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There’s a technique known as ‘Impact Mapping’ and for anyone who’s interested in scratching beneath the surface of the requirements gathering ‘discovery’ phase of a project, the book is worth a quick read. It’s particularly useful because it hammers home the importance of focusing on goals, tangible metrics and end users as opposed to technology and ‘features’.

Why is this so important? Well, like a child learning to run, you’ve got to learn to walk first. Relating this back to my experiences in product development, the most common brief we receive falls into this trap:

I want these features built in this technology

I’ve learnt to embrace these sorts of enquiries because they often turn into some really exciting projects, but at the same time it can be frustrating because the two most important factors are often omitted:

  1. What we’re trying to achieve (goals)
  2. Whose behaviour do we need to change in order to meet these goals (users)

Sound obvious? Maybe so but when I ask these questions, they’re the ones my clients struggle with the most, from startups to established organisations, it’s common across the board. People struggle because they describe things in terms of ‘features’ or ‘technology’ because that’s the currency they think in. But scratch beneath the surface and there’s less clarity of what success looks like (the goal/s are not defined) so there’s no way of measuring anything and then there’s also a lack of understanding of what people are needed to help success happen (target audience) resulting in an inability to target the right people.

As tough as it may sound, any idea based on the fundamentals of features and technology without first understanding goals and users is speculative because there’s no way of knowing if the idea is investable: we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve and we don’t know if there’s a market that will provide a sufficient and reliable source of growth. In essence, the basic question ‘how much money should we invest to solve this problem?’ cannot be answered.  And if that question cannot be answered then the whole premise of the idea is speculative.

Put another way, given that we understand quite a lot about technology and how to use it to build internet ‘things’, but initially, we understand less about our cleints business goals and target audience, it makes sense to come to us with more information about the things we don’t know than the things we already know and are expert in. We’ll then be able to leverage our expertise to discover, design and build the things that have a tangible impact and deliver value.

In summary

If there’s anything worth taking from the Impact Mapping book, it’s that if you’re involved in trying to discover what to ‘build’ make sure you can pin the what to an actual person and make sure that person is the one you need in order to meet a given goal. After that it’s easy: measure what impact you’ve had so you can understand if what you’ve built has had the desired impact, and from there decide what to do next. Ok, maybe not easy, but at least you have the mechanism in place for the Build > Measure > Learn cycle. But that’s a story for another day…

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