Impact Mapping for Product Teams

Impact Mapping for Product Teams

Impact Mapping for Product Teams is a technique to help you improve your product discovery process or your product performance.

The Holy Grail of product development is to really find out who is our target customer and what problems or underserved needs they have. This process is commonly known as Product Discovery.

Among the different approaches to getting to know what customers want, there exists a spectrum from less structured to more structured process. Between interviewing customers and the structured and statistical methodology of Outcome-Driven Innovation by Anthony Ulwick, there are a whole range of approaches we can use, like Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder, Opportunity Solution Trees by Teresa Torres or Impact Mapping by Godjo Adzic.

In this article we are going to explain how to use Impact Mapping for Product Teams to improve product discovery process or product performance. This technique sits in the middle of the spectrum and it is really effective, practical and brings some structure to keep the team focused and aligned. However, we have to make a few changes to the original Impact Mapping technique, as you will see.

The Problem with User Needs

As Anthony Ulwick points out in his book “What Customers Want”, the language of user needs, problems and requirements is vague and ambiguous and introduces too much variability in the product discovery process.

That’s the reason Anthony Ulwick developed Outcome-Driven Innovation methodology based on the concept of Jobs-to-be-Done. However, in my view this methodology is too complicated, although there are some really good aspects of it. Specially the concept of outcome-driven market segmentation.

Besides, I am of the opinion that customers do not know what they want. And they don’t have to. It is not responsibility of users or customers to know what they want, that’s the responsibility of companies delivering services and products to those customers.

The best approach to achieving this is to move from the language of problems, needs or requirements to the language of outcomes – What outcomes are customers trying to achieve when performing a job?

To achieve that, I think Jobs-to-be-Done and ODI are too complicated, and I recommend a more flexible and agile approach like impact mapping for outcome-driven product development.

Brief Introduction to Impact Mapping

Impact Mapping is a technique devised by Gojko Adzic and popularized in his book.

As Godjo Adzic defines it:

Impact mapping is a lightweight, collaborative planning technique for teams that want to make a big impact with software products. It is based on user interaction design, outcome driven planning and mind mapping. Impact maps help delivery teams and stakeholders visualise roadmaps, explain how deliverables connect to user needs, and communicate how user outcomes relate to higher level organisational goals.
The technique is a collaborative process to discover what to build by answering four questions in order :
  1. WHY (GOAL)
  2. WHO (ACTORS)
  3. HOW (IMPACT)
  4. WHAT (DELIVERABLES)

The technique was originally devised to be used as part of the inception of agile projects, but in my experience it has several limitations when applied to modern product development.

First of all, the technique is strictly focused on the company’s perspective. The goal is a business goal, actors include people involved in the project, and impact (how) is typically expressed from the business or product perspective. So, one might wonder, where is the customer?!

Second, I miss the metrics part, which could be easily be added by asking a fifth question: HOW MUCH

For details on the original technique please check Gojko Adzic site and book, as it is not the purpose of this article to explain the original.

Impact Mapping for Product Teams

We have been using different adaptations of Impact Mapping for Product Teams to help them figure out what to build, and in doing so we have realized there exist two main scenarios where Impact Mapping is really useful:

  1. To define what the product team has to do achieve a certain goal or improve a certain product metric
  2. To bring some structure the often messy process of product discovery

The basic difference between our approach and the original is that instead of using business/product impacts in the HOW, we use outcomes (or customer needs/problems).

Impact Mapping for Product Improvement

As part of the of quarterly review and definition of OKRs, teams should come up with a roadmap for the next quarter. With Impact Mapping we can help drive the conversation, uncover a lot of assumptions and focus on what is important.
Impact Mapping OKRs - Lean Product Management - AKTIA Solutions

We do that by drawing one map for each Objective with the following differences:

  • WHY – Objective Statement from OKR
  • WHO – Target users/customers
  • HOW – Outcomes to be improved or expected changes in customer behavior
  • WHAT – Deliverables: Experiments, Features, User Stories
  • HOW MUCH – Targets for the key results (KRs).

There is another version of the previous approach where instead of starting from a business or product goal, we start from a product metric to be improved, like Cart Abandonment Rate, Retention Rate or Monthly Active Users:

  • WHY / HOW MUCH – Product Metric and Target result
  • WHO – Target users/customers
  • HOW – Outcomes to be improved or changes in behavior
  • WHAT – Deliverables: Experiments, Features, User Stories

Those product metrics could be North Star Metric, OMTM or Business KPIs:

  • North Star Metric – key lagging indicators that measure success for the product. Few metrics (1 to 3) that best capture the core value that your product delivers to customers
  • OMTM – One Metric That Matters is a term coined in the book Lean Analytics. It is the leading indicator that can be directly impacted and needs to be improved among any other metric at a given point in time
  • Business KPIs – typical business performance metrics like sales or revenue

As you can see, the main difference between our approach and the original Impact Mapping is that HOW is always expressed in terms of outcomes when customers are performing a job – How are we planning to improve our customers’s experience or what changes in behavior we are expecting to see?

Impact Mapping for Product Discovery

Product discovery process is highly variable in nature and often messy. By providing some structure and process we can improve focus, alignment and decision taking.In this case the original Impact Mapping technique is changed completely by performing the mapping exercise from the eyes of the customer:

  • WHY – is not a business goal but a major customer need or problem, like “Taxis suck” or “Hotels are too expensive and cold”.
  • WHO – are different User Personas or customer segments.
  • HOW – are expected outcomes from performing a job, usually expressed as doing something better, faster, cheaper or with more production.
  • WHAT – remains the same. Basically, experiments in this phase of the product life cycle.
  • HOW MUCH – in order to determine success criteria for the experiment.

Let’s see one example of either approach.

Impact Mapping for Product Teams – Improving Product Performance

Imagine you are the Product Manager of a streaming video service like HBO, Amazon Prime Video or Netflix. For the next quarter you want to really increase user engagement within your platform, and you set the goal of increasing time spent watching content.

In this case we have chosen Home TV Show Watcher as our customer archetype, but you could so it for others, like Home Movie Watcher, Kids, Family or Schools.

Impact Mapping for Product Discovery - Impact Mapping - Lean Product Management - AKTIA Solutions

Impact Mapping for Product Teams – Discovering What to Build

Imagine you are Uber founder in 1999 and you are planning to create a company that connects people who need point-to-point urban transportation with car owners who have time to work as drivers.

In this case, as it is a marketplace, you have two main types of customers: Users and Drivers.

Here’s how a possible Impact Map would look like:

Impact Mapping for Product Discovery - Lean Product Management - AKTIA Solutions

Some comments on the example above:

  • The process of discovering what to build is an ongoing process of learning and validation. You should be using impact mapping on a continuous basis as a reference point of your discovery process.
  • Customer might be to wide a definition and we should probably dig dipper to find the appropriate niche segments. For instance: business travellers, companies, individuals, … And, there are probably different types of drivers too: Full-Time, Part-Time, Taxis, Private Car Services, …
  • As you can see in the “HOW” section there are two levels of outcomes. This is something quite usual, but we are still in the domain of outcomes, as we are expressing results for the customer and not specific solutions.

Impact Mapping for Product Teams

As you can see, Impact Mapping technique can be adapted to better map customers jobs and expected outcomes and make sure that product discovery and product improvement are truly aligned with customers’ needs.