Let me introduce you to Impact Mapping - a collaborative technique created by Gojko Adzic. If you want to visualize connections and make decisions based on business objectives, participants and the impact that they want to generate in their behavior through tangible deliverables – you will definitely like it.

The initial aim is to discover the business objectives and identify the needed metrics to measure the level of fulfillment of these objectives over time. The Impact Maps enable us to switch from an operational to a strategic approach. This, in turn, enables us to achieve better results.

It is not enough to deliver quality software, and it is not about delivering quick results either. The goal is to have the ability to change your direction quickly when you’re not on the right path. You know how your GPS recalculates the route when you make an alternative turn – well, that’s how Impact Mapping works. Impact Mapping allows us to build the right products and make sure that our projects make a true impact. Anybody can just ship software, we aim higher. Impact Mapping deliverables are always aligned with business objectives. Imagine a backlog, but not an ordinary one – this one is aligned to measurable and quantifiable objectives.

A car dashboard with a GPS navigation system displaying directions and maps for easy navigation.


Now we can have a more detailed look at Impact Mapping and the structure of an impact map:


Visual representation of creating the impact map structure.

Objective -  Why?

First, we need to identify our objectives and only then we can ask “why”. Maybe “why” isn’t the most appropriate term, maybe it is better to ask “for what” – what is the purpose, why have we set this as our objective. Once you employ this approach everything is clearer and you have a more direct understanding of everything, you can see the big picture.

“For what” implies not only setting the objective but also understanding it. That way you will be able to identify the fastest and simplest way to reach your objective and view it independently from the software itself. That way, your objective will not be necessarily linked to product construction or functionality delivery.

To put things into a clearer perspective, this way the objective is presented as a problem that should be solved. It is specific enough, it is expressed clearly and in positive terms and most importantly it is measurable, in a sense that you how much of it you’ve achieved – quantifiability. You have an answer to the question: “How we will know that it was achieved?” On the basis of that, you can calculate whether it will generate savings, profit and/or protect your capital. This is why we need to ask ourselves “for what”.

Actors - Who?

Every project features actors, i.e. the ones who can make an impact on its success. We need to ask ourselves who can produce the desired effect, or the opposite of that – who can prevent it from happening. The answer may vary, it can be the end users, internal staff, decision makers, investors, other stakeholders and so on. When we identify primary and secondary actors and have an understanding of what each of them is responsible for we will be able to prioritize work in a better and more efficient way.

Impacts -  How?

Now, let’s link actors to objectives, let’s put their roles into perspective. How should our actors behave, should their behavior change and in what way? How can they help us reach our goals? Or the opposite – how can they prevent us from achieving our objectives? The first step of solving a problem is asking the right questions and when you have the right answers that’s half work done.

Prioritization is another key element here, try to understand which actions are more important, that will give you a better understanding of the associated risks. There’s no point in listing everything that an actor wants, or might want to achieve, you should be only interested in things that are aligned with the objectives. Analyze actors, their behavior and their impact from an objective perspective, not from a neutral standpoint. You have a specific viewpoint, a stake in this and it is determined by your objectives.

Deliverables - What?

This is the simplest part of an impact map, I could say. Here the deliverables are matched to business objectives, through the desired impact and the actors. The key question here is – “What can we do as an organization/team to support and desired impact?” Maybe a better way to ask this question is: “What can we do to achieve the desired impact?”

Impact Maps incorporate the definition of actionable metrics and milestones associated with the objectives. These are continuously monitored. The visual nature of the Impact Maps allows decisions to be made in a collaborative way, allowing decision makers to learn things and reach a better understanding. All members of the development team learn together and the projects benefit from their collective intelligence.

Impact maps allow us to create dynamic plans, imagine a “roadmap” that evolves in line with the project goals. An impact map can show us the shortcut to our business objective. And once the objective is achieved you won’t have to go through the other branches, they become obsolete once the way to reach the ultimate goal is found.

When you limit the number of objectives you work on simultaneously, you avoid bottlenecks and waste. When you know how to measure your objectives, you can talk about the viability of a particular impact and your priorities.

A person pointing at a wall covered in papers. A creative mess or a brainstorming session in progress.

Ultimately, you will be able to avoid deliverables that don’t generate the right impact, thus being able to concentrate your efforts on the shortest way to reach your goal. In other words, you’d be able to generate maximum impact with a minimum amount of software. The last can easily translate as “effort” – maximum impact with minimum effort – that’s the ultimate definition of effectiveness.