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Impact Mapping — How To Use It
Background and Evolution of Impact Mapping
Impact mapping is a visual mapping technique for product development. Gojko Adzic, a Serbian software consultant — who moved to the UK — invented this method to align development teams to business objectives, to test mutual understanding of goals and expected outcomes with stakeholders, to focus teams toward the highest value features to deliver, and to enable collaborative decision-making.
At its origin, it was considered as a user experience strategy and design technique for agile teams to gather requirements, create user stories, and to develop fast UX mockups.
Nowadays, impact mapping has taken off from its roots and is adopted by small startups and as well by big enterprise software companies. Impact mapping is an established, general tool for strategic business planning:
- •It helps the team to focus on delivery by setting deliverables in the context of impacts they are supposed to achieve.
- It restricts an initiative to the least essentials by prioritizing impacts and deliverables.
- It enhances collaboration by creating a shared big picture and understanding between technical and business people.
Purpose of Impact Mapping
- Strategic Planning – Strategic goals for new products (deliverables);
New products (deliverables) for new strategic goals
- Define Quality – Agreements on purpose of deliverables
Agreements on metrics of change
- Roadmap Management – Agreements to achieve Business goals
Frequent iterative releases to measure progress
Agreements on metrics for central business goals
The "Why", The "Who", The "How", and The "What"
By impact mapping, all parties involved are enabled to answer the ultimate question: “Why am I doing this?”, in a sense, “How the feature I am implementing now, gets the product closer to the business goal?”
The method is very easy to learn — most participants grasp the idea in at least as 5 minutes. And its is very efficient — you get stupendous results within 1-2 day workshops.
In an impact mapping workshop teams construct a roadmap that helps them quickly learn whether a particular approach will produce the desired results and adapt to inevitable changes by answering the following questions: why, who, how, and what?
Since the participants of these workshops are interdisciplinary — product or process designers, business people, customers and clients, and other stakeholders — impact mapping is a highly collaborative discussion event to share mutual objectives, requirements, goals, and targets.
Impact mapping is a kind of collaborative journey from intended goals to deliverables needed to achieve these objectives. The paths are assumptions underlying and strengthening the objectives/goals. By mapping our assumptions we find the work/activities that can validate them.
An impact map is a visual mind-map, grown collaboratively during a discussion facilitated by answering the fundamental four questions: "Why (Goals)?", "Who (Actors)?", "How (Impacts)?", "What (Deliverables)?"
Think of an Impact Map as a structured mind map, with the following levels being used to articulate the various aspects of an initiative:
- Why – The central node describes the goal of the initiative in a quantitative manner such that it can be measured.
- Who – These are the people who can either be a help or a hindrance in achieving the goal.
- How – These are impacts that need to be had on the actors for them to either help achieve the goal, or minimise/avoid them being a hindrance.
- What – These are the deliverables which are hoped will create the impact on the actors to achieve the goal.
As a consultant or as an Agile coach, I'm often faced with clients phrasing their requirements and objectives as highly detailed solutions. Very often, the clients separate these objectives from the issues they come from — sometimes the issues were even forgotten ;-).
By standing as a group in front of a whiteboard, questioning the Whys, the Whos, the Hows, and the Whats, impact mapping is a simple and effective method, to get the focus back to the underlying problems and to discuss whether the considered approaches, people, and deliverables, are really the best fitting ones.
Loosely related to this topic is the talk by Paul Watzlawick: When the solution is the problem. Watzlawick tells a few stories that illustrate how having a certain solution in mind or having a certain mental model can be restricting in finding the right solution. — Thanks to Peter Gfader for pointing me to this.
According to Sinek consists the Golden Circle of three layers:
- Why - This is the core belief of the business. It's why the business exists.
- How - This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
- What - This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.
Ingrid Domingues explains the similarities between image maps and Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle straight forward:
"the impact map describes the business and user values that a new product or service is expected to generate.
