Creating Ecosystem Maps to Prioritize Product Investment

When developing a new product it can be difficult to prioritize which features should be included in the initial release. Ecosystem mapping is a useful tool that can be used to visualize your product and the systems, processes, and data flows that surround it. Learn how to leverage this tool to ask deeper questions about what needs to be prioritized before investing in development.

User experience research and design provide product management and development teams with the ability to remove inefficiencies, save resources, and uncover gaps in the business model or technology. To have an impact, you need to connect a user’s experience to what various functional units within your organization are doing, and how those activities impact the business.

In order to do that, it’s useful to employ approaches that are similar to systems thinking and actually draw the product or business ecosystem. This technique is known as ecosystem mapping and is a very useful tool in user experience design.

What Is An Ecosystem Map?

In the same spirit that engineers use network architecture diagrams to understand how information might flow across networks, UX practitioners use ecosystem maps to understand the objects in a system and account for all key interactions that will be affected by adding a new product or service.

Every healthcare service, medical device, or product exists within an ecosystem. With ecosystem maps, we are trying to understand: a system’s current state; outline what problem we are trying to solve by adding a new product or service; understand what data is currently being gathered; and where/with whom it is being shared.

Ecosystem maps can be developed from a company level perspective where they include various products or services or can be “zoomed in” to look at the ecosystem of just a specific product or service. By looking at all the possible points of integration in the system you can choose where to prioritize investment and effort for the first release of the product.

Creating an Ecosystem Map

When creating an ecosystem map we start with trying to understand the current state and outline the problem we are trying to solve. Here are some questions to get your thinking started:

  1. What is the business problem we are solving for?
    • Are we looking for efficiency and effectiveness in a small part of the whole system or across many parts of the complete system?
  2. What stakeholders are impacted or involved in this?
  3. What devices are involved in the system?
    • Think along the lines of laptops, tablets, smart speakers, wearables, etc.
  4. At what scale do we need to analyze this system?
    • What are the boundaries of this ecosystem?
    • What level of granularity do we need to reflect people in the ecosystem?
    • Do we need to draw out individual specialties of clinicians (neurology, orthopedics, etc.) or is a more general grouping like “clinicians” suitable?

There is no hard and fast rule about how to answer any of these questions. In fact, when you begin mapping out your ecosystem it’s likely that you revisit your original answers and revise it a few times before it becomes useful.

Now that you have your current state mapped out, it’s time to add in the components that make up your desired future state. Here are the steps to mapping your new product into the existing ecosystem:

  • Draw the main/central person (usually a user) in the ecosystem.
  • Draw the people and/or institutions for whom they have a central connection
  • Draw the tools people use (cell phones, computers, smart speakers, connected devices)
  • Draw the additional details like the flow of money or the flow of data being sent and received

Steps 1-3 make up the main part of the ecosystem. Step 4 will include details that are dependent on the nature of the experience you are trying to create and the business problem you are trying to solve.

Now that you’ve got a handle on how to think about collecting the elements of your ecosystem map, let’s see what it looks like when we pull it all together.

Prioritize Investment Before Building

Your ecosystem map will provide a glimpse into what interactions patterns are key to governing your system and, in particular, the interactions between people and devices that provide the most value to the user and your business.

The value of ecosystem mapping is in gaining insight into what parts of the system are critical to the experience and success of the project, shedding light on where to invest, along with prioritizing what needs to be done first before money is spent building the product.

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