Learn how to use impact mapping to prioritize features based on how they align with your company goals and improve team collaboration.
•Updated: Sep 9, 2021
•Published: Sep 8, 2021
The best way to approach product development is not to pursue every feature someone proposes just because it seems like a good idea. Instead, the key is to focus on the features that will make the most significant impact on your goals.
Impact mapping is a tool for product development teams to choose which features to prioritize by working outward from an overarching goal and then locating the actions, whether big or small, that will accomplish those goals. Including it as part of the development process ensures that your product roadmap is grounded in your big objectives.
What is Impact Mapping?
Impact mapping is a collaborative planning method to determine which features you should include in the product roadmap. It consists of prioritizing features based on how they help you reach your organizational goals.
The concept was first introduced by software delivery consultant Gojko Adzic back in 2012 with his book “Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects.” In the book, he discusses how impact mapping helps create better plans and ensures that the roadmap aligns with your business strategy.
“Impact mapping is fast, visual and collaborative. It makes it easy to engage people from various roles and backgrounds, expose hidden assumptions and document important decisions,” says Gojko Adzic on his impact mapping website. “It provides just enough structure to facilitate effective planning and prioritization, but does not get in the way with complicated syntax or bureaucracy.”
What makes impact mapping different from other feature planning strategies is that it explains precisely why you include a feature on the roadmap. That way, everything you do always aligns with your company goals and user needs.
“Project plans and requirements documents are often shopping lists of features, without any context why such things are important,” continues Adzic. “Without a clear mapping of deliverables to business objectives, and a justification of that mapping through impacts that need to be supported, it is incredibly difficult to argue why certain items should or shouldn’t be invested in.”
How to Create an Impact Map in Four Steps
Impact maps are relatively simple to create. Here’s how you can get started with impact mapping to improve feature prioritization:
1. Define Your Goals (Why?)
The first step of impact mapping is defining the outcomes you want to achieve. Examples of outcomes include:
- Reducing customer churn
- Boosting awareness around an upcoming product launch
- Improving your customer lifetime value (CLV)
Setting up goals identifies the “why” behind everything that you’re doing. From there, it becomes easier to define the steps you need to take to get to where you want to be.
2. Identify the Main Actors (Who?)
The next step is to identify the main groups of people who will influence the outcome of your product goal. According to the official page on impact mapping, you must be able to answer the following questions during this stage:
- Who can produce the desired effect?
- Who can obstruct it?
- Who are the consumers or users of our product?
- Who will be impacted by it?
An important thing to keep in mind is that your actors don’t just have to be your customers. For example, there could be people within your team (such as salespeople and marketers) that play a role in engaging with users and achieving your desired outcomes.
Also, think about the actors that could potentially get in the way of achieving your goals. That way, you can identify ways to overcome them as you’re launching your impact map strategy.
3. Define the Impact (How?)
During this stage, identify what you want out of each actor so they can help you get to your goals. What action from them will lead you closer to your deliverables?
Let’s say that you’re managing a project management tool like Asana, and your goal is to reduce your churn rate during user onboarding. The impact you could want from users is getting them to set up and assign their first task on your platform.
Or, let’s say that you’re trying to boost awareness around your trading app. An ideal impact would be getting users to spread the word about your app to their friends via your referral program.
4. Write Down Your Deliverables (What?)
The last step of the impact mapping process consists of identifying the features that actors will be using to achieve the desired outcome and what you can do as an organization to help them.
For example, let’s say that you’re managing a fitness app that helps users lose weight through personalized programs. Your goal is to boost your app’s user activity and retention.
The impact you want is to get users to open your app more frequently. That way, you can boost your daily and monthly active users and reduce churn.
A feature that can help you get to this goal could include push notifications to remind them of their weight loss goal. It will keep them accountable and give them a reason to come back to your mobile app instead of canceling their subscriptions when they don’t see results.
Examples of Impact Mapping in Action
In need of inspiration? Here are examples of what effective impact mapping looks like:
Goal #1: Boost User Retention by 20%
Let’s say that you’re selling a workplace management platform like Slack, and your goal is to boost user retention. In this case, here’s how you can create an impact map to get to your goal and minimize churn:
Goal #2: Improve User Experience
What if you’re managing a language learning platform like italkiand your goal is to improve the product experience for users? Here’s what an ideal impact map could look like:
When Should You Use Impact Mapping?
There are various times where it’s ideal for creating your impact map. For example, you can create one when you’ve already sat down with various stakeholders (engineering, customer support, marketing, etc.) and agreed on shared goals to reach for your whole company. Other ideal times include when you want to redefine existing initiatives or have doubts about prioritized features in the roadmap.
“Impact maps are a great way to set the vision for a new product milestone, especially when solutions are prescribed instead of objectives,” says Gojko Adzic. “The usual scenarios when organizations use impact maps for this purpose are when a delivery organization works with external clients who are providing a shopping-list of features, internal like-for-like replacements or when an organization wants to engage third-party delivery agencies, and prepare a statement of work or a request for proposals.”
Get Better at Feature Prioritization With Impact Mapping
“Impact maps bridge the two worlds: they facilitate strategic planning and thinking to create a big-picture view focused on key business objectives, but also facilitate learning through delivery and help us manage project roadmaps,” says Adzic. “They represent and organize project scope in a way that is easy to evolve, reprioritize, grow and shrink as necessary to react to changed market opportunities or new knowledge.”
So next time you’re going through a list of features to prioritize, use impact mapping to determine which features will bring you closer to your objectives. It will get stakeholders from various departments out of their bubbles and refocus them on shared goals.
To learn more tips about using impact mapping for your product roadmap, you can check out the following resource page.