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Impact mapping for software developers – solve the right business problems

Irek Mirgaleev
Originally published at irekm.com ・4 min read

At any given time you probably have a couple of tasks that you are working on at your current job. Can you confidently say that you have a clear understanding why these tasks are important? Alternatively, can you say that you know how these tasks contribute to any of the goals of your organization?

I rarely asked these questions at the beginning of my career. I just did what dropped in my queue. However, one day the circumstances put me in the position of a team lead. Therefore, it became my responsibility to decide what tasks we pick and drop.

That is where I realized how easy it is for a developer to just grind in the routine of busywork. As you know, busy work does not make you a successful developer. You become successful by making your team or organization reach their goals.

Read on, and you will learn a powerful technique. The technique that you can use to make an impact and become more successful in your engineering career.

What is impact mapping?

Suppose you are working on a new feature for your product. You or someone else assumed that this feature would help the organization to achieve some goal.

Impact mapping is a technique to expose these assumptions in a clear visual way.

It allows everyone in a team to see why they are doing the things they are doing. It aligns everyone with the same goals. As a result, by looking at an impact map, you can tell whether your current work relates to what your organization defines as success.

How to use impact mapping

Below is an example of an impact map for online teaching service. Think of www.udemy.com for instance.

Impact mapping for an online teaching service

Example of an impact map for online teaching service.

The goal (why?)

Everything you do should serve some goal. In our example, the goal is to reach $1M in revenue by the end of the year:

In impact mapping, everything converges to the goal.

In an impact map, everything converges to the goal.

Actors (who?)

Then you define whom you can involve in achieving the goal. In our example, we have prospect students, existing students, course instructors, and the internal engineering team.

Actors in the impact mapping

Actors in the impact map.

Impact (how?)

Next, you figure out how these actors can get you closer to the goal. In other words, you define what kind of impact they can produce so that you can achieve the goal.

The impact produced by actors.

The desired impact produced by actors.

Deliverables (what?)

The last step is to come up with ideas for what we can do to enable the actors to produce the impact. Impact mapping defines these ideas as deliverables.

Deliverables to enable actors to make an impact.

Deliverables to enable actors to make an impact.

Benefits of using the impact mapping

  • It provides context to why specific features are critical. For example, we are investing in a recommendation system because we believe that showing related courses will encourage students to buy more and get us closer to the goal.
  • It prevents the scope creep when others try to push features and ideas that do not contribute to the goal.
  • By looking at the impact map, you can see the direct connection between the work you are doing and the goal to which it is supposed to contribute.

“But I am a developer, not a product person.”

Yes, you can write great code. Moreover, you can be an expert at the technology you use to build solutions to business problems. However, if you do not fully understand the business problem and how it relates to organization goals, it is too easy to waste your talent building a wrong thing without even knowing it.

When business people tell you to build a specific feature, you can try to draw an impact map to understand better what they want to achieve. It will expose their assumptions in a clear visual way.

As a result, you will have a better idea of the desired outcome. This knowledge will empower you to solve the right business problem. At the same time, such an approach makes it less likely that you will spend precious time on things that make no difference.

Conclusion

In this post, you learned why making an impact is crucial to becoming a successful software developer. You learned that impact mapping is a powerful technique that can help you to achieve this goal. You saw how to apply the impact mapping technique in your position as a software developer.

To learn more about the impact mapping visit https://www.impactmapping.org.

Discussion (1)

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Michael Rice

One of the things I write and speak about a lot about for tech leads is crafting strong and compelling visions. Impact mapping is a useful analytical too. Thanks for breaking it down Irek!!!