An Impact/Effort matrix is a quick, effective way for individuals and teams to group ideas into four easy-to-recognize quadrants and spotlight clusters of high-priority ideas, making it easier to make a decision and take action.

The Impact/Effort matrix is one of the tools used in the ‘Decide’ stage of the Human-Centred Design (HCD) process to help folks choose a direction, set priorities and reach a consensus on your team. In the HCD process, individuals and teams use a number of tools and methods to work through defining and understanding the problem they’re trying to solve, research the problem space, generate possible ideas, prototype and test ideas ahead of making decisions.

Impact/Effort Matrix

Step 1: Write each idea on a separate sticky note or virtual whiteboard. Divide your page into four equal quadrants with a horizontal axis (Effort) and a vertical axis (Impact). Label the ends of each axis High and Low.

impact/effort matrix diagram
Impact/Effort Matrix

Step 2: Consider what a High Effort activity looks like—for your team, for this project—in terms of time, money, people, skills, and other resources. In contrast, what does a Low Effort activity look like?

Step 3: Consider what a High Impact activity looks like—for your problem statement and stakeholders—in terms of making the most progress toward a solution. In contrast, what does a Low Impact activity look like?

Step 4: One by one, pick ideas from the bunch and consider:

Is it High or Low Effort?
Is it High or Low Impact?

Place it in the appropriate quadrant. You’re placing ideas in the matrix relative to one another so it’s a good idea to review the page after arranging the first handful.

If everything’s ending up in one quadrant, rethink your High/Low cutoffs and rearrange the ideas.

You can probably postpone or disregard anything Low-Impact/High-Effort because it’s a lot of work for little reward.

Your highest priority should be the High-Impact Ideas. With High-Impact/Low-Effort ideas—the so-called “low hanging fruit”—you can make a lot of progress relatively easily. When you’re feeling ambitious, scan the High-Impact/High-effort ideas for an ambitious, game-changing project.

If you’re lucky enough to have a lot of ideas, split them across two small teams working in parallel…then re-unite to merge your High-Impact clusters. If you’re lucky enough to have a lot of ideas in your High-Impact clusters, re-run the activity on just the High-Impact ideas. Rase your collective standards for Impact and see which ideas still make the grade.

More Resources For You

The Impact/Effort matrix is one of our most commonly used human-centred design (HCD) tools. Learn more design methods with us:

  • Design Thinking Process Cards: We’ve turned our favourite go-to tools and processes (including the Impact/Effort matrix) into a set of Design Thinking Process Cards. If you are looking for new and inspiring ways to approach your work, Overlap’s Process Cards are a great way to get started! 
  • Human-Centred Design Training and Workshops: We offer virtual and in-person courses to learn and use a number of design tools and approaches for individuals and team.
  • Let’s work together: We’re a design consultancy. We work with organizations of all sizes on problems that matter most to them. We help teams break down silos, increase internal communication, think differently about strategy, truly collaborate and create better products, services and plans. Our approach creates better outcomes because it is deeply empathetic, richly human and solutions focused. Get in touch with us!