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Prioritise Requirements Better: The Impact-Effort Matrix

I’m sure many of you working on business applications have come across situations where you're swamped with countless requirements. Traditionally, we've relied on the MoSCoW method to help us navigate through these, but everything ends up as "must have". Have you ever considered using the Impact-Effort Matrix?


In this blog post, we're going to explore the Impact-Effort Matrix, a tool that could reshape your approach to requirement prioritisation. We'll discuss what it is, why it is a better option than MoSCoW, and even walk you through an example of how it is done. Let's dive in.


Importance of Prioritising Requirements

The task of prioritising requirements has always been about maximising the value we get from our project while managing resources wisely. It's a critical balancing act that every project leader has to grapple with.


The MoSCoW Method: A Quick Overview

The MoSCoW method has been our go-to tool for quite a while now. It's straightforward, splitting requirements into Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, and Won't-have categories. However, it has limitations. It can be challenging to distinguish between 'must' and 'should', and the static categories don't accommodate changes in the project environment or requirements. It also doesn't account for the effort needed to implement each requirement, which can be a crucial factor. It's very common for 90% of requirements on a project to be prioritised as 'must have'.


The Alternative: The Impact-Effort Matrix

This is where the Impact-Effort Matrix comes in. As the name suggests, this tool ranks requirements based on their positive impact on a business and the effort needed to achieve them. The idea is to identify high-impact, low-effort tasks that provide substantial value.


By considering the effort, and educating the business stakeholders on what the relative effort of a requirement is, they are better able to make informed decisions. They are able to ask the question 'is this requirement really worth it?' and this helps weed out requirements that would usually be 'must haves' but don't make sense from a cost - benefit standpoint.


Impact-Effort Matrix vs. MoSCoW: A Balanced View

The beauty of the Impact-Effort Matrix is its balanced perspective. It not only groups requirements but also helps determine their worth (impact) and cost (effort). Unlike MoSCoW, the matrix helps identify 'Quick Wins', critical projects, and less impactful tasks, offering a broader view of the project landscape.


Impact-Effort Matrix in Practice

Consider this scenario: you're managing a project with diverse requirements. Some are complex but high-value, while others are simple yet provide reasonable benefits. The Impact-Effort Matrix allows you to identify these easy-to-implement enhancements as 'Quick Wins'. After implementing the quick wins, you can focus on high-value, high-effort tasks, maintaining a steady flow of value delivery.



Impact-Effort Matrix to prioritise requirements

How does it work?


1. Prepare

The impact-effort matrix is best conducted as a workshop exercise. I use a digital whiteboard like Miro for this.


Start with your requirements written on sticky notes.


Draw the outline of an Impact-Effort matrix.


Impact-Effort Matrix template
Impact-Effort Matrix template


💡 Hint: you can copy and paste from Excel to add sticky notes to most of the digital whiteboard applications.


2. Consider Impact

  • The facilitator places one sticky note in the middle of the matrix

  • Ask the participants if the impact of the requirement written on the sticky is higher or lower.

  • Participants simply say “higher” or “lower”

  • Move the sticky along the y axis based on what the participants say.

  • Repeat the process for the other stickies, placing them along the y-axis in order of impact relative to each other.

Sticky notes placed in order of relative impact
Sticky notes placed in order of relative impact

3. Consider Effort

  • Repeat the process for effort (x-axis)


Sticky notes placed in order of relative effort
Sticky notes placed in order of relative effort

The result is a clear visualisation of what you should focus on next!


Conclusion

The Impact-Effort Matrix is more than just another tool. It facilitates dialogue about value and effort, acting as a compass to navigate the complex world of requirements prioritisation. Try implementing it in your next project - it might just be the shift in approach you've been looking for.


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