- why this solution is a good investment for the business
- how people are going to gain from it
- what the solution should encompass in order to promote user satisfaction and business prosperity."
Lisa Crispin writes about this
"our stakeholders come to us and say, “Give us a UI that does X, Y, and Z.” They often want to give us the implementation, despite the fact that they hired us because we’re the ones who know how to develop the software. When customers do this, it’s important to ask them the following questions: “Why do you want this feature? What business problem are you solving? What value will it add? How will we measure whether it was successful after we release it to production?” Once we understand the purpose, we can apply our own technical and domain knowledge as well as our creativity to come up with the simplest effective solution.
Thus, the "Why"-question leads us to the following two questions:
- Do you solve the right problem? and How do you know?
- How do you measure the success of your product/service?
To answer the "Why" question, Gojko suggests to use the acronym “SMART”: “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely” — according to Wikipedia there are multiple variants to interpret SMART. For multiple goals use the well-known MoSCoW prioritisation method: "Must have, Should have, Could have, Won't have". Through the exercise, recursively check the goal back to the basic premise. What we believe will help us accomplish our business need (e.g. increased revenue, reduction in cost, etc.).
Through this exercise, recursively check the goal back to the basic premise. What we believe will help us accomplish our business need (e.g. increased revenue, reduction in cost, etc.). This approach is similar to identifying goals and objectives for Key Performance Indicators and proper metrics.
This approach is similar to identifying goals and objectives top-down for Key Performance Indicators and proper metrics.
In the "Who" part of impact mapping, we investigate "Who can help us reach our goal?", "Whose behavior do we want to impact?", "Who can produce the desired effect?", "Who can obstruct it?"
Think about people with whom you don’t normally collaborate. Be as specific as possible
“Music lovers who aren’t afraid of using the Internet to buy music” instead of “Everyone”.
Customer support and operations also have information that’s valuable to us. Sometimes people don’t know we even need help.
The "How" part describes the impacts of our product or service: "How do we want to change the behavior?", "How could our actors’ behavior change to help us achieve our goal?", "Which behavior is most likely to get us to our goal?".
Focus on what the actors most likely would do to support us to reach our goal, not everything they ‘can’ do. Consider behavior that could potentially — or on purpose — hinder us as well.
Write each “who” on a sticky note, and group them to the goals.
By answering the question "What can we do to support the behavior change?" we find our “deliverables”. With this approach, we put the deliverables in the context of "Who it’s for?", and "Why it’s important".
If we design a technical product or service, these deliverables are the features and functionalities of the intended system themselves and related organizational activities.
If we use impact mapping instead as a general problem-solving tool to design business objectives or improvements, the “deliverables” are small experiments we will try to achieve the impact that will help us solve our problem.
In a HBR article, Deborah Mills-Scofield answered her own question "What’s the difference between outputs and outcomes?" as follows: outputs are extrinsic and outcomes intrinsic. Usually, outputs are artifacts like documents, software programs, or other physical "shippable stuff ", like training, and workshops; outcomes are knowledge transferred and behaviors changed. Outcomes are the difference made by the outputs: better support service, more convenient home banking experience. Outcomes are the benefit our customers receive from our output. Deborah makes this distinction exceedingly clear:
Outputs are important products, services, profits, and revenues: the What. Outcomes create meanings, relationships, and differences: the Why. Outputs, such as revenue and profit, enable us to fund outcomes; but without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.
Thus, when tracking the "What", we should focus on outputs and outcomes only, not on activities and effort to create them.
Divergent and Convergent Impact Maps
At the beginning of an impact mapping workshop, the participants identify the more and more goals and relate actors, impacts, and deliverables to each. The impact map grows and gets divergent.
You should focus on “important” strategic goals. Prioritise related actors and impacts according to either (a) their potential to support the associated goal, or (b) your effort to “attract” them. The impact map shrinks and gets convergent.
