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Applying the Impact & Effort Matrix

Recently, my team got stuck trying to choose from four different architecture options for our website.  We need to find a balance between near-term tactical goals and long-term strategic goals. When we focused on our strategic goals, the solutions that we came up with didn’t meet our short-term requirements, and vice versa. We moved the pieces around the board for a month, and then finally we gave up and called for a Big Meeting.

In the meeting we had tech leads, solution architects and developers from my company and from our vendor. We also had other stakeholders like administrators, product owners, a couple of consultants from a design company and our UX (User Experience) guy. There were 20 of us, which made lunches expensive, but which made the situation ripe for some Gamestorming.

On the first day, we did the Impact & Effort Matrix exercise (p. 241) for our long term product strategy. We were looking to see whether there were strategic goals we could meet while developing on technology and development practices that were already in place. The result was something like this diagram:

Caption: Each point is a strategic goal. For each axis, 0-5 is low and 6-10 is high.

Caption: Each point is a strategic goal. For each axis, 0-5 is low and 6-10 is high.

This exercise put to rest our dream of being able to meet our tactical and strategic goals using the same platform. Meeting our strategic goals would require developemnt of a new platform, and the time-to-market required by a new platform could not meet our tactical market needs. We now had two projects on our hands. I considered this a success because the visualization definitely made it very clear that we couldn’t kill two birds with one stone – in this case we definitely needed two stones.

We already had a good option for the strategic platform coming from our in-house development team, so what was left was to determine how we were to meet our tactical goals. Our short-term capacity is strained by the projects already underway, so we gamed out a hybrid approach with our vendor using the SWOT Analysis exercise (p. 212).

SWOT Analysis

We had a plan, and the exercise confirmed that our plan had many strengths. This was not unexpected. But the exercise also unearthed anxiety that some team members had about the long term viability of the vendor and the partnership, which we discovered while documenting threats. I found these issues to be particularly valuable, and we can use them to shape our partnership contract with our vendor.

With the help of exercises from Gamestorming, we got our project unstuck after a month’s worth of chasing our tails, we sorted our near and long-term goals, and now we are on our way to setting up a  partnership to address our tactical goals and building a new platform for our strategic goals.

Brendan Sullivan
Product Director, Elsevier