Product Practice #164: The Difference between Impact Mapping and…


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One of the techniques which has changed the way I build products most profoundly over the last couple of years is Impact Mapping. Whether it is as an in-house PM or as a Coach/facilitator, Impact Mapping always creates many aha! moments for the teams I’m working with.

Over the years, I’ve developed and refined my own interpretation of Impact Mapping (learn more about that here). But especially during my training and talks, I often get questions about how Impact Mapping relates to other frameworks out there.

So, this email is an attempt to clarify some of these questions. Both, from my perspective, as well as other practitioners.

The Difference between Impact Mapping and Opportunity Solution Trees (OST)
Profoundly shaped by a discussion I had with Matt Lane, Ex-PM at PayPal:

An Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) visualizes what you are learning in discovery and the decisions you are making along the way, which is similar to one of the main benefits of Impact Mapping. An OST starts with an Outcome — meaning a change in behavior that is, for example, derived from a team-level key result. This way, an Opportunity Solution Tree starts from a more tactical level and guides teams through exploring solutions through experimentation form. An Impact Map looks for a company-wide health indicator (Impact) as the primary anchor on its first level. It starts with a company or business unit/portfolio-level OKR. Meaning, a team would make separate Impact Maps if they would be using 2 or more key results from a strategic-level OKR. One reason is that they would focus on multiple core aspects of the company throughout the year.

The Difference between Impact Mapping and Objectives & Key Results (OKR)
There’s an essential distinction between the strategic OKR (lifetime: 1-3y) as a company and the tactical OKR (lifetime: 1-3m) of an individual team or business unit. The Key Results of a strategic OKR serve as an Input to the WHY level of an Impact Map. They (typically) articulate a company-wide metric that determines the health of the company in terms of a specific focus (e.g., revenue or customer satisfaction).

The Key Results of a more tactical OKR set typically express a specific change in customer behavior, aka Outcome. Meaning, there’s a strong correlation between the HOW level of an Impact Map and the Key Results of a team. Ideally, the Product Discovery work from the previous quarter/cycle leads to validated Outcomes (documented in an Impact Map), which then define/influence the tactical OKR definition in the following quarter/cycle.
The Objective of an OKR set typically doesn’t relate to any of the Impact Map levels.

The Difference between Impact Mapping and the North Star Framework (NSM)
By John Cutler, Product Evangelist at Amplitude:

The focus of the North Star Framework is picking a “constellation” of metrics — a single North Star Metric and supporting Inputs — that connects the tangible things (features, experiments) teams are developing to a product strategy that supports sustainable mid/long term product-led growth. That said, it doesn’t get down to the specific opportunity/intervention level other than the implied requirement that opportunities are Input focused (and therefore tie into the North Star). There is also no concept of “time” in the North Star Framework — your North Star Metric and Inputs persist as long as your product strategy persists. Impact Mapping is complimentary in that it helps explore questions about Who, How, and What. The addition of Whether is helpful in terms of making discovery efforts transparent. Impact Mapping also is flexible to take time into account (e.g. move Input from X to Y in 12 months).

The Difference between Impact Mapping and Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)
By René Bastijans, Partner at Revealed, a strategy and research company helping organizations create sustainable growth.

The purpose of Jobs to be Done theory (JTBD) is to understand and predict consumer adoption and abandonment of products. Investigating why consumers “hire” and “fire” products helps you understand and respond to what is going on in the market. Armed with this knowledge, Product, Marketing and Strategy teams can then test and iterate on growth concepts using the same data and market insights.
If a business wants to create sustainable growth, it is important to have a shared understanding of consumers’ Jobs (their unmet goals + constraints) and a common language of demand, opportunity, and growth. This alignment across the organization also helps reduce risk, increases success, and allows everyone to move faster whilst being focussed on delivering consumers the progress they are seeking.
I can see how a model such as the Impact Map is useful in helping teams ensure that everyone remains in alignment and focussed throughout their discovery efforts.

Speak soon,


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