Tips & Tricks To Perform Impact Mapping
Additional useful tools for facilitating impact mapping workshops are:
- Lean Change Canvas to plan, track, and evaluate small experiments
- Innovation Games like Product Box, Buy me a Feature, Business Value Poker, Impact-Effort Matrix, or Prune the Product Tree to identify and prioritise goals and objectives, and Speed Boat to identify actors and behaviours.
See my related article to these.
Gojko gives in his book the following advice and tips:
Good goals tend to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timely. Goals should not be about building products or delivering project scope. They should explain why such a thing would be useful.
Expl.: "Starting to trade in Brazil by March next year", "Increasing user conversion by 20% in three months".
Important actors are those who can significantly influence the success of a project or product milestone, including end-users and internal or external decision-makers. Alistair Cockburn advises looking for three types of actors:
- Primary actors, whose goals are fulfilled, for example, players of a gaming system
- Secondary actors, who provide services, for example, the fraud prevention team
- Off-stage actors, who have an interest in the behaviours, but are not directly benefiting or providing a service, for example, regulators or senior decision-makers
Be specific. Avoid generic terms such as ‘users’.
Expl.: "Mike Smith from the marketing department", "Under-18 users with a mobile device at a concert", "Apple ITunes store approvers"
Identify the Impact right. — Don't list everything an actor might want to achieve. List only the impacts that really help move you in the right direction towards the central goal. Impacts are not product features. Avoid listing software ideas here, focus on business activities.
Ideally show a change in actor behaviour, not just the behaviour.
Expl.: "Inviting more friends", "Purchasing tickets without calling the call centre", "Selling tickets faster"
Identify the Deliverables right. — Don't try to make it complete from the start. Refine it iteratively as you deliver.
Treat deliverables as options, don't take it for granted that everything listed here will actually be delivered.
Expl.: "On-line ticket sales", "Mobile home page with purchase form", "Optimise call centre sales scripts", "Sign re-selling contracts"
Never aim to implement the whole map. — Instead, find the shortest path through the map to the goal!
- Gojko Adzic: https://www.impactmapping.org
- Gojko Adzic: Open Impact Mapping Workshop
- Gojko Adzic (Book): Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects. 2012, Amazon
- Ingrid Domingues: The Evolution of Impact Mapping, 20 Feb. 2017
- Fabio Armani: Impact Mapping LEGO Game - Agile Business Day 2016, Slideshare.net, 19. Sep. 2016
- Chassa: Impact Mapping with Innovation Games, Slideshare.net, 19. Oct. 2016
- Alexander Byndyu: Impact mapping in practice, 27. Oct. 2015
- Lisa Crispin: Problem Solving with Impact Mapping, Agile Connection, July 9, 2013
- Gojko Adzic, Ingrid Domingues, Johan Berndtsson: Getting the most out of impact mapping, infoQ, Nov 08, 2014.
Team Values, LEGO Serious Play, and Team Charter Canvas
An Experimental Setting
I am interested in the following experimental format to run open space sessions on LEGO Serious Play and team chartering:
. Introduce people with few pre-knowledge to both: the principles of LEGO Serious Play and Team Chartering.
. Use Team Charter Canvas as the field of application.
. 60 min for the workshop only.
I ran these experiments in sessions of the open space (un-)conferences AgileCologne2016 (16 participants) and #play14.2016 Luxembourg (24 participants).
When you do team building workshops at conferences, you are always faced with a kind of artificial/ laboratory situation. The people attending never are real teams in their work life. They convene for the session only.
Therefore, I defined the following scenario for all these workshops upfront:
We are the organiser team of the <Conference> (AgileCologne2016 | #play14).
It is the first time we come together, its the first conference/event we organise, and its our job to perform best as an agile team.
As team building event we do team chartering with the Team Charter Canvas and LEGO Serious Play.
LEGO Serious Play and Team Charter Canvas
It is quite challenging to introduce 16 newbies to the concepts of LEGO Serious Play and to illustrate the essence of team chartering (team values and norms, roles and responsibilities, etc.at the same time).
