A priority matrix is a management tool for determining the development vector where priorities are visually divided into four (or more) quadrants.
There are matrices for personal time management and complex business projects. Most of them have derived from the Eisenhower matrix created to manage personal tasks.
Use an action priority matrix when you have limited resources and you want to distribute them rationally to maximize performance and ROI.
Placing backlog tasks into four quadrants will help you visualize their impact on the main business objectives. Focus the team efforts on one of the four quadrants to have a clear understanding of where you’re heading, what results, and when to expect.
One of the most efficient and easy to use is the 2x2 matrix. It consists of two evaluation criteria: one positive (e.g., Value, Impact, or Revenue) and one negative(e.g., Effort, Costs, or Risk).
Tasks evaluated by the criteria are divided into four quadrants:
Do you have deadlines, and time is critical? Or you must avoid risks at all costs?
Two criteria are enough for a fast and simple prioritization. Yet, they aren’t enough for complex projects where you must consider and juggle multiple stages of user behavior or business objectives. We in Ducalis.io estimate all the vital elements for our product and just filter the matrix by the criteria we need more focus on at some point in time.
What numbers will your team use when estimating the criteria?
Each criterion should be evaluated by the same numbers with prescribed interpretation. We use numbers from 0 to 3 where 0—no impact, 1—low impact, 2—medium impact, 3—high impact.
Who takes part in the project and can bring a unique perspective to the table? Does the project require only engineers or designers and copywriters’ efforts as well?
Considering each task by the whole team strengthens your shared understanding and gives the best prioritization results. In our team, managers evaluate feature Reach and Revenue, engineers and UX/UI—Development Time, and everybody must estimate Activation, Retention, and two product-specific criteria, Speed and Collaboration.
Why have these features made it to the top? Do you all agree they are most valuable now and must be implemented?
Never take the prioritization result into work unquestioningly. Prioritization is a tool to help you make the right decisions and not make them instead of you. Discuss your top priorities with the team at the planning meeting and make sure you all understand what must be done, why this way, and why it’s important.
A priority matrix is simple and efficient. You can make it far more powerful by using automation tools. Ducalis.io allows you to create a complex prioritization framework you can use both as a weighted decision matrix and action priority matrix and switch the criteria focus in no time.
Try our matrix templates. Free to sign up and free to use. No credit cards. Just jump in and prioritize for your growth.
RICE is a scoring model used to prioritize projects, features, and hypotheses. The abbreviation stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort—the four factors estimated to find the most valuable solution.
How many people will this feature affect within a defined time period?
Estimate with any positive number—the number of people/events per time period.
Reach ranks your ideas by the number of leads and users it will affect. If it’s a registration page, it will touch upon every potential customer. If it’s an in-depth tweaking, probably only loyal users will notice that.
How much will this feature impact the objective when a customer encounters it?
Estimate with 0.25, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, where 0.25 = Minimal; 0.5 = Low; 1 = Medium; 2 = High; 3 = Massive.
Impact ranks your ideas by the amount of influence on the objective. You should identify one objective to aim for. If you score Impact like “Idea A increases conversion rate by 2,” “Idea B increases adoption by 3,” and “Idea C maximizes delight by 2,” then such scores barely make any sense.
How confident are you in your reach and impact estimates?
Estimate with 20%, 50%, 80%, 100%, where 20% = Moonshot; 50% = Low Confidence; 80% = Medium Confidence; 100% = High Confidence.
Confidence supports or skepticizes your estimates. You are confident only when you have back up data. Confidence scores help to make the evaluation more data-driven and less emotional.
How much time will the feature require from the whole team: product, design, and engineering?
Estimate with any positive number—the number of “person-months.”
Effort ranks your ideas by the amount of time their implementation requires. It completes the prioritization with the Value/Effort balance and helps to surface the Quick Wins.
To calculate the RICE score you need to multiply the Reach, Impact, and Confidence estimates, and then divide the product by the Effort estimate.
When the calculations are ready, sort the projects by their total score in descending order—the bigger the score is, the more value you will get per time worked. Thus, you can focus on significant tasks, understanding whom you will impact, why, how, and how soon.
Here is the list of 8 steps to enhance your prioritization:
1. Specify the Criteria Meaning for your Product or Niche.
2. Add Custom Factors Meeting your Objectives.
3. Unify the Score Scales to Prioritize Faster.
4. Collect Diverse Opinions for Expert Assessment.
5. Check the Scores Scatter for Estimation Clarity.
6. Use Matrix to Visualize the Projects’ Influence.
7. Discuss Priorities for Informed Decision-Making.
8. Re-Evaluate Unfinished Projects to Update their Relevance.
All the recommendations are simple and actionable. Mostly, they aren’t interdependent, and you can choose to implement a few. But by implementing all of them, you will get maximum benefits.
Now, let’s dig deeper and expand the concepts.
RICE criteria descriptions that you find on the internet are totally general. For example, Impact—How much will the feature impact the objective? The question is, what objective!? If you leave the description as it is, you need to keep your goal always in mind, which will slow down the estimation. Otherwise, your mind will wander, and after several tasks, you’ll notice that you assign high (or low) Impact scores to tasks influencing different objectives.
Most likely, you already have formulated your OKRs or a business metric you need to focus on to ensure growth. If so, just add them to the description. Say, your main focus is customer retention, and you need to find projects that will boost the metric the most. Add it:
How much will the feature impact customer retention? Will it increase the percentage of leads falling into regular customers? Will users return to the product more often for this?
You may even rename Impact into Retention. Not to worry, nobody will judge you.
The same with Effort. It is said to be calculated with ‘person/months.’ Well, that’s definitely for some huge projects. If you’re at the rapid growth stage, like us, it may be more useful to calculate your efforts in ‘person/days’ or ‘person/weeks.’ Maybe even ‘person/hours.’ Why no!? You get the idea.
As we mentioned above, by trying to evaluate vague Impact, you may think of different objectives. And that’s only natural. We seriously doubt you have a single metric to push all the time.
Add other values for all-around evaluation, for example, some important business metrics like Revenue or other product metrics like Activation. You may even feel a need to add more negative metrics to calculate alongside your team efforts, like Risks or additional costs like Promotion Price.
Remember, any framework is a great basis for a start. It doesn’t mean that prioritization will stop working if you customize the framework. It’s, actually, the other way around—it will start working better.
RICE criteria evaluation scales are