Effect Mapping at the Nordstrom Innovation Lab

Effect Mapping is a facilitation technique popularised in the agile and lean community by Gojko Adzic. Use it to save lots of money, by deliberately discovering the scope you need. It helps you finding out which features you really want, and eases your decisions to drop features (projects, systems) you don’t really want.

26 September 2012
Agile with a Purpose, Product Owner
effect mapping, feature injection, innovation

Effect Mapping (or Impact Mapping) is a facilitation technique popularised in the agile and lean community by Gojko Adzic. Use it to save lots of money, by deliberately discovering the scope you need. It helps you finding out which features you really want, and eases your decisions to drop features (projects, systems) you don’t really want.

In June, I had the pleasure to be invited to the Nordstrom Innovation Lab in Seattle to introduce a team to Effect Mapping and Feature Injection.

Effect Mapping ProcessWhile I tell you the story of my session, I’ll highlight the impact you can achieve using these two tools together. Detailed information about the methods is listed at the end.

What Do You Want? The Goal

You start an effect mapping session with a measurable goal. (You can also start with a half-baked feature and then discover the goal, read the handbook to find out how.)

We started with 

“We want to improve our customer service through enabling our salespeople with better tools and technology.”

Effect Map on the Table 

Ask For Help

Without thinking about your system, your software, etc, you brainstorm on the question:

“Who could help us achieving this goal?”

Often, when we brainstorm, we hesitate to produce crazy and new ideas. Often you need to ask, let’s find at least three different stakeholders who could help us. With the hackerpreneurs at the innovation lab, the results were amazing without such a rule— they are proficient in design thinking and divergent methods... Within a few minutes, they had produced more than a dozen options.

How Could They Help You?

Now we start to think about business activities in the broadest sense. We’re still not thinking about our system, or its features, that would only limit our idea space. Second divergent step of the process:

“How could this stakeholder help us achieving our goal?”

(You could also list ways to impede you. And again, you might ask people to come up with at least three ideas per stakeholder.)

Effect Map

Which led to a lot of funny ideas (which subsequent discussions turned into valuable ones):

  • Bring celebrities into the shop and let sales person issue backstage passes
  • Help schools design uniforms
  • Sell choir robes and shoes (for church parishes)
  • Sales person brings in a blogger for a day

Think Capabilities, not Features

In feature injection terms, these stakeholder/activity combinations are candidate capabilities. Something you want someone to be able to do in order to increase business value. You might have stumbled upon capabilities in your agile journey, they tend to hide in “so that <...>” statements in user stories.

Tired of your development team being seen as a bottleneck? Effect mapping might help you to find promising capabilities that don’t require software changes at all. Only if the capability you find most promising does require you to change your system, you start looking at the features. Another wonderful thing about capabilities is that, for business people, they are really easy to prioritise

Feature Injection and Effect Mapping Concepts

To learn more about the solution and validate the assumptions behind your value proposition for the most promising capability, you set up experiments: minimum viable features that enable you to test your hypothesis that 

  1. your selected stakeholder will execute the new capability given the new feature and 
  2. that their execution of that capability will actually bring you closer to your goal. 

I’ll give you an example after the following paragraph.

Summary: Greater than the Parts

Use Effect Mapping to facilitate the conversations, focusing on value and your most promising options. Employ the Feature Injection model to structure your scope and guide your learning. These two make for a powerful combination, for the following reasons:

  • Your scope development strategy fits on a wall, is visible to all, even for a large product.
  • You keep your focus on where you expect future value to emerge.
  • You don’t detail what you don’t need, keeping the map comprehensive without getting complicated.
  • You basically eliminate the need for a (long) product backlog. Your teams can slice stories as they proceed towards your goal, directly into their Scrum sprints or Kanban system. 

Full Example

  1. Goal: We want to have 1000 more registered users on our website by May.
  2. Stakeholder: Facebook friends of our already registered users.
  3. Capability: They can “use” their friendship to an existing user to register on our site.
  4. Feature: Our website should have a “Like” button so that our URL shows up in our users’ Facebook timeline.
    1. First assumption: Our registered users will click on the “Like” button.
    2. Second assumption: Their friends will click our URL in the FB timeline and register as well.

To very quickly test if our first assumption is right, we put a Facebook icon on one page (which could display a message like “Thanks for your interest in our upcoming Facebook interface. We’ll notify you when we’re done!” if the actual implementation took too long). If our users click the icon, we build the Like feature and then measure if their friends actually come to our site...

Community and Links

Thank you Marius Gregoriu for coming to Pascal Pinck’s and my talk about Enterprise Flows at SeaSpin, and inviting me to the Innovation Lab—it was awesome to meet you guys!

Thank you Chris Matts and Liz Keogh for patiently mentoring me into understanding Feature Injection.

And, last but not least, thank you Gojko Adzic for introducing me to Effect Mapping at XPDays Benelux last year:-) 

Gojko had generously published a beta version of his Effect Mapping Handbook on his blog, with lots of explanations and examples. His new book, Impact Mapping, will be published in October 2012.

Liz Keogh recently published a description of Feature Injection on her blog.

Chris and Gojko published an article on Feature Injection on InfoQ. Notice that these articles focus on different aspects of the term.

Feature Injection was coined by Chris Matts, he did a great talk about the topic at ScanAgile in Helsinki earlier this year, which you can watch here. It features me, near the end...


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