To set the participants into a relaxed environment, we sat in a circle on the floor. I used the Lego Windows Exploration bags, all players had the same set of bricks.
Warm-up Exercise and Metaphorical Thinking
As a warm-up exercise (5 min) and to bring the players in a certain flow of playing, I asked the attendees to fiddle with bricks and to build something undesigned first. Concurrently, I introduced the players to use LEGO models as metaphors.
After 1 minute, I asked: "Build upon what you already have built a model of your expectations to this workshop".
After another minute, I mentioned that playing with the bricks and creating individual models is time-boxed: "Now, you have 3 min. to build your model".
When the time was up, everyone explained her expectations round-robin (less than 1 min each). To show how details in a model figures the interpretation, I asked a few times for more explanations.
Pictures been taken at #agilecologne, #play14:
Then we summarised briefly the concept of metaphorical thinking:
- all models are different;
- all models show personal opinions figuratively;
- all models are valid answers to the question.
Then I split the participants in groups of two. Each group got a copy of the Team Charter Canvas in front.
I mentioned again the team setting (being the Agile Cologne 2016 resp #play14 organisers). And with the help of the canvas, I explained all necessary elements for a well-structured team charter briefly:
- WHAT: the team try to achieve / deliver.
- What is the measurable team outcome / performance, benchmarks towards constant improvement based on success criteria determined by the team?
- WHY: the team exists:
- Reason for the team’s existence
- Alignment to core business activities/vision
- Project or department mission
- Why team come to work
- WHAT ELSE: for the team:
- What is within and outside the scope of the team?
- What are the limits of formal authority of the team?
- What are the area of influence or what may the team do with permission?
- What are the shared responsibilities or areas in which team members are expected to initiate action to support others?
- HOW: the team approach its goals.
- They ground operational Norms,
- Constitutes Team’s Belief system,
- Are the fundament of intrinsic motivation and empowerment, and the foundation of Improvement.
- How does the team business?
- How treats the team others?
- HOW: the team govern itself, make decisions, resolve conflicts, communicate, and improve.
- WHICH: identify the unique skills and strengths each team member has.
- Who plays which role in the team?
- Who is responsible for what in the team?
Then, each group selected a quadrant of the canvas they wanted to work on during the remaining time. It was optional to the groups to whether they built one LEGO model as group result or two models by each group member. (5 min)
After building their model(s), each group explained their model(s) and put it on canvas in the circle centre.
Pictures been taken at #agilecologne:
Levels of Reflection
In a LEGO Serious Play workshop, the topic under investigation is always reflected from different perspectives and levels of abstraction.
Due to the timing constraints, this format allows only to mention this, at the end to amplify the application.
In one workshop (Agile Cologne 2016) the participants selected each a different canvas' quadrant to work on. Then every group shared their results in the circle to one big picture.However in workshops with many participants, it happens naturally that multiple teams work on same quadrants.
However in workshops with many participants, it happens naturally that multiple teams work on same quadrants. In this cases, you would start in a LEGO Serious workshop to create shared models and to elaborate on differences, commonalities, and emergencies.
At #play14.2016 Luxembourg, the participants formed teams of two. We had 4 tables with 3 teams each. On each table the teams chose different quadrants. Of course some quadrants like "Values" were picked several times. I managed the timing thus all participants visited each table in a row and the teams at each table explained their models. Thus the teams who worked on "Values" for example experienced the differences and commonalities of these results.
Pictures been taken at #play14:
I emphasised this experience with the closing remark, that in a real LSP workshop where more time is available these findings were caught up in an exercise to build a shared model of all individual team models of each quadrant — for example, a shared model of all "Values" models. Using the shared model missing or surprising items can be investigated in further details.
To facilitate a workshop on two topics — LEGO Serious Play and Team Chartering — was a challenging experiment. And it worked. The participants got the mechanics of LEGO Serious Play, its application, and the idea of team chartering.
One remarkable observation: in team building exercises people tend to reflect and to value the product rather than the team. Two groups built models characterising the conference (the product) rather than illustrating the team.
Yes, it is possible to run with 16 people in 60min a workshop illustrating the principles of team chartering and LEGO Serious Play simultaneously.
- Download free Team Charter Canvas A0-Poster
- Norms & Values — Why Team Building is Complex & How To Simplify It
- Michael Tarnowski: The Prime Directive. How To Charter Your Team Best (With LEGO Serious Play) - Slideshare
- Michael Tarnowski: Setting up Vision & Culture for Departments and Teams - Slideshare
Lateral Thinking — How to Boost Your Creativity
Vertical and Lateral Thinking
When we solve problems, when we ideate new concepts or when we generate new ideas, we generally choose between two different approaches: the vertical and the lateral thinking one. We do this unconsciously. — However, most of the time we stay in the vertical thinking mode.
Why do we bother about all this stuff? — Vertical thinking is synonymous with logical thinking. In vertical thinking mode, we carry a chosen idea forward. We come to a solution by deducting logically one piece from the other. When thinking vertically we are analytical, careful and precise, taking the data around a problem and analysing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions.
Instead, lateral thinking triggers fresh ideas by changing the frame of reference continuously. In lateral mode, we view a certain subject from different perspectives. A lateral thinker understands vertical thinking but chooses deliberately to think outside of this bounded thought process. Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.
Edward de Bono coined the term of lateral thinking first. For de Bono lateral thinking is "addressing the problem always from different perspectives."1 The most prominent lateral thinking technique is his "Six Thinking Hats".
Here is probably the best known and most celebrated of all lateral thinking puzzles. It is a true classic. And although there are many possible solutions which fit the initial conditions, only the canonical answer is truly satisfying.
The Man in the Elevator
A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to go down to the ground floor to go to work or to go shopping. When he returns he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and walks up the stairs to reach his apartment on the tenth floor. He hates walking so why does he do it?
For example, when solving creepy riddles like Black Stories the players use lateral thinking. They focus their solution proposals from several different perspectives. The suggestions made necessarily are not related to each other nor a logical consequence. Merely, the players follow an indirect and creative approach. They throw ideas on the table that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. They jump from one option to a totally different by random — only guided by the more or less illustrative or cryptic hints of the narrator.
Why Is Lateral Thinking Difficult?
Ok, all of us admit that lateral thinking is very helpful to support ideating new and fresh ideas. However, most of the time all of us stuck always in the vertical mode, instead. Switching from vertical to lateral thinking is extensively and takes us quite an effort. And we do it deliberately only.
Why takes us always lateral thinking quite an effort? — Why do we use lateral thinking deliberately only?
I facilitated and hosted a lot of workshops where vertical thinking was the solution and always I had to move the participants towards it. And when they made the turn they became awesome.
Although, I can presume some reasons only why we are inclined to think vertically most:
- maybe it is an issue between occidental and oriental people? — Western people tend more to vertical thinking?
- Western people prefer all kinds of cause-effect explanations?
- Western people prefer provable — scientific explanations more?
- humans like "easy answers". We prefer answers which take only few steps in a complex chain of arguments.
How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work
The magic of lateral thinking is that it breaks up your frame of thinking. However disruptive breakthroughs you get only if you break your habits and assumptions. Use the following five tricks to trigger lateral thinking in your daily work.2
- List the assumptions — when faced with a question (problem, challenge, etc.), write out the assumptions inherent to the question.
- Verbalize the convention — ask yourself "What would the straightforward approach be?". Map out the obvious, straightforward solutions. Then question the conventions: "What else would work?"
- Question the question — Try to rewrite the question. Rearrange the pieces to form a new scenario.
- Start backwards — often solving a problem is easier, when you start with the solution first, and try to work backward.
- Change perspective — to kickstart lateral thinking, you might do well to pretend you were someone else trying to solve the problem.
Improving Your Lateral Thinking Capabilities
Here are some techniques to foster your lateral thinking capability easily:
- Edward de Bono: Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity. Penguin 2009.
- Lateral Thinking Puzzles
- Word Games - Lateral Thinking
- Brain Food
- James Abela: Lateral Thinking Exercises
- Shane Snow: How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work. 99u.com.
- 6 Ways To Facilitate Lateral Thinking In Online Training and tools that can help you
Shane Snow: How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work. 99u.com. ↩
"Black Stories" - Empower Your Creativity with Lateral Thinking
What are "Black Stories"?
"Black Stories" are a gaming format where the players have to find out what had happened in a certain situation starting with an initial teaser as a hint only. Black Stories is a card deck. Each situation is phrased in a short story on one side of a playing card, the other card side shows a one- or two-sentence teaser for the players. Black Stories are always tricky, morbid, sinister, and "raven-hued" riddle-stories.
How to Play Black Stories
The rules are easy:
- You can play it with a game master/facilitator presenting the stories; or each story is presented round-robin by each player as narrator.
- The narrator tells the players the teaser only.
- It is up to the players now to reconstruct the particulars of each incident, piece by piece, by asking questions, guessing, or puzzling over the evidence.
- The narrator is allowed to answer with "Yes" or "No" only or to asked for rephrasing the question.
Let me illustrate this with the creepy story "Cheap Porsche" from the English edition of "Black Stories"1
The story goes like this:
Story headline: "Cheap Porsche".
Teaser: "A woman decides to sell her husband's new Porsche for a mere 500 euros."
Did you solve the riddle without cheating by looking at the solution?
The Magic of "Black Stories"
Why are Black Stories so unique? — What makes them so useful in Agile Product Development environment?2
The reason is obvious and you can validate it by a simple experiment when playing Black Stories next time: For one Black Story take notes about the suggestions and questions throws on the table.
When solving a creepy riddle the players come up with solution proposals from several different perspectives. The suggestions made necessarily are not related to each other nor a logical consequence. Merely, the players follow an indirect and creative approach. They throw ideas on the table that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. They jump from one option to a totally different by random — only guided by the more or less illustrative or cryptic hints of the narrator.
Edward de Bono coined this kind of problem-solving lateral thinking. For de Bono lateral thinking is "addressing the problem always from different perspectives." The most prominent lateral thinking technique is de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats".
Black Stories Vivify Your Meetings and Product Development
Although I knew Black Stories — I have to admit, I didn't see its nexus to Agile or product development. Not at all... not until... Jordann Gross, hosted in Feb 2016 an Open Space session at Play4Agile16 unconference. where he showed us how "Black Stories" can be used in agile retrospectives and Scrum ceremonies.
You can use Black Stories in your team meetings and daily stand-ups:
...to spark creativity, to make people think out of the box, to nudge lateral thinking, learn people to ask the right questions, and, and, and...
to help team members or meeting attendees to get out of their previous context easily.
You can use Black Stories as energizers in the opening of your meetings or in between to shake the people awake.
Here a slide deck of Agile Black Stories I presented at Tools4AgileTeam2016
Michael Tarnowski, founder of Plays-in-Business.com. He has more than 20 years IT-management consultancy experience in the fields of software development, automotive, aerospace/aviation, airlines, and air traffic management, defence, banking/finance, logistics, and tourism.
Michael works as (agile) coach, process improvement consultant (CMMI, ISO 15504/Automotive SPICE®), business and innovation facilitator (Management 3.0, LEGO Serious Plays, Innovation Games) — actor/director (stage acting & business plays).
Michael's passions are moderation techniques which set people in a playful mood for improvement — play@work:
Improvement is like Playing — Do it with Fun!
Certifications & Associations
ISO15504 assessor, cert. consultancy: ITIL v3, CobIT, CMMI, Scrum master.