Impact Mapping: What it is and how to build an impact map

Learn what is an impact map and all the basics of Impact mapping you need to know. Also find out how to build an impact map.

What is impact mapping?

Impact mapping is a graphic planning method to make a decision about which features are to be built in a product. The method helps to coordinate the work of different people involved and synchronize it with the client’s requirement at the initial stage of planning. It is branded as a lightweight, collaborative planning technique for teams that wish to make a sizable impact with the software product they are creating.

Impact mapping was designed by Gojko Adzic, a well known agile author and strategist in his 2012 book with the same name. It simply tries to visualize how functions make a difference to the success of the project through asking the questions ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘what’. In impact mapping, the ‘actors’ or the various stakeholders involved are first identified. Then, the role each of these actors plays and the impact it has is also analyzed. Lastly, the deliverables used by the actors are checked.

The technique tries to combine mind mapping as well as strategic planning so as to make it easy for a team to figure the behaviours that they should try to inculcate to reach their goal. Teams make use of impact maps to analyze assumptions, stay in line with the objectives of the organization and focus on achieving only the things that help in achieving the organizational objectives. All other unnecessary activities are avoided.


In 2012, Gojko Adzic invented the impact mapping method to help teams align the steps taken in development with the business objectives. It also served the purpose of testing mutual understanding of goals and expected outcomes, to focus on the highest value feature and encourage collaboration in decision making.

In recent years, impact mapping has been adopted by small startups as well as bigger software companies. It has now become a well established tool for strategic business planning.

What is impact mapping supposed to achieve?

Impact mapping is a method for all the stakeholders involved in software delivery - product managers, business sponsors and senior technical leadership. This is meant for those who wish to focus their effort towards a particular goal, restructure initiatives that are already in place or communicate a new idea effectively. Impact mapping is an attempt to achieve the following three purposes:

  1. Strategic planning - New products/ deliverables have strategic goals. Similarly, new goals have new products.
  2. Defining the quality - the various stakeholders are in agreement with the purpose of the product,
  3. Roadmap agreement - mutual agreement to achieve the business objectives; iterative releases to measure progress at frequent intervals; agreement on metrics meant to achieve the goals.

How to build an impact map?

impact mapping

The below steps are involved in building an impact map.

1. Why? - Identifying the user goal

In the first step of impact mapping, we define the business goal of the given project. The product, stages of development, project boundaries are not considered in this step. We are only trying to understand why the product is useful and its business value.

This identification of the goal makes it easier for the team to work in alignment with the expected result. The function requirements can be stated with clarity and the ideal solution can be arrived at. These reasons make this step a really important one and it’s worth it to take your time and arrive at the core objective of the project. The entire path is affected by the goal definition, so it’s good to get it right.

Formulating the business objective as a SMART goal is considered a good way of ensuring that it’s correctly achieved. SMART in this context is expanded as Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. This helps to clearly define the reasons.

2. Who? - Identifying the actors

The second stage of impact mapping is meant to answer the ‘Who’ question. Basically, you are trying to identify the actors/ stakeholders that bring the organization closer to its objectives. The ones who could prove to be a block in this pursuit are also identified. We are trying to see who are the actors who have some impact on the outcome of the project.

For example, are there multiple types of users to your product and is it serving multiple industries? Are there end users who may not themselves be using the product, but could still be interested in how it works? Who are the actors apart from the end users who are involved, such as sales reps, marketing agents, etc.? The impact everyone has and any deliverables that are required by these are analyzed.

3. How? - Identifying the impact

This is where you aim to answer questions about how the behaviours should change to create impact. The things that can be done to modify the behavior of the actors are analyzed. The impacts that will best lead to achieving the goal and the risks that need to be taken into account are examined. Specifics that are expected from various actors are stated in clear terms. 

Typical modeling accounts only for the tasks that are to be done. However, impact mapping looks at the goal that is to be achieved and is quite different. So, following the earlier example of the actors, the impact would be spending money or recommending the product to others. Again, like identifying the actors, you’d also factor in the behaviors that should not change so as to achieve the business goal.

4. What? - Identifying deliverables

Here, you’d be trying to identify the various deliverables that need to be achieved in order to achieve the business goal. In other words, the steps you need to take to make the desired impact.

After you’re done identifying the various deliverables, there is a need to prioritize them based on the merits and their validity towards achieving the desired goal.

After you’re done with all the steps, go through them again and make sure everything is aligned. Make modifications as needed.


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