently, how does behaviour have to change to change the overall impact? This is the part that many organizations struggle with. Indeed, actors will not voluntarily change their behaviour so that the business can become more profitable.

Insight into behavioural outcomes needs to be earnt through rigorous qualitative and quantitative research. The pains and gains of the current actor workflow must be well understood to selectively identify behaviours worth changing. Does the outcome need to be higher, lower, faster, or slower?

Outcomes should always be reframed as a challenge. If an actor wants to purchase event tickets without calling a call centre, the team can reframe it as: “How might we enable event participants to purchase tickets from their smartphone?”

Reframing also helps product teams avoid reverting to discussing specific features out of habit.

Level 4 – What can the product team do to support the desired impacts?

Now is the time to consider the features (deliverables) that will support an outcome. This can be achieved by running cross-functional ideation sessions involving stakeholders from across the company. 

Note that the inclusion of a feature on the map does not stipulate that it must be executed. The primary goal here is to create a list of potential courses of action.

For the previous example of an event goer ordering tickets without calling a call centre, the actor is most likely to be a smartphone app that sells tickets. Here, the outcome that alters customer behaviour is a more convenient means of ordering tickets. Ultimately, a successful outcome signifies that the business has reached its objectives and made an impact.

Level 5 – Determining whether the solution is worth implementing

Solutions must be validated through qualitative and quantitative experiments. Importantly, multiple experiments should consider every aspect of the solution, from feasibility to validity to usability.

Then, worthwhile solutions can be prioritized using a framework such as the ICE Scoring Model. 

Impact mapping example

In this final section, we will outline some general examples of impact mapping with respect to a variety of common business goals.

Goal – Increase user retention by 25%

Consider a company with a goal to increase user retention in its workplace management platform.

How can it minimize churn? On a theoretical map, the company will list the following actors, impact, and deliverables:

  • Active users (actor) → increase monthly active users (MAU) and daily active users (DAU) (impact) → gamification, in-app messages (deliverables).
  • Future users (actor) → increase onboarding completion rate (impact) → one click sign-up process on social media, sign-up progress bar (deliverables).
  • Customer support (actor) → enhance user assistance (impact) → live-chat functionality (deliverable).

Goal – Improve user experience

In the second example, a company such as Duolingo that operates a language learning platform wants to improve the product experience for its users.

The impact map for this business may look something like this:

  • Teachers (actor) → improve quality of online classes (impact) → spatial audio, HD video, software integration (deliverables).
  • Engineering team (actor) → increase frequency of feature releases (impact) → continuous delivery investment, process automation (deliverables).
  • Students (actor) → teacher review system (impact)  five-star rating feature (deliverable).

Goal – Increase number of active players to 1 million

In the third example, we have an online gaming platform that wants to increase the number of active players to the 1 million mark:

  • Players (actor) → word-of-mouth recommendation to friends and family, posting about the game on social media, live streaming (impacts) → personalization, viral content, more compelling gameplay, referral incentivization (deliverables).
  • Advertisers (actor) → bulk invitations, banner advertising (impacts)
  • Internal (actor) → engage industry network, create public relations event and send invites (impacts).

Goal – Increase school environment to 450 students

Impact mapping can also be used in the education sector.

In this example, a small school has received grant money from the government to build a new classroom wing. To be profitable, the school needs to attract additional students up to a total of 450.

  • Marketing and enrolment coordinator (actor) → advertise, devote more time to recruitment, contract outreach candidates (impacts) → social media posts, email marketing, automate aspects of enrolment process (deliverables).
  • Current parents (actor) → recommend the school to friends and family, identify potential outreach candidates, generate awareness in local neighborhood (impacts) → provide shareable information, bumper stickers, testimonials, and suitable candidates (deliverables).
  • Faculty (actor) → word-of-mouth recommendation to friends, family, other teachers, publicize student and school achievements, improve student test scores and outcomes (impacts)  shareable information, social media campaigns, tailored lesson plans, software and other technology integration (deliverables).

Goal – Increase revenue to $2 million by the end of the year

Sticking with the education theme, our last example is an online learning platform that wants to increase revenue to $2 million:

  • Prospective students (actor) → purchase a course (impact) → free course preview, limited time discount (deliverables).
  • Current students (actor) → purchase additional courses, recommend courses to friends (impacts) → coupons, gamification, weekly emails, shareable information for social media, certificates/awards for course completion (deliverables).
  • Instructors (actor) → develop new/topical courses (impact) → provide instructional documentation, streamline creation process with technology (deliverables). 
  • Internal engineering team (actor) → rollout features more frequently, reduce operation costs (impacts) → improve release process, incorporate adaptive streaming algorithms, improve on-demand scaling (deliverables).

Key takeaways:

  • Impact Mapping combines mind mapping and strategic planning to help teams identify behaviours that will help them reach their objectives.
  • Impact Mapping is a popular and successful framework used in small and large businesses. It is most prevalent in software development but can also be seen in organization-wide improvement and stakeholder alignment with legacy systems.
  • Central to Impact Mapping is the collaborative creation of a visual mind-map based on four key questions that stimulate conversation and develop potential solutions. The fifth level then instructs product teams to evaluate and prioritize solutions based on experimentation.

Read Next: New Product Development, Storyboarding, Story Mapping, Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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