Scoping Technique - Impact Mapping

When an idea for a new project gains steam and people gather to decide what exactly it is to do, there are many options to choose from to help with initial scoping. One technique I use quite regularly is known as Impact Mapping.

Why Impact Mapping?

Compared to many alternatives that primarily spend a lot of time on scope, Impact Mapping allows each scope item to directly tie back to some desired outcome or measure. I find this strength alone to be far greater than its weaknesses which I’ll write about in a moment.

Another benefit of Impact Mapping is that you can do an Impact Map if you can do a mind map. This is comparatively easy to do compared to something in, say, an extensive task list or story mapping.

Now, there are a few weaknesses I want to address. First off, the maps offer no concept of sequencing or priority. Someone will have to look at the map and essentially pick a route from it. Second, a map often makes sense to the people who built it, but not any at all to those who didn’t. So, as an artifact, its use beyond creation is limited.

Building an Impact Map

Start with Why

At the center of your map, you want to have some concise way of describing why this product or project or whatever it is. There is one central idea behind it, so write that down. You could also consider this a vision if you want.


Ok, the next set of bubbles from your center are the goals you think you need to accomplish to see your vision realized.

Goals, at this point, tend to be measurable. Compare the following if you’re not too sure of the difference between a goal and a why: Why - Build a new application that differentiates us in the market Goal - Have 100k active users, generate $190k monthly revenue

You’ll likely have more than one goal, but I don’t encourage people to go anywhere beyond 3-5.

I’ll also point out that this step is one that many organizations struggle with the most. On the one hand, they crave goals like this, and on the other, they hesitate to write them down. Nevertheless, without this step, the map falls apart.

People and Groups

After the goals, you go out to another layer and identify the people or groups who will change or affect your goals.

When you’re considering the effect, that could be to help or to hurt your chances.

We identify these folks because the work we do will impact them to accomplish our goals.

At this point, we have a purpose, measurable goals, stakeholders, and users identified. More than likely, getting to this step will take less than 30 minutes.


Now for the fun part, looking at the people you need to impact, ask yourself, “What could we do to create that impact?” Write down those things hanging off of the group or person.

This is creating a list of scope options for you to do, and the nice thing each option is grounded in impacting a group to accomplish a goal. Doing things this way will avoid many conversations and speculation about how neat or useful some ideas are. What gets added will be obvious.

Remember, what you’re putting are options so far, not necessarily everything you’ll do.

Break it Down

Most of the items you identify from the previous step, you’ll find easy ways to break down. Add another layer and do just that.

You may want to do this because you may not need to do everything to have the impact you need. Each item may benefit from the 80/20 rule.

Also, the broken-down work will be easier for teams and groups to digest and work on, and doing it now preserves its connection back to the people and goals.


After you break the scope down, you have your first map complete. Now the painful part of prioritizing begins. Depending on if you prioritize a single goal or want to touch each one, the job becomes picking the scope items you think have the most significant impact.

If you’re a fan of user stories, the map writes them for you. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

As a <person I’m attempting to impact>, I want , so that .

Other Options

You can use this technique’s basics to slice things by release or do more extensive programs, but the basics remain intact. You can accomplish these things by adding more layers in the beginning.

Also, as you do build the map, you’ll see there is duplication. That is totally fine. Let that happen as you build your map. The duplication will help you sequence and prioritize as you see hot-spots around duplicated items.

The last thing I’d suggest is updating the map. I like to color code things so I can visually keep things in sync. For example, I will color the first pass of priorities one color, the second pass another, and so on. That helps me see the landscape of unaccounted for and available options.

You Try

Seriously, this technique is amazingly powerful and quick. Grab a piece of paper, and try building an impact map for some small idea you’ve had. Then you’ll be ready to try it on a real project at work!

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