An impact map is a visual depiction of your product’s goals, along with the tasks, stakeholders and features involved in achieving these goals.
Product development is a complicated process with plenty of interacting parts. This makes it fairly difficult to keep all of your stakeholders aligned. Oftentimes, you’ll find that teams are focused more on achieving their respective deliverables than on working towards higher-level product goals. This is where visual mapping techniques, such as impact maps, come in.
In this glossary article, we explore impact maps and how they can be used to identify the effect of each deliverable on the success of product goals to keep teams aligned on big-picture objectives.
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What is an Impact Map?
An impact map is a visual representation of how each deliverable in your product relates to its high-level business goals. It depicts paths from each product goal by identifying the stakeholders involved, their roles and impact on accomplishing the goal, and ultimately what specific deliverables or requirements they need to achieve it.
What is Impact Mapping Used For?
The main objective of impact mapping is to illustrate the relationship between each task, stakeholder, and product goal. With that purpose in mind, an impact map can be used for multiple purposes:
- Help ensure that the product team understands how each feature is meant to achieve high-level business goals.
- Provide stakeholders with a visualization of why certain features are being prioritized over others.
- Enable collaboration between technical and management staff by aligning them on common goals without resorting to jargon-heavy discussions and explanations.
- Prevent scope creep by ensuring that all future deliverables continue to stay within the immediate business goals.
Impact mapping is inherently an interdisciplinary process, so every impact map must be understandable and appreciated by all stakeholders who participate in it.
How Do You Build an Impact Map?
Impact maps are relatively simple diagrams, but filling them in is a collaborative process that requires you to understand what your product is really aiming for.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to creating an impact map that can help you effectively visualize your goals:
Creating an impact map always begins with the goals. If you try to start with deliverables or impacts, you might actually end up missing the point of the exercise.
In the context of an impact map, goals are the “why” of your product—why are you creating it? What is it supposed to do for your business?
Having the wrong goals for your product will damage the impact mapping process. A good metric for these goals is for them to be SMART:
- Specific: Your goals need to have clear and detailed outcomes.
- Measurable: You need to be able to quantify the success of, and progress towards, your goals.
- Achievable: Your goals need to be realistic.
- Relevant: Your goals must have genuine, concrete benefits for your company.
- Time-bound: Your goals need an explicit deadline.
Next, you need to know the “who” of each goal—your stakeholders. These include everyone involved in achieving a specific goal. For example, development tasks may involve engineers and UX researchers. Marketing tasks not only include marketing departments, but also potential users, strategic partners, and regulatory entities. Basically, an actor is anyone who may influence a goal, whether negatively or positively.
It’s important to be very specific when deciding how to outline the actors who play roles in your goal. That means not just identifying users, but the different types of users there are—new users, existing users, users from various industries, and the like. The same goes for how you identify the internal teams who participate as actors. If you feel that the different members of each product team have specific, unique impacts that can be identified, then go ahead and include them as separate actors.
Now that you’ve identified who’s involved with each goal, you should define the role that each actor plays in its success—the “how.”
Each actor may have multiple roles to play in each goal and thus have multiple impacts. This isn’t about the tasks they need to accomplish; that part comes later. Rather, you need to be looking at the effect that actors have on achieving a goal.
At the other end of the impact map are your deliverables. These are the features and tasks that your actors will use to have specific impacts on your goals. Basically, this is the answer to the question “what can these actors do?”
Deliverables may also include things that can be done to incentivize users or make it easier for stakeholders to achieve these impacts. These deliverables can co-exist with other task-based deliverables.
In this example, we consider a hypothetical video streaming service and trace the path of two deliverables back to a single high-level goal:
Impact Mapping: From “Why” to “What”
Impact mapping is a powerful tool that can help your stakeholders better understand why you’re doing things. Like why you’re prioritizing one feature over another, even if it seems counterintuitive to do so. It also helps you see the role that each feature plays in the overall product, and how they can contribute better to it.
The key here then is to ensure that you’re mapping out the right goals. Otherwise, you might end up with very wrong takeaways that could actually harm, not benefit, collaboration in your organization.