Impact mapping is ideal for creating effective cross-functional groups in a remote work environment
Yet, even for organizations used to remote work, there’s often a natural disconnect that crops up between teams that can hamper initiative planning and product launches. While teams within organizations may be conducting daily standups and adhering to agile ceremony cadences, communications pipelines tend to be more fragmented.
As such, without a proactive and concerted communications and planning effort in place, it can be challenging for everyone to have a clear understanding of their organization’s objectives, let alone visibility into the work being done by their colleagues. Without this understanding, they run the risk of duplicating work or overlooking key performance metrics, and not delivering products that drive value for their customers.
At a time where organizations are planning 2021 initiatives, impact mapping can help. This graphical strategic planning practice can be leveraged at any level of an organization that is looking to identify clear goals, build better lines of communication and map out the resources it will take to meet corporate initiatives.
So how can organizations and teams take advantage of impact mapping?
The 4 Elements of an Impact Map
The goal or initiative: This should be specific and measurable. For example, “Increase customer satisfaction by 20% over the next 12 months.”
The actor: The people or things that influence the eventual outcome. An actor can be a team member, but it can also be a piece of software or a group of people (e.g.: customer service).
The impact: An assessment of behavioral changes necessary to achieve the goal. For example, a behavior change could be a decrease in the number of units a customer returns to the business.
The deliverable: Any changes (or work items), platform updates and/or product features that will need to be created or improved to achieve the goal. In this case, reach the desired impact and increase customer satisfaction ratings by 20% over the next 12 months.
To create an impact map, a facilitator and business owner gathers a team of sponsors across the business. This could include product teams, operations, finance and sales. Over the course of several hours (or, sometimes, weeks) the initiatives are brainstormed and prioritized. Utilizing a digital whiteboard, such as Coggle or Google Jamboard, all team members are invited to be engaged and to contribute.
The net effect is that all team members can be on the same page when it comes to the overall strategic goal behind the initiative and their unique roles in the process. When the prioritizing is complete, they can go forward and continue to work together to deliver the right features to align with the objective.
Before that happens, there are additional steps that take place during the impact mapping process that play a vital part in the ultimate success of an initiative. Let’s take a closer look at a few of those steps.
Building a Team
As the goals, actors, impacts and deliverables become clear, so, too, will the resources that an organization will need to make the ultimate outcome a reality. Those resources may include individuals from various parts of the organization.
For example, it may be determined that one of the best ways to increase customer satisfaction is to significantly decrease the number of bugs in a product. That might necessitate a higher level of involvement from security teams in the development and planning process. Getting these teams involved early will save time and reduce risk as their input is incorporated into the design from the very beginning, helping to create a compliant, bug-free product that will better deliver on customers’ expectations.
The number and type of team members will vary based on the product and the goal. In some cases, teams may include members versed in user experience strategies, while in others it may be DevSecOps team members. Whatever the use case, once the team and roles have been established, everyone involved in the product will have a clear view of what they’re expected to do, and how their work aligns with the rest of the team and drives toward achieving the goal.
Improving the Development Process
Impact mapping can also be useful for identifying areas of improvement in the development process. It sheds light on areas that teams may not otherwise realize need work. For instance, perhaps team members will discover they need to implement higher quality tools or make changes to their integration testing processes. Or, their developers need better training on Kubernetes Operators so they can automate and expedite the deployment of applications.
These deficiencies and others can be discovered before they end up impeding development. By creating more transparency in these areas, teams can focus on addressing them prior to delivery, resulting in a secure and more stable product that meets its objectives.
Facilitating Better Communication and Collaboration
The impact mapping process encourages collaboration and the sharing of ideas that can, in turn, spur other ideas. Through collaboration, team members can help each other solve problems and find new ways to address the impact and deliverable phases of the process.
Closer collaboration also allows team members to help each other become more comfortable with any changes that might be necessitated by the impact mapping process. This could include the adoption of new technologies that the team may not initially be comfortable using.
Consider if the development process calls for the team to adopt new technologies that will change their workflow processes. Such a move could take many people out of their comfort zones. But if everyone understands the reasons behind the change and a willingness to test it out, the change becomes more palatable. By working together, they can collaboratively troubleshoot issues and adopt new best practices for using the technology.
A Good Solution for a Remote Environment
While impact mapping sessions have been delivered in conference rooms or large meeting spaces with sticky notes and markers, the practice can also enable alignment when used in a remote environment. Being on-screen instead of in-person can actually bring out participation among members who might otherwise be shy or reluctant to volunteer ideas in a room full of their colleagues or managers, where they may be hesitant to speak their opinions. Team members may feel more anonymous in a remote environment and feel more comfortable speaking freely.
In short, impact mapping is ideal for creating effective cross-functional groups in a remote work environment. No matter where they are located, everyone will have a better understanding of what they need to do—both individually and collectively—to create applications that deliver value to their businesses.