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How We Use Impact Mapping: Practical Tips

Not so long ago, we got a new major project. In our company Agile methodology has been practiced almost since its foundation. But once again, we’ve remembered that the essence of software development isn’t limited to just code lines. It is also about the initial work with the client, which has a strong influence on how we will develop the product.

It all starts with an interview with a future client. It helps us determine in which area the product is needed, the primary desires of the customer, as well as obtaining material for future meetings and the project itself. However, it also has its pitfalls.

If everything went well at the interview stage, a series of meetings begins, at which we use the strategic planning tools — Impact Mapping, Customer Journey Mapping and User Story Mapping.

In this article, we will talk about the use of Impact Mapping.

A Simple Tool Does Not Mean Useless

To begin with, we briefly describe the tool itself. If you try to translate it into human language, it will be something like “Building a map of influence”. However, the translation does not become more explicit, and the knees don’t shake with admiration.

Impact Mapping is an algorithm for asking questions: why, who and how. As a result, thanks to these questions we get a map of influence (in reality it’s less prosaic, just a diagram with multiple branches). It includes the following items:

  • (why?) project goal
  • (who?) roles involved in the project
  • (how?) how to improve the “life” of these roles to achieve the goal

If you are interested in the base, then go to the author’s site of that approach, where the information about the tool is presented in detail and interestingly. We turn to the practical part.

Meeting Preparation

Although we fully understand that our customer will have a powerful brainstorming during the meeting, we don’t tell the participants what they have to go through. Sometimes we can ask them to think about the question “why?” in advance so that they can determine the purpose of the project. Nevertheless, the probability of getting the answer we need is minimal.

So, we come to the customer at a convenient time for everyone. For sufficient work, it is necessary that all owners of the company or all top managers participate in the meeting.

Rediscovering The Business Goal

After some chit chat, we begin to storm the fortress called “Business Goal”. The most crucial detail is the following — the final goal should have an exact number with which we will compare the results obtained after the project launch.

Everything seems simple and clear in words. But when this question is posed to the owners (or their employees), you will get any answer, but not a numerical one.

The main thing in this process is to give space for discussion because it is the customers who must come to a common understanding of the goal and its numerical measurement, not us.

For a boost, you can bring some case study. It shouldn’t overlap with the future project business since all ideas (including concepts) should come from the client.

Such a brainstorming can last from half an hour to an hour (and sometimes more). Therefore, we should be patient and watch what is happening with a cup of tea. Sometimes we can clarify, correct, direct. But the discussion continues only between the customers themselves. We record the course of their thoughts and suggestions.

As a result, we find the very goal of the project, which we write down and check for the presence of a number in it. It is not easy, but worth the time spent.

It is also necessary to set the exact date for measuring this goal. It should be done so that the customers can evaluate their business idea in work and the quality of the work done by us. We, in our turn, will analyze why the project was able to achieve the goal / did not reach it / exceeded the indicator of the target (underline the necessary). For us, any results are essential for the correct workflow in future projects.

Impact Mapping scheme. Question “Why?”

Defining Leading Roles

After the customers are happy that finally their version of the goal is accepted, and after they will question cooperation with us because they are not used to working in this format, we give them a second task. It will be simpler than the previous one, but not least important.

Now we offer to customers to discuss the process in general terms, under which a software product is created. The determination of the roles involved in the process is necessary (we get the answer to the question “who?”). Here comes the second wave of confusion. And again, we read the questions in the customers’ eyes, “What are we doing here? How does this relate to the development of product X?”

Everything is simple. To achieve the goal, it is necessary to determine what needs to be optimized in the process. Functions and the processes themselves are inextricably linked with roles. They are the pillars for the entire business since the functions will not perform themselves.

Customers need to list all the roles that are involved in the process. We just have to write them on the board in the form of “branches”. The main thing is to constantly ask if they have remembered everyone. Otherwise, after the product deployment, it may occur that the forgotten role is the cornerstone in the entire system and our product doesn’t fulfill its functions.

Impact Mapping scheme. Question “Who?”

Finding Ways To Optimize The System

When the list is compiled, we move on to the third part of our brainstorming. At the moment, we have a target with a number, date of measurement after the project launch and roles as branches from the goal on our board. Now, under each role, it is necessary to write down briefly how to improve its function in the process. So we answer the question “how?”. Usually, improvements begin with the words “accelerate …, reduce …, eliminate …”.

Thanks to the immersion in the functions of each role, firstly, we begin to understand better how the processes are organized and why our software product is needed. Secondly, it becomes more evident for customers what they want to have after the project finish line.

Impact Mapping scheme. Question “How?”

Impact Mapping. Results

The second and third stages in total take about an hour. Together with the first stage, the whole meeting takes about two hours. But during these two hours, we get quality material that lays a solid foundation for our future project.

Besides, we took the first step towards creating a product that may not be ideal but necessary for a business. So we are not talking about the project that will absorb the finances and time of all, but after launch, it will change nothing and soon will be forgotten as a nightmare.

Impact Mapping is the first of three tools that helps strategically correctly build future workflow, and also shows the client our serious attitude to software development.

“People often complain about lack of time when lack of direction is the real problem”, — Zig Ziglar




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