Steve Fenton

Impact Mapping at the organisation level

I have recently been talking to a colleague about Impact Mapping and have been suggesting that we adopt it at the organisational level. An impact map is a powerful context-setting tool when applied at this level.

For example, for many organisations the goal is usually known in the executive offices, but it is disconnected from the activity taking place throughout the rest of the building. Work is being done that does not contribute towards the goal. Decisions are being made at many levels that conflict with the goal.

By creating an impact map and sharing it around the organisation all of the work and all of the decisions can be made with the goal in mind.

As the organisational impact map evolves, it may generate more targeted impact mapping sessions to handle contributory goals and the organisation can form teams around these maps, rather than hoping that they will progress from department to department.

Here is an example to make things clearer. Let’s start with the organisational impact map.

The big why in the example case is:

Grow Net Profit By 10% Each Year.

Already, the whole organisation understands what we are trying to do. Any initiatives to create new products, sell more of the existing products or reduce the cost of maintaining existing products must contribute to this business goal.

The normal impact mapping workshop of determining who can help or hinder this goal, how they can help or hinder that goal and what we will do to achieve this goal can be followed. In most cases, the eventual “what” is likely to be reasonably high level when working on this organisational impact map and the assumptions it reveals may be rather big.

If this is the case, the “what” that is likely to be the biggest contributor to the goal or that will give the fastest feedback or that provides the best return on the investment can be turned into an impact map in its own right, linked back to the organisational impact map.

For example, if the organisational impact map revealed that adding a reporting module would allow the sales team to up-sell to 20% of customers, which is likely to generate an additional 5% net profit – a product team can be formed around this idea to create the lower level impact map for:

Sell reporting to 60 existing customers.

This allows the many assumptions about this reporting idea to be uncovered and tested, which the reporting concept being delivered incrementally until that 60 customer goal has been reached.

By forming a cross-functional team around this impact map, the hand-offs are reduced and the feature is delivered in a way that achieves the goal. The sales team will know what they need in order to sell the feature to existing customers, they can work directly with technical people to get together a minimum saleable product and improve on it until those 60 customers are on board.

If the assumptions turn out to be invalid (customers don’t want reporting, or they don’t want to pay for it, or they won’t pay enough for it to increase the net profit of the business etc) it is simply a matter of returning to the organisational impact map to select another possible method of making money.

The beauty of this is that at all times, everyone can see the goal of up-selling to 60 customers and also the broader goal of increasing net profit, which means their decisions will be directed at these goals.

Of course, this does mean taking care in writing the “whys”. For example, just imagine the difference in organisational behaviours between the following two variations of a similar goal:

  1. Generate an extra 1 million net profit this financial year
  2. Increase the net profit each year by 1 million.

In the first case, you could easily justify selling off assets to grab the cash and achieve the goal – but in the second case you should be more likely to try to achieve the goal in a non-destructive way with a more long-term mindset. Of course, this should all be a reflection of your actual business goal, which is highly contextual. There may be good reasons for your business goal to be highly short-term – for example you need to generate cash flow quickly. In other cases your goal may not be financial, for example a charity may need money to operate, but their organisational impact map will be concerned with their cause rather than the financials (with the financials appearing elsewhere on the map, because it is a “how” that a “who” can use to help your organisation).

So use a connected chain of impact maps to provide context and direction to the people in your organisation as it will assist them in achieving those goals.

Written by Steve Fenton on