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Effort/Impact Matrix – #1 Priorities Visualized

The effort/impact matrix and how to use it for prioritization
The effort/impact matrix and how to use it for prioritization

The Effort/Impact Matrix is a great way to help determine priority. Without a tool like this, determining priority of work in software and product development is one of the biggest challenges you encounter.

How do you determine what efforts to take on? How do you compare different and varying work? If you spend a lot of time investigating work, to try and select work, you run the risk of not having work ready and teams could run out of things to do. Or at least run out of top priority things to do, being forced to select for themselves and grab work to be doing something. The Effort/Impact Matrix is a tool to look at, to help you prioritize and do so with minimal effort.

What is the Effort/Impact Matrix?

The Effort/Impact Matrix is essentially a grid plotting of the effort vs the impact for a given piece of work. Allowing quick and easy plotting in a graph. Which then allows an even easier relative comparison to other work.

Take the below image as an example. If using impact and effort as you two axis, you visually plot work into the locations that represent their effort vs impact estimation. I like to do this as a quick and dirty estimation of effort and impact. This is to avoid the work of trying to figure out better effort and impact on all items. Once items are visually plotted, it is very easy to compare the work. Then once some items separate themselves from the pack, more research can be done to understand more accurate effort and impact estimates.

A clear winner for the effort/impact matrix and how to quickly identify work priorities

How does this framework help you?

The effort/impact matrix is a framework and a tool to help you prioritize work. You can use in many ways. I described using as a quick prioritization framework. To help identify items that could get some focus. Or more effort could be put into the efforts and impacts and get more accurate relative comparisons right away. Either is very helpful, as it gives comparison of varying work items.

Too often, the issue in prioritization is the different and varying work. How do you compare, such that you could pick between the work. Having relative effort vs impact estimates, plotted out visually, helps with that relative comparison and thus prioritization.

I would categorize this effort/impact matrix as a lean and agile practice. Lean if you practice low fidelity effort and impact estimations to start. As the process is not eating up a lot of resources to help understand priority. It also is not spending resources on items that are not selected.

I categorize as Agile, as it is a framework to use for your team. It can help your process and your work, but is is really a visual tool and a tool for collaboration or communication. Which Agile processes are all about collaboration and communication.

Additional content and reading to check out

Agile Estimation and Just In Time Requirements are 2 great ideas that go along with this lightweight prioritization framework. They help the team to estimate in an Agile way and not waste effort. Just In Time Reqs help you to get the info you need to start quickly. Then learn more as you go and create the next round of work. Check them out below.

Also, great info at the below on different prioritization techniques. With a link to an article on the Effort vs Value Matrix here.