This is the Impact Mapping – Your New Way to Create an App?

Far too often, software products face a dead-end because their creators entirely rely on assumptions. The ugly truth is your brilliant idea for a game-changing application is not enough. That’s why you need to embrace an efficient methodology to validate your idea. This is where impact mapping comes to play. What is it? How can you use it to develop your MVP? Let’s find out!

It might be tempting to lock yourself up in a secret laboratory and to put your piece of software together in a vacuum. But it doesn’t work this way. Nor is the outside world holding its breath and stopping spinning while waiting for your application to come and rock the market.

Perhaps you already have an impressive list of features your future app will differentiate from competitors. However, blindly relying on assumptions will take you straight to time and money-wasting hell.

Instead, you need a bird’ eye view to visualize your product strategy, and mind mapping is your way to go.

What is impact mapping?

Impact mapping is a collaborative software product management that aims at merging the process of building products with business objectives.

The ambassador of this product development planning technique is Gojko Adzic, an award-winning software delivery strategy consultant.

In Gojko Adzic book “Impact Mapping – Making a big impact with software products and projects,” Gojko Adzic brings out a definition:

“Impact mapping is a strategic planning technique. It prevents organizations from getting lost while building products and delivering projects, by clearly communicating assumptions, helping teams align their activities with overall business objectives and make better roadmap decisions.”

How does impact mapping look like?

Before we take a deep dive into this, let’s think about the power of visuals. For instance, why do marketers put so much emphasis on creating infographics? Because they leave a mark because they make an impact. Why?

It’s about how our brains work. Deep down, humans are visual creatures. Following after Venngage:

Visuals attract our attention, enhance our emotions, and affect our attitude.

  • Our brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text.
  • 40% of people respond better to images than text.
  • 50% of our brain is active in visual processing.

Those dynamics influence the way we work the way we put together ideas. To clearly explain a complex concept to other people, you automatically feel a need to draw this, make a simple diagram, and make a visual out of it.

It not only functions in scholarship or marketing but also works in a startup realm, software product management, and, more specifically, agile development.

And it brings us again to Gojko’s publication. What is an impact map?

An impact map is a visualization of scope and underlying assumptions created collaboratively by senior technical and business people. It is a mind-map grown during a discussion facilitated by answering the following four questions:

  • Why?
  • Who?
  • How?
  • What?

How much money would you flush into the toilet?

Before you learn how to inject impact mapping into your product management’s veins, you need to understand why it is necessary to implement it entirely.

Gojko Adzic evangelizes agile teams, software project managers, and business sponsors worldwide. In one of his prelections, held during the Agile Warsaw conference back in 2017, he pointed out some utter pathologies that are sometimes behind massive agile projects.

For instance, the BBC has spent £75 million (!) on an “agile” IT project that got totally out of control, and it didn’t deliver anything.

Another incredible case is about the FBI, who initially threw away $19 million on building a case management system with the waterfall methodology and wasted another $360 million on doing it from the top, but this time – iteratively. And eventually, they admitted they didn’t know how to do it.

Impact mapping is an innovative game that helps to avoid such calamities.

Let’s get rid of those Underpants Gnomes

Yes, you didn’t misread it – the Underpants Gnomes. What does it have to do with impact mapping and developing your app? A lot.

The problem with those disastrous projects that have consumed millions but failed to deliver any value is about the wrong approach towards progress reporting.

Gojko nailed it by bringing the Underpants Gnomes story from South Park:

Gnomes kept on stilling underpants, and when kids from South Park found them and asked them why they had been doing this, they said: “we don’t know, the Planning Gnome should know.”

And it turned out that the Planning Gnome did have a planning board. But he only was clear about phase number one, which was collecting underpants, totally clueless about phase number two, and confident again about the last phase – gaining profits.


It’s hilarious and scary at the same time. Because many software projects come down to developing tons of features without discovering what’s valuable or not so, that’s doing work for the sake of doing work, nothing more.

How can impact mapping help in creating a product strategy?

Having a board is a step in the right direction, but not in the way those gnomes worked it out. To help delivery teams get back on the right track and get a shared understanding of connections between goals and features, you need to create a storyboard – an impact map.

As we outlined before, to set up a goal and to measure the progress, you need to structure your project by four fundamental questions:

  1. Why? – the phenomenon of Simon Sinek’s bestseller, “Start with why” didn’t come out of anywhere. To avoid the underpants gnome effect where “we’re doing something, but don’t have a clue why are we doing this,” you need to be crystal clear about your business goal. In your case, why do you want to create an app?
  2. Who? – your second column will be about defining actors – internal or external players that you need to include in this game. Imagine your app; you should be thinking of sellers and buyers as actors, but also media or influencers in your niche. Each category of actors will have an impact on your outcomes.
  3. How? – setting up an initial business goal will influence the desired actions your players would have to take. Influencers might be posting about your product on their social media channels, engaging their audience in some way. 
  4. What? – stages described above will lead you finally to define deliverables – your product features that will break down to epics and user stories. This way, you will avoid building features based on your gut feeling (“yes, that feature would be amazing!” – perhaps for you, but not necessarily for your end users), and focus on a few that will bring you closer to your business goal.


How to put impact mapping to action?

Let’s take a few steps forward – as soon as you define your deliverables your outstanding features, you will have to think about who will develop them. Who will you outsource to build your app from scratch (putting your impact mapping strategy into play)?

Most likely, hiring a software house will be an ideal solution.

And what if your software development company of choice was able to conduct iterative, collaborative impact-mapping workshops for you?

At DeSmart, we have injected the impact mapping method to work with our customers. Thanks to running those workshops, we can develop a vision of what needs to be delivered to achieve customers’ business goals.

Instead of wasting time and money developing features based on wrong assumptions, we focus on user stories that will move the needle.

Besides, it’s fun! Take a look at this picture – that’s our office, with a black wall to put handy magnetic cards and rearrange them as we work away during workshops:

Are you ready to start building a strategy for your app?

To wrap it up – you could choose the BBC or the FBI path and be reckless about spending time and money without a clue where you’re heading at and at the end – without delivering anything.

Or – you can do it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) and follow the impact mapping planning technique.

We at DeSmart can help you out with the entire process.

Are you ready to start? 

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