Assumption assistance with Impact Mapping

As a product owner, your job is to make assumptions, or hypotheses. (Hypothesis-driven product discovery, anyone?) You assume that your priorities will be the best outcome, the shortest time to market or something else. But how good are your assumption when it comes to reality? Did that sale increase occur and was it thanks to your great mind or just pure luck? Do people around you understand and help you with your assumptions? Impact mapping is a lightweight tool that helps you with quantifying and communicating your assumptions.

Having ideas

“We should have Hyperdrive in our Gizmo, we are getting behind the competition”. “No, I think we should add Mesmerizing in Zinklioin, it will be more fun for the younger audience”.  “How about project Green Sleeves, when are we doing that? Think about old women, it is a great market!”.

It is great to have ideas, but which one is the best idea? All the ideas above, they carry assumptions on what the best goal is and what would get us there.

The Impact Map

An Impact Map connects your goal with actors that we make an impact on with our changes to our product. In other words, by changing our product, we assume that a group of our users will change their use of our product in a way that will help us reach our goal.

Adding to that, to ensure we are really validating our assumptions, we add two measurements. We measure the outcome, that is how close to the goal we arrived. But to be sure that it was not by chance or some other change we made, we also measure the impact, how much we changed the behaviour of our users.

Note that by measuring, I mean both quantitative and qualitative. See book tip at the end for diving deeper into principles of measuring.

The goal

When it comes to goals, you can have many to choose from, even more than you think. The great thing about focusing on the goal and forget, for now, how to get there, is that you can generate more ideas about possible goals. As in any idea generation, constraints are good. You could start with your current strategies. Any new markets? Competition getting close?

A goal is about increasing, decreasing or protecting something and thereby creating something valuable for the business. E.g. increase the popularity of an app and thus make more money. Decrease the cost of running the site. Protect market share.

Since the Impact Map tells you to set a measurement on the outcome, you also become more clear on what your intentions are.

When the goal is set, you can start working on getting there.


Given a goal, who will help us getting there? Notice how the Impact Map first asks us where we want to go and secondly with whom. There are other models that starts with the user and assume that if we help the user, we will be successful. I can see some problems with that approach, but let us focus on the Impact Map.

Say that you wish increase the popularity of an app, then who is going to find it popular? Are we talked about war veterans or teenagers with an interest of horses? Unless you know your crowd, it is hard to pick which song to play next.

When you state which the actors are in your Impact Map, you are going clear about your assumptions about them. The more you know about them, the better you will be at the next step, making the impact.

In my post “Continuous discovery and validation”, I described how we found the gap between what we had delivered and what the professors needed. So in one sprint the professor in Japanese was our actor. Our goal was to increase the number of exams that was using our system.


We want to make an impact on people so that they will help us achieve our goals. It is possible to measure the impact by observing if our actors will start doing, stop doing or do something differently.

This is our second point of measurement and I must re-emphasize the strength in this. We are dealing with assumptions here, our theory is that by making an impact on actors, we will reach our goal. But reality is complex and many things are moving so we may very well make an impact but not reach our goal. We may also reach our goal without making impact, just by luck. With two points, we become very explicit about our assumptions and we can follow up on them. When we follow up on our assumptions, we get better at making them.

User stories and Impact Mapping

Ok, when will there be some coding, my inner developer asks me. It may be so, that to make the impact, we shall implement some nice features. Or we just do a market campaign.

As a developer, here is where you often start. You get a bunch of requests in the form of User Stories. If you read “Impact Mapping – the developer’s cut“, you know my mindset.

A User Story is an opportunity for discussion (and a planning instrument) and that discussion benefits greatly from a clear context. A most important part of that context are the assumptions you have made so far. Your Impact Map helps to communicate exactly what these assumptions are.


Impact Mapping is a technique that lets you focus on the right goals and the way there. It allows you to reveal your assumptions to yourself and others thereby communicating the whole idea in a clear manner. It points you to set up measurements so that you can follow up on those assumptions and be better at doing assumptions.

Further information

Impact Mapping was developed by Gojko Adzic and he will visit us for a one-day introduction to the subject on April, 27th 2018. The book “Impact Mapping” is included.

The site for Impact Mapping is here.

The book “How to measure anything” is a very interesting read about what you ask yourself when you want to measure something, such as the cost-benefit of measuring and which decision are you going to take based on a measurement.

The accompanying site is here:

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