Product strategy – Impact mapping in practice

September 10, 2016

Whether you’re extending a big project or you’re on your way refining your startup’s MVP, it’s always a challenge to prioritise the features truly worth the investment. How do you create a viable product strategy? Can you keep things relevant, yet simple enough to understand and adapt along the way?

At MozaicLabs, we find that Impact mapping is a useful technique to get us on the right track to building the product roadmap. Easy to be applied, the Impact mapping it’s definitely worth a try on by your team. Read on for a quick intro to the technique, along with a couple of examples of our experience.

Why try Impact mapping?

Impact mapping is a strategic planning technique that prevents organisations from getting lost while building products and delivering projects, by clearly communicating assumptions, helping teams align their activities with overall business objectives and make better roadmap decisions. – Impactmapping.org

Impact mapping allows you to bring together all the relevant actors in your team – business stakeholder, product manager, technical lead etc. – and give them a simple framework to have a conversation about what and why to build. It allows you to capture the thought process that leads from the business objective to the features that should be built to support it.

By keeping this thought process visible, everyone will have a clear image of what impact is expected from each feature. Thus, it allows you to take a step back anytime, evaluate the outcome of each iteration, and decide if the plan needs any adjustment. You might find that your feature doesn’t reach the desired impact, and decide you need to keep working on it. Or you might find that you reach the desired outcome after building only half of the planned features and decide to stop the investment and focus on the next goal.

The ability to quickly sketch up a strategy for the next product actions makes it a great fit in a fast-paced, iterative environment, for the entire product team. It supports making assumptions visible, evaluating results and quickly course correcting when necessary.

How to build an Impact map

impact-mapping

Briefly, an Impact map is a mind map developed collaboratively in a product workshop, following four important pillars:

Goals – Why?
Start the impact map with a clear business objective in the centre. This states Why you are doing this – what is the goal you are trying to achieve. Setting the right goal is very important, so pay attention to how you formulate it. Keep your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timely.

Actors – Who?
On the first branch of the mind map, list the actors – who are the personas who influence the outcome. These can be the different types of people using your product, or different actors that might support or prevent your goal from being achieved.

Impact – How?
On the next branch, list the actions you want the actors to take, in relation to the business goal. How should their behaviour change, how should they act, how can they help or obstruct the success of the goal? This is where you link each actor to your business goal (in connection to your product), be careful not to skip directly to product features from this step.

Deliverables – What?
On the final branch, you can finally write an informed list of deliverables. What can your product do to support each actor to achieve their goal and create the desired impact for your business? This is where you note the features, activities or deliverables.

Each branch development constitutes a new assumption. When starting, you assume that you need actors A, B, C to help you reach your business goal; then you assume that each actor will be willing to take actions X, Y, Z in your product etc. Your job is to constantly learn from what you build, confirm or infirm each assumption and adjust the initial plan accordingly.

That’s it. Now you’ve created the plan for your next actions in a clear, easy to understand manner. Make sure you keep it visible and use it to create the best product you can.

Example 1: MVP for a conference management platform

A while back, we started to develop eventrix – a product dedicated to making the lives of speakers and event organisers easier. To define the features for the first product version, we did an Impact mapping workshop with the CEO, CTO & Product Manager.

eventrix-impact-map

The first thing we needed to test was whether event organisers were willing to use an online tool to build the event agenda. We set the first business goal: find 10 event organisers to use the platform on a weekly basis to manage their event agenda. (At the beginning, the goal was learning oriented. In more advanced businesses, the goal would also have a financial value or another clear business metric attached.)

In order to reach the goal, we needed two types of users to interact on the platform – event organisers and speakers. The main impact we were looking for: both actors to change their behaviour and use the platform to collaborate for event agenda creation (instead of the status quo which is emails, spreadsheets, phone calls etc.).

Once decided, it was time to think about the minimum set of features the product needs, to accommodate our users into reaching the desired outcomes. By writing down the features’ ideas, we finalised the product strategy and set the next milestones. This gave us a clear starting point for the product roadmap – which was later developed by further detailing, splitting and planning each feature.

The Impact map was definitely useful. Once we’d start prototyping and developing each feature, we could easily come back to take a look at the bigger picture. It helps us keep an eye on the final goal and minimise the risk of getting lost in details.

Example 2: New iteration for a healthcare app

Let’s talk now about a healthcare application that supports doctors in their activity. The goal is to consult patients faster and prescribe the best treatments, by easily viewing and maintaining a detailed patient history. The next business step for the product is to be adopted by an esteemed association of doctors. The product team set up to determine what is the minimum set of actions they must take to successfully replace the old app the doctors are using – as well as convince the doctors that the new app is better and worth the change.

healthcare_impactmap

The team started by clearly defining the business goal, and the product success in this step: get the doctors from the association to switch from the current app to the new app. Let’s further read the map by following each actor together with their desired impact:

In order to switch to the new app, the doctor must be able to set the best diagnostic, prescribe the best treatment and maintain the patient file up to date through the new app.

In order to switch to the new app, each doctor’s secretary must be able to maintain the personal information and medical documents up to date through the new app.

In order to switch to the new app, someone has to play the role of old patient data migrator, to bring the existing patient information from the old app into the new one.

Once the impact for each actor has been defined, in relation to the main business goal, the next step is to define the deliverables. What features must the app have to create each impact? What features do we already have in the app and what features must we implement? A decision is made also about migrating the data from the old app, and thus it becomes clear that a developer must be allocated to build, run and check automated migration scripts.

Creating the Impact map together with all the stakeholders and keeping it visible along the way is crucial to the product success. Everyone involved knows what needs to be achieved at any time. Also, as new information surfaces, the plan can be easily adjusted.

 

If you use Impact mapping in your teams, if you have a similar case-study to share or if you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you!

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