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Impact mapping is a visual, collaborative planning exercise for product and cross-functional teams. Its main purpose is to ensure that a product roadmap aligns with business goals and strategy.
Impact mapping was first introduced by software delivery consultant Gojko Adzic in 2012, who wrote a book on the subject called “Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact With Software Products and Projects” and referred to an ineffective product roadmap as “a shopping list of features,” rather than a focused effort of improvement.
Visually, an impact map has a very similar appearance to a mind map and involves a similar thought process to story mapping. Although the process of creating an impact map is specific to the exercise, the general structure is familiar enough that understanding and contributing to one doesn’t require any technical expertise.
This easy-to-understand visual format makes it a great exercise for collaboration between technical and non-technical teams — especially when using an intuitive collaboration tool like Gliffy that allows teams to visually collaborate in Confluence, right alongside other documentation.
The importance of impact mapping is the direction it provides for product teams — to focus on providing value, not simply providing features.
Starting with a business goal (or goals!) and connecting each element of your product roadmap to one of those goals will help the product team avoid wasting time on features that won’t benefit the product or its users.
Impact mapping is also an effective method of improving cross-functional collaboration between product teams and business or executive teams.
For example, it may be difficult to get buy-in on your roadmap if other stakeholders don’t believe that the activities you’re choosing to focus on are worthwhile. By connecting your roadmap to business goals, you can demonstrate the value of your work in an easy-to-understand visual format.
This gives stakeholders confidence that you are prioritizing projects appropriately and have clear documentation for both why you are making certain decisions, and what you expect to come of them.
Creating this alignment of priorities between product and business teams will also allow for smoother cross-functional communication throughout execution of roadmap activities.
Before getting started, make sure you know how you’re going to record your ideas while collaborating. A classic whiteboard is always a great option, but for remote and hybrid teams, it’s not feasible.
The good news is collaboration tools like Gliffy allow you to create documentation-ready visuals directly in Confluence, and you can work in the same diagram with your team in real time! All you need to do to get started is simply create a diagram and use the share link to invite the team.
If you don't use Confluence, you can also record your ideas using our online diagramming tool, Gliffy Online — whoever is leading the meeting can share their screen and record everyone’s ideas, then share or embed it wherever your team works.
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Once you’ve got your team assembled and your whiteboard or Gliffy diagram of choice ready to go, you’re all prepared to follow along with these steps.
Goals are the most important part of an impact map, as they will determine everything else you add to it. If you already have defined business goals for a quarter or even the whole year, you should use them here. Otherwise, at the beginning of your collaboration session, you and all other stakeholders should discuss and agree on the goals you want to prioritize.
When defining goals, always remember the SMART goals framework — this will help you set goals that have clear measures for success and will provide you with the best possible starting point.
An example of a goal that a product team might use when creating an impact map is to increase conversions from trial user to customer by 5% in the next quarter.
Rather than throwing in all your goals, if you want to focus on just one you can do that as well. The more goals you add, the longer the exercise will take and the bigger your diagram will be.
After your goals are defined, you’ll need to identify the actors, or people who will need to behave in a certain way in order for you to meet your goal.
In many cases, product users will be your actors. In the example from step 1 of increasing trial conversions, the behavior of users will definitely be an important factor in reaching your goal.
However, users may not be the only actors you should consider in your impact map. For example, maybe purchasing decisions for your product are typically made by admins who won’t be the ones to actually use it. In that case, you may also want to consider those admins as actors and think about their perspectives and priorities.
Actors could even be members of your organization — it all depends on what goals you’re trying to achieve. If your goal was to increase your product’s support rating, members of the product support team might be actors to include in your impact map.
Part of the reason it’s helpful to do this exercise with a cross-functional group is that members of different teams may have different perspectives when it comes to brainstorming ideas like this, and might see something that you haven’t considered — or maybe members of other teams have incorrect or oversimplified assumptions that you can address.
Once you know what your goal is and who is involved in your ability to reach it, it’s time to explore what you need from those actors you defined in the previous step. What specific actions do you need them to take in order for you to meet your goal? What changes need to occur in order to get closer to the desired result?
For our example from the previous two steps of increasing trial-to-customer conversion rate, an impact for product users might be spending more time in the product. You might find that users who tend to spend more time also tend to use certain features, so your impact could also be getting them to take advantage of those features during their trial period.
The final step in the impact mapping process is establishing your deliverables — the features or changes that will go on the roadmap. These are specific actions that your team can take to influence the actors to carry out the impacts that will lead you closer to your goal.
If your goal is to increase the number of trial users who convert to customers, and one of the impacts you identified is for users to use certain features, as a deliverable you could decide to implement a resource center or onboarding guide that directs users to the features you want them to use. If your product is a mobile app, you could also choose to send out push notifications nudging trial users to jump back in and try that feature.
Regardless of what your deliverables end up being, the final product should be a roadmap with clearly defined value for each element. When someone asks you why you’re working on something, you’ll be able to point to the impact map and tell them exactly how you anticipate your work to benefit business goals.
If you’re interested in more ways to supercharge your team’s documentation as you work hard to develop great products, check out our Diagrams for Product Teams page for all the resources you’ll need. And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to start your free trial of Gliffy!
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