Yes, having a fantastic idea is important; so is having a great team and a great tool of course… but all of that means nothing without proper execution, right? How well you set goals and how successful you are in meeting deadlines is what actually brings steady growth to the company.
What's in here:
In this article, you’ll understand what the priority matrix is and how it helps productivity and execution go up a notch. You'll also learn how to arrive at it, and how to read it easily.
One of the main secrets to executing right is prioritization; and to help us figure out which tasks and projects to complete first, we use the priority matrix.
What is a priority matrix?
A priority matrix (or prioritization matrix) is a project management tool we use to visually break tasks into two dimensions; any two dimensions really:
Urgency and Importance priority matrix
Value and Effort priority matrix
Business value and Complexity priority matrix
In this exquisitely detailed guide to product prioritization, you’ll find all kinds of priority matrices, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s look into the Impact vs. Effort priority matrix which is typically used in various industries to prioritize backlogs based on quick wins.
The Impact vs. Effort priority matrix is made of four distinct quadrants:
Quadrant 1: quick wins
High impact, low effort
These are high-value tasks that are both critical and urgent to complete; they should always be tackled first.
Quadrant 2: strategy initiatives
High impact, high effort
These high-value tasks are missing clear deadlines, which is why we usually deprioritize them; make it a point to set deadlines for them.
Quadrant 3: day-to-day
Low impact, low effort
These are less important tasks that have deadlines you can play around with; they can easily be deprioritized or delegated.
Quadrant 4: money-pit
Low impact, high effort
You don’t really want to bother with these ones, given they’re time-consuming but with little impact; so try to avoid them as much as you can.
And just like that, based on the metrics you choose to use, the four quadrants of the priority matrix will look different. In this case, because we used Impact vs. Effort, our quick wins are at the top left (high impact, low effort). If the x-axis and y-axis were reversed, our quick wins would be in the “money pit” quadrant instead!
What does the priority matrix help solve?
As mentioned already, the priority matrix is a fantastic tool for prioritization; it basically helps you rank all kinds of backlog items, like:
- Product features to work on
- Risks to look out for
- Projects to take on
- Marketing activities to prioritize
- Fires to fight
- Tasks to consider first
You get the gist… the priority matrix can help you prioritize pretty much everything!
How is the priority matrix useful?
Have you heard of the top-down approach? When you have access to the bigger picture, and choose one task to focus on, we call this voluntary focus or top-down. It’s an approach specific to goals, where very little switching back and forth happens. Having such a mind map allows you to get a more efficient ROI on your attention!
Other reasons why we use the priority matrix include:
- Helps organize a large number of tasks and further prioritize for more efficiency
- Can easily be updated: from criteria to weights and projects
- Fully customizable; it’s up to you how simple or complex you make it… (avoid going beyond 5 variables though)
- Can be used for a number of contexts
- Super easy to use, all you need to do is input your list, choose the criteria and put in scores
- Helps remove bias by breaking down complex issues
- Is intuitive (easy to understand) by identifying options based on chart position and score
- Helps teams to focus their efforts on the most profitable tasks
What are the 4 steps of backlog prioritization?
Fundamentally, there are 3 steps before you get to the priority matrix:
Create a list
Your backlog list includes ongoing projects, daily tasks, goals and priorities that need to be ranked, based on various stakeholders; your team, other departments, customers, and so on.
Weigh your criteria
Assigning a weight to your criteria means to define task importance based on what your stakeholders think. On a scale of 1-10 or Low/Medium/High, rank your tasks based on impact to the business; do the same for the level of effort required (or ease); in this case, you’d use Very Easy/Easy/Hard for example.
For every item on your list, go through the process of assigning a value to each criterion item on your list. The higher the score, the more important your criterion or project is. For more on how to do weighted scoring, check out the link!
Map it out
Strategically place your activities into the relevant quadrants on the priority matrix, then prioritize, delegate and deprioritize. Also, make sure your results make sense; if not, reevaluate them.
How to read the priority matrix?
Now, let’s look at how to read the priority matrix, based on the weights you assign and scoring formula you choose for your prioritization workflow. In order to do that, I’ll be using our backlog prioritization app for Jira Cloud, Foxly, for demonstration.
Setting up the metrics and priority scoring formula
So here’s the priority table in Foxly, where you can see the Jira issues I imported from a couple of marketing projects. In this case, I’m using the RICE prioritization template with Reach, Impact, Confidence and Ease as my metrics.
With Foxly, what’s really cool is that the app itself will calculate the scores automatically for you based on the priority scoring formula you choose, once you’ve entered the values for your metrics. You can either pick the scoring formula out of a bunch of prioritization templates:
- ICE for MVPs and growth experiments
- RICE for product feature prioritization (when product usage data is available)
- WSJF for larger projects and organizations that use SAFe
- Value vs. Effort for the quick wins approach
- Quick wins for something more than the traditional high impact vs. low effort approach
Or… you can create your own formula for weighted scoring prioritization; for more on how to custom-create your own prioritization formula, click here. Choosing the template you want is super easy!
Setting up the x-axis and y-axis in the priority matrix
Now, moving onto the priority matrix, we get this:
In this case, I chose Ease for my x-axis and Impact for the y-axis; but really you can flip these around or use Confidence/Reach instead of either of these metrics. For the Bubble size, I picked Score because I’m interested in seeing clearly the issues with high scores, but you can choose any metric here.
So… you see those 5 issues in front of the biggest bubble in my priority matrix? Those issues are issues with the highest impact (the bubble is at the highest point of my quadrant) and with medium ease, given they’re pretty much in the middle of the ease/y-axis. Just to show them to you in the priority table:
Also, just to mention it here; the bubble is largest simply because the issue with the highest score is in this bundle of issues. It doesn’t mean that all of the issues in this bubble have the highest scores.
How does the priority matrix help with agile?
Foxes are smart, agile and flexible; that’s how we built Foxly; and the same goes for prioritizing work. You need to be flexible and able to navigate changes in your environment easily, while aware, so you can make the right decisions.
What’s really cool about the priority matrix is that it will show you where to focus as things change. Based on the backlog prioritization template you choose, and the metrics you choose to showcase in your priority matrix, you’ll have a completely different setup for your quadrants. Your priority matrix quadrants will represent different things for different setups.
How can I find quick wins?
In this case, for example, I would find my quick wins in quadrant 2; why? Because that’s where my highly impactful, very easy issues are. Remember, this is the RICE prioritization method, which looks at ease not effort. And like that, you’ll go about viewing your tasks, projects, product features and so on.
Now imagine you’ve got a whole backlog of issues, do you think you’ll be able to go through them one by one? Or that every time something changes, like a new issue being added, you’ll have to make changes to your scores then do the same for the priority matrix?
That’s why it’s way easier to work with a tool that does it automatically for you; so, if you work in Jira and you’re interested in having a fantastic backlog prioritization tool that will do a lot of the work for you, check out Foxly. If you’re a small team, it’s actually free!