Facilitating impact mapping

You can use impact maps for several different purposes. Depending on the outcome you want to achieve, you will need to engage different groups and at different times. Here is a quick summary of who should participate in an impact mapping session, and when they need to participate.

Setting a vision

Impact maps are a great way to set the vision for a new product milestone, especially when solutions are prescribed instead of objectives. The usual scenarios when organisations use impact maps for this purpose are when a delivery organisation works with external clients who are providing a shopping-list of features, internal like-for-like replacements or when an organisation wants to engage third-party delivery agencies, and prepare a statement of work or a request for proposals.

The usual way to prepare impact maps in this case is to engage all the key stakeholders in a collaborative mapping workshop. The facilitator should prepare for the workshop by providing a draft of a business goal, something that is detailed enough to focus the discussion but not necessarily set in stone. Let the stakeholders refine and challenge the goal during the workshop. Focus on discussing actor impacts, and avoid listing the deliverables on the map. Engage delivery team members in a second workshop, later, to come up with proposals for deliverables that would match the chosen impacts. Capturing metrics for the goal and the impacts would be useful, but don’t insist on it. You can do research and add numbers later.

In this context, facilitators usually transform impact maps into some other document, keeping the conclusions but throwing the original map away after the discussion. Some examples of resulting documents are vision papers, RFP proposals or powerpoint presentations.

Focusing delivery

When the organisation is clear on the objectives of an initiative, but there are lots of objectives and multiple stakeholders potentially have competing or conflicting priorities, impact maps can be useful to facilitate a common understanding of the company priorities. The usual scenarios when organisations use impact maps to focus delivery are with a large piece of work covering diverse goals, when an ongoing initiative has a full backlog of epics difficult to prioritise, or when teams find it difficult to know when to stop things that did not work out.

To focus delivery, it’s important that stakeholders and delivery team create the map together. The facilitator should prepare by getting a full upfront agreement on a single milestone goal, often by organising a separate half-day session a week before the impact mapping workshop. With stakeholders and delivery team members in a room, start from the goal and focus the discussion on impacts and high level deliverables. Make sure to capture metrics for key impacts, which could be later used to decide if the deliverables are achieving what the stakeholders expect or not.

In this context, teams usually keep impact maps in the original form and use them to review metrics frequently during delivery, reporting on progress and letting stakeholders change priorities.

Reframing a problem

When objectives for a delivery initiative are unclear or not shared, impact maps can be useful to get stakeholders to agree on a direction by reframing the problem. The typical scenarios when organisations use impact maps for this purpose are when a single person holds complex business knowledge (or it is in a complex reference document), when a project is stalled or not delivering value any more, or at the start of a large initiative without clear goals.

To reframe a problem, usually a single person collects information for several impact maps by engaging various stakeholders, usually in smaller groups, over several meetings. The facilitator captures ideas, needs and objectives from various stakeholders, and then presents the conclusions in impact maps back to key stakeholders, so they can make a good decision. In this case, impact maps should contain high level deliverables only, without too much detail. Measurements around impacts might be useful, but detailed goal metrics are necessary.