Strategy: An introduction to impact mapping

Only 39% of projects succeed. That means more than half fail to deliver on time, budget and full specification. So what can you do to make sure your next project ranks among the triumphant?

At Fluxus we use impact maps. These are diagrams, like the one shown below, that help us visualise our plan for the project, keep our work on track and make sure everything we do adds real value.

An example impact map

What are the benefits of impact mapping?

• It aligns the work of every team with business objectives

• It visualizes the project in an accessible style for all

• It helps us respond and adapt to change quickly

• It encourages horizontal rather than top-down working

• It promotes quick, efficient delivery

• It encourages the crossover of skills and knowledge between disciplines

How does impact mapping work?

To help you understand more about impact mapping, let’s see how it might play out for an imaginary project. At the point we join them, the team are just getting ready to kick off their project...

Starting out – agreeing the goal

First you have to set a project goal. Ideally this is a high-level business goal, though one that’s realistic and whose success can be measured. Alice, the CEO, picks ‘increased revenue’. Other goals she could’ve picked include:

• Improved customer engagement

• A rise in traffic

• Launching a new product function

Who’s who – identifying the actors

Next, you name the actors in the project. These are the people who will help achieve your goal and also those who will be affected by your work. In this example, they include Steve, the Content Director, Rebecca, Head of Marketing, Emma in Legal, Carol, an external UX designer, and all the site’s customers.

One of the big benefits of impact mapping is that it keeps the focus on people and their experiences, which of course are the things that really matter.

Determining your impacts

Now you need to decide what outcomes you want to create for each of your actors. Bob, the Product Manager, knows the processes that need change, so he takes charge of this stage.

The impacts can be both direct (such as a ‘quick buy’ feature that boosts online sales) and indirect (such as reducing the number of customer support phone calls by providing more detailed order tracking for customers).

This also helps Bob work out who the team needs to consult before the project starts.

Impacts inform features

Next the team turns to what they need to do to achieve these outcomes. UX designer Carol has some great ideas for interactions, while Dave, the in-house engineer, suggests some innovative technologies that could help them realise the outcomes in clever new ways.

These all get written down. When coming up with feature ideas, it helps not to rule anything out at first. Write everything down, then come back later and trim away any non-essential features.

And the work begins…

Once everyone’s approved the impact map, work gets underway. Like a real journey, there are many routes the team could take to get to their goal and they encounter surprises along the way. For instance, simplifying the checkout process may turn out to be unpopular with customers, requiring further revisions before it can deliver the increased sales that would contribute towards the goal.

The impact map encourages the team to follow Agile development methods. Carol and Dave take part in regular reprioritizing sessions, and when something changes within the project environment or they receive feedback, they find the impact map helps them respond quickly.

Development proceeds in an iterative way. Carol and Dave first focus on achieving the outcomes marked on the map, then look at fine-tuning and polishing their work.

As with any journey, the route can change as the project moves forwards. At one point the team realizes they need to make real-time order tracking a priority because business needs have shifted. At another they decide to discard one-click checkout entirely.

Measuring up

As the project continues, the whole team can refer to the impact map to see the key development points. It also allows them to track their progress towards the ultimate goal CEO Alice set right at the beginning.

It’s important the team can measure their impacts with objective criteria. For instance, the conversion rate of customers through the checkout process can be measured using web analytics. This means they have a pre-determined point of success for the overall project. Once they’ve achieved every one of their outcomes, it’s complete.

And then, of course, with revenue up and CEO Alice happy, it’s time for the team to celebrate!

Django Beatty
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