Impact Mapping in practice: Part 1

Александр Бындю
Александр Бындю · 30 сентября 2015
IT-архитектор · Эксперт в Agile и Lean · Основатель компании Byndyusoft

When I was reading the book Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects I wanted to stop reading it mid-way through. Everything was too obvious. But I did my best and finished it, thank God it is short and has big pictures. I realized after the the fact that the point was I knew all these simple things but hadn’t applied them.

Before I got to know Impact Mapping, my clients described project objectives and goals by text in documents. Everything that is written down can hardly ever be realized as your own goals that you are striving for.

Sometimes objectives were not talked about by anyone but it seemed to me that I understood the project goals as they were obvious for me. As my experience has proven, a client sometimes has an absolutely different vision.

History of Impact Mapping

A couple years ago, at the beginning of a project, we had only Information Architecture (IA), some schemes and, if we were lucky, UI prototypes. There were no clear objectives, project strategy or obvious task priorities and business values.

When we faced those problems we started creating User Story instead of a simple text and built a big picture through User Story Mapping. These practices gave us a clear understanding of process methodology which brought us to a new level but it was not sufficient. Having a lack of objectives, we couldn’t make the most effective decisions to help us achieve business goals. So, we were trying to find a simple and efficient way to describe project objectives.

In 2007, Mijo Balic and Ingrid Ottersten published an article Effect Managing IT. After four years in 2011, Gojko Adzic wrote a book Specification by Example. He mentioned Effect mapping in the chapter Deriving scope from goals and said that this practice is aimed to focus on business values, to reveal all stakeholders and their needs. Later on, Gojko Adzic added some more improvements to Effect Mapping:

This practice was called Impact Mapping.

How much is a kilo of code?

Imagine the situation:

  1. A client came to you with a set of features in his mind, as though he took a basket in a supermarket.
  2. He put a list of CRM plugins, dozens of frameworks, a few ERP systems in it.
  3. Went to a cashier and asked her to weigh and calculate a project budget.

Instead of asking us how to solve his problems and achieve his business goals, a client came with ready-to-develop tasks. As a result, he bought only the developers “hands” but their “brains”. Moreover, the developers were deprived of the opportunity to suggest a more effective solution because they don’t know the strategic goals behind concrete tasks.

Frankly speaking, it is hard to guarantee project success anyway but we can increase chances due to our understanding of client objectives and business goals. If we know them, we can make the right decisions about proper architecture and other technical details.

The next thing to be done is to get objectives from the client head and ‘sell’ them to the team.

Impact Mapping building

Impact mapping is a mind map of project objectives. This map shows which impacts that are necessary to reach our business goals.

Why? It is a key element of the map which answers the questions: Why are we doing it? What is the purpose? This element contains business objectives.

Who? On the first branch we provide answers to questions: Who can help us to gain results? Who can be an obstacle? Who are users of our product? Here are all stakeholders and other interested parties which can affect business goals.

How? Here we describe impacts on stakeholders that we should do in order to achieve the objectives. We are looking for answers: How will they help? How to reduce their negative influence?

What? The third branch includes a task list. The typical questions on this level: What must be done to create a necessary impact?

Step by step process

  1. Preferably to have not more than 3–4 people from both sides, clients and a team. Don’t invite more than 15 people because it will be hard to conduct the meeting.
  2. It is reasonable to invite business people as well as technical specialists who have solutions and tasks but don’t know global business goals.
  3. Prepare a whiteboard or a wall for a future map. A complete map for a 6–8 month project fits a standard whiteboard.
  4. I recommend Google Docs for online map building or other interactive products such as MindMup.
  5. The whole process usually takes from 2 hours to 2 days. It depends on project size, your facilitation skills and readiness of all participants.
  6. When you choose an instrument for map building, remember that you will sort and redraw this map many times. The most flexible way to create the map is to use stickers and markers.
  7. If you have time, make some icebreakers.
  8. Don’t forget that Impact Mapping is a fun and simple practice!

In the next part I’ll show you a real example of Impact Mapping. We will consider a part of a big Impact Map for one of the top e-commerce companies we worked on.