impact mapping

Imagine the situation: for several months, all your team is hard at work developing a project. The product is cool, you release a trial version — and suddenly the client says that «it’s just not what he meant». Or, he is totally satisfied with the functional, you shake hands, and in a couple of months, you occasionally come across the comment in which your ex-client complains: he invested excessive amounts of money in cooperation with you, and now the product doesn’t bring him any slightest profit. Obviously, it damages the image of the company.

«How come», you wonder. The user stories are developed, the communication with a client took place regularly and in time, the system of work functions perfectly...

But it may be just the case when these are the perfectness and coherence of our domestic system that distract us from the plain fact: products do not function in an ideal universe — the function in a real world. And for the product to be successful in it, it is important, yet at the beginning of the development, to see clearly client’s global objectives and to take them into account. And it doesn’t go about the number of features or keeping up to the budget or deadlines — it’s all about successful changes in client’s business. Only when each member of a team fully understands the client’s business goals and genuine needs, will the product development be successful.

And what if sometimes the clients themselves aren’t able to state their objectives clearly? In such cases, visualization tools could be of great use.

A fine solution in such situations is impact mapping — a strategic planning tool aimed at the visualization of business processes at the initial stage of their development. The tool was designed within the agile methodology, but it will fit classic project approach as well. It is universal and can be useful for both marketing director and product manager. It will do its best in the situations when the client isn’t at all an expert in IT or software development.

Impact Mapping: What is It All about?

Impact mapping is a graphic tool which allows clear marking of project’s measures and developing necessary technical and business hypotheses. It helps coordinate the work of different specialists yet at the initial stage of strategic planning and to synchronize it with client’s global business objectives. The result is efficient software products, happy clients and a rise in customer loyalty.

The essence of the method is so plain that it might even seem banal. But the paradox is we often unreasonably ignore simple solutions. Impact mapping visualizes how this or that function will influence the successfulness of a project by answering questions «why?», «who?», «how?» and «what?»

impact map

The originator of the method, Gojko Adzic compares impact maps with roadmaps: just like the roadmap shows us main and minor roads which join different localities, impact map clarifies what kind of product we want to create and how it will make the lives of our clients easier.

The Way It Works: The Four Key "W"s of Impact Mapping

It will not take you long to create an impact map. As a rule, the whole process takes several hours, on the contrast to several days you will need to invest in the solving of the same questions by traditional means. Let’s take a look at each stage of impact map development separately.

1. Goal («Why?»)

First, we need to define the goal. Attention: what we mean here under the goal is a business goal of the project. We describe neither the product as it is nor the stages of its development nor the project boundary. The task of this segment is to explain why the product might be useful, what its business value is. It helps the team to better correlate its work with the result expected, clearly articulate requirements for the functional and search for the optimum designer solution.

Goal setting will be resulting if we, together with a client, manage to outline the set of key measures by which we are going to evaluate the effectiveness of the product. For example, it might be the expected profit growth for commercial products, or increase in user conversion rate, etc. It is a good idea to rely on SMART criteria in the process and to listen attentively to your client without imposing your own ideas even though you have already had similar projects and have quite a clear vision of the prospective end product.

2. Actors («Who?»)

Then we need to answer the question, «Whose behavior do we wish to modify?» This stage of the development of our map allows establishing priorities in our work, making a shift from software functions to people whom it will serve.

In fact, what we do is determining the target audience and stakeholders. We try to predict who might help us achieve our goals and who might hamper. We define these people as actors for our project. These are the players whose opinions we’ll have to take into account, whose behaviors we’ll try to predict and whose tastes we’ll need to anticipate.

Specificity is crucial at this stage, as well. It is recommended to define the circle of actors in the following order:

  1. target users,
  2. actors who can be of relevance to the project due to their social role or position,
  3. certain groups of users (for example, the representatives of different divisions of the client’s company).

3. Impacts («How?»)

Now, we are to analyze what we can do to modify the behavior of our actors. We need to bring them closer to the implementation of the business goal of the project which we defined on the first stage. For this purpose, we should examine what impacts will best lead to the achievement of our goal and what risks we’d better take into account along the way.

We write down in specific terms what we expect from our actors, and how their behavior is going to be different from the possible as at present. For example, we want our client’s customers more readily recommend our product or service to their friends. What can we do? How can we minimize the risk of negative response? All these questions are to be answered while we are filling in the last part of our impact map.

4. Deliverables («What?»)

At the final stage, we define what exactly we can do to secure the desired impacts. Thus we correlate the delivered functionality with the expected results of the project. It allows us to define distinctly what potential functions are worth resources investment and which are not, and to refuse early from those parts of the project which in practice will not lead to the achievement of meaningful goals.

How Can It Be Done? Impact Mapping Software

You may develop impact maps manually with the help of ordinary office equipment. Usually, impact map for the 6-8 month-long project can be worked out on the standard size board. And you can also use special software.

Impact mapping internet community refers to three software products which allow users design impact maps of their own: UXPressia, SpecLog, and MindMup. Let’s conduct a brief analysis of all three variants.

UXPressia is a paid program which allows outlining business goals, present actors and impacts in a well-structured manner and developing true-to-life user stories. The application is available in English. Free version serves for familiarization with application functional, and it is possible to test it on one impact map and with one actor. «Professional» option has no limitations as for the number of the projects and allows sharing them with other users, and export generated maps in PDF and PNG formats. You also receive instant client support. The drawback of the analyzed program, in our opinion, is a very limited functionality of a trial version: it is hard for the new client to form a well-grounded opinion about the product and its usability, and a little bit difficult for perception visual design.


SpecLog is a program developed by Techtalk team. To create impact maps in it you need to install the software on your computer. The specific feature of this program is the aptness to link your developed impact maps to the product backlog and story maps. The 30-day trial period is possible, and there are also tariff plans aimed at individual user, server, and special offers.

MindMup is a service for creating various link diagrams and schemes. The application is user-friendly, it is possible to export results in PDF and synchronize data. You can also upload pictures, files, add text notes, change fonts, style and colors.The interface language is English.

The application is available in two tariff plans: Free and Gold. With a free version, you can produce maps up to 100 KB and save them in a cloud for 6 months. Pay attention that after publication your maps become public. You don’t need account or registration to use this version. Gold version allows creating private maps, export them and save for an unlimited period. You can also order MindMup integration and functionality enhancement according to your needs.

We have analyzed impact mapping graphic tool and its potential in strategic planning at the initial stage of product development. Hope that you liked the described strategic planning method and will be able to implement it in your activities. You can learn more by visiting opensource impact mapping workshop from the originator of this agile tool Gojko Adzic.

In our team we always abide by the main principle of impact mapping: when developing our projects, we emphasize the business goals of clients. As a result — the vast number of satisfied clients all over the world.

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