2x2 matrix or Impact Effort Matrix - All you need to know

Wondering what the 2x2 matrix or Impact Effort Matrix is? Find out all about what it is, how it’s used and other information about the matrix in this blog.

What is the 2x2 matrix or Impact Effort Matrix?

The 2x2 matrix is a visual prioritization framework to help professionals identify which projects to work on. It is also known as the Impact Effort Matrix. This framework makes use of a matrix with four quadrants to determine the urgency of the project at hand. It is a graph of the impact of a project vs the amount of effort required to do it.

Apart from the 2x2 matrix and the Impact Effort Matrix, this framework also has some other names. Action Priority Matrix, Impact Matrix, Effort matrix are some examples. As the names suggest, teams make use of this as a tool to prioritize projects, ideas, etc.

Now that we know the basics, let's understand what exactly the tool is and how it's used by teams to prioritize.

Understanding the matrix

The below figure shows the Impact Effort or 2x2 matrix. As you can see, it's a matrix of the 'Impact' on the Y-axis (vertical) and the 'Effort' on the X-axis (horizontal).

2x2 matrix or impact effort matrix

The matrix is divided into 4 quadrants and each of these is often called a '4 square.' Based on their position, the squares in the matrix are labeled as High or Low Impact and High or Low Effort.

Essentially, the 4 squares, in a clockwise order starting from the top left are usually as follows:

  1. Low effort, High impact
  2. High effort, High impact
  3. High effort, Low impact and
  4. Low effort, Low impact.

These four quadrants are also named as Quick wins, Major projects, Time wasters (or thankless tasks) and Fill ins, respectively from 1 to 4 above. These names itself may show the reason for this, but let's understand the details.

Quick wins (Low effort, High impact)

These are the activities which produce the best returns for the amount of effort put into them. They are considered to be very important and fundamental to the success of the company. Common advice is to take these tasks up first and focus more on them.

Major projects (High effort, High impact)

The activities in this category are those which give valuable long-term returns. They are, however, high impact activities in nature and could take a considerable amount of time to do. It can happen that the team focuses on major projects and loses out on quick wins in the process.

Time wasters/ Thankless tasks (High effort, Low impact)

As the name suggests, these are activities which are time consuming in nature. Resources used in these would have been better spent on some other tasks. Since they can hinder the team from working on more important tasks, it's advised to avoid these.

Fill ins (Low effort, Low impact)

The last category, tasks which take low effort but are also low impact, is called the Fill ins. These are mostly everyday tasks and are often unimportant. Teams take these up only if they have extra time and nothing better to focus on at the moment.

How to use the Impact Effort matrix?

The following steps are a general idea of what goes into building the 2x2 matrix:

  1. Define the objective for the Impact Effort matrix and state it clearly.

  2. Let the entire team give inputs on all the activities that are needed to achieve the goal. Note these down in one place.

  3. Analyse where these tasks would fall on the 2x2 matrix based on the amount of effort and the impact of each.

  4. Formulate an action plan for these activities. Prioritize as well as assign responsibilities and timeframes. Ideally, the Quick wins and Major projects are taken up first.

  5. Inform the stakeholders of the decisions made in the process to keep them in the know.

When is the matrix used?

The Impact Effort matrix finds uses at various scales. It can be used as a personal prioritization tool and is also quite often used across industries.

For example,

  1. In the finance industry, it finds use as a measure of financial returns against the number of 'person months' involved.

  2. The impact/ feasibility analysis to check how easy it is to implement projects is also a common use.

  3. Agile teams make use of this to determine what features or fixes to work on and in what order.

  4. The agile teams can also use it to include only the most important features in an MVP and rank tasks for a sprint.

  5. Businesses can see which markets are worth putting their effort in as well as in what order.

  6. Even in hiring, it finds use in analysing the impact an employee would bring to the firm and the effort to train them.