In my practice I have met many times the situation in which the change was implemented in accordance with the maxim of King Julien “ Quick, to the volcano, before we all come to our senses!.” Before making a change, there is not a moment to reflect on the goal, effects and path to be taken to achieve the goal. Generally speaking, there is a lack of more strategic planning time. It goes straight to operational planning.
One of the techniques I like to use when I have to think strategically is the impact mapping technique.
Impact mapping is a technique that helps me visualize assumptions and determine the right action plan. Very often, to achieve the goal, there is a need for planning over a longer time horizon. Long-term planning is burdened with the risk that our assumptions will become obsolete because the world is running on the own tracks. Our projects depend among others on people, other projects and organizational changes. Lack of a flexible long-term plan is a communication gap between the goal owners and the team to achieve the goal.
To bridge this gap, it should determine the relationship between the plan of implementation of a given change and its surroundings. In addition to filling in the gap, Impact mapping allows you to reduce unnecessary activities and insufficient support for achieving the goal. It ensures focus on delivering the right products and accomplishing those tasks that affect the achievement of the goal. Impact mapping is a technique that visualizes the impact of individual actions and products of these activities. It allows you to answer four key questions:
- Why? – why do we do it, what is our goal?
- Who? – who do we influence? who will use our product? who will achieve the goal? who will be a blocker?
- How? – what actions will be taken to achieve the goal or move us away from the goal?
- What? – what the provided action will provide us, what value will be delivered?
In Impact mapping, questions which were posted are visualized by using four artifacts: purpose, actors, actions and results (products).
This is the center of the impact map and answers the most important question: why are we doing this? This is the goal that we are trying to achieve.
The first branch of the impact map contains answers to the following questions: Who can produce the desired effect? Who can disturb this? Who are the consumers or users of our product? Who will influence it? These are the actors who can influence the result.
The second level of the impact map defines the actors in the perspective of our business goal. He answers the following questions: How should our actors’ behavior change? How can they help us achieve our goal? How can they interrupt or prevent us from succeeding? These are the influences we are trying to create.
When we receive answers to the first three questions, we can talk about the scope. The third level of the impact map department answers the following question: What can we do as an organization or delivery team to support the required impacts? These are elements of implementation, software functions and organizational activities.
The visual nature of this method facilitates the implementation of effective meetings it requires either mind maps or walls with post-it notes. Impact mapping helps teams make better decisions in rapidly changing environments, such as, IT projects, as it visualizes the impact and scope of individual activities. It also perfectly defines the products and results of these activities. For me, the advantage of this method is the ability to use it in agile and more classic projects because it supports iterative approach. Secondly, by entering a branch, I can focus on the actions taken by a specific actor and the results that he will provide.
This Impact mapping feature is so important to me that it allows me to grab the context. And the context is very important. For example, when we have a list of requirements, it is often a table. The context of this requirement and the goal that we achieve by realizing this requirement are unknown. Without a clear allocation of requirements to business goals and the context expressed by the activity, it is extremely difficult to justify why certain elements should or should not be implemented.
Determining what is to be implemented in the system and what does not have to be is usually the beginning of a fairly costly analysis. In the first phases of the project, we usually do not have the time or sufficient budget to conduct such analyzes. For this reason, I usually use Impact mapping in the early stages of defining the scope of the project.
The impact map contains all the results in the context of the action to support the goal. This allows you to compare the identified activities and avoid over-investing in less important areas of the system. It also helps in rejecting those products that do not really contribute to any critical impact for a particular purpose.
This is important because when all the stakeholders involved in the implementation of the change will understand the goals, expected results and key actions, they will save a lot of time. They will not waste it on unnecessary activities that will provide unnecessary products.
The following picture shows an example of action mapping:
Goal: 20% increase in sales value in the online store at the end of 2018
Actors (they will achieve the goal): Marketing and Client
Activities that will help in achieving the goal include: launching ads on Facebook, launching the newsletter, …
The results of individual activities are: new ads, an increased number of clients, etc.
An impact map defined in this way allows for a comprehensive look at what IT and non-IT activities are required to achieve the goal. Now it is possible to iteratively approach the implementation of the plan outlined on the map.
In the first iteration “run” is Facebook. For IT, the products are only two: Information about people from FB visiting the online store and the button for socialmedia under each product.
As I mentioned earlier Impact mapping fits perfectly into the agile trend of software development. Having a map, I can create user stories by convention:
As an ACTOR, I want to RESULT, therefore ACTION.
For example: As a customer, I want to have a social media button under each product to easily share content on Facebook. Or as marketing, I want to have information about FB people visiting an online store to be able to monitor the conversion of ads from Facebook.
In the next step, specific programming tasks can be defined for each product. An example of a task for Information about people with FB visiting an online store is the installation of Pixel on the website.
Action mapping is a great way to involve many experienced people already at the beginning of work on a product or a project stage. Impact mapping allows you to create a common understanding of the scope of the project not from a technical perspective, but from a business point of view. The visualization of the impact map indicates both technical and non-technical products. It allows to show a framework action plan taking into account the involvement of IT as well as business (which is often forgotten).
What’s more Impact mapping is a technique that allows you to react quickly to changing conditions. This happens through a dynamic action plan that changes with our development. Bearing in mind the goal and actions and products, we can change them immediately when the situation changes.
For example: We assume that placing social media buttons under each product will help us to get our products more often to friends who share this information. This will be an additional advertisement. If this is not the case, we should stop, analyze the situation and try to do something different in the subject of our presence on Facebook. Maybe an investment in advertising will help us achieve our goal more than information about our products dispersed in many places on FB.
And at the end. Impact mapping through its holistic approach to strategic planning strengthens the arguments for limiting the number of business goals and activities we are working on at the moment. Visualization of the number of products, actors involved in achieving the objectives shows the complexity and scope of work. It is also worthwhile to finish work on one branch of influence so that they will be richer with gained experience to correct actions in the next iteration.
More about impact mapping you could find on https://www.impactmapping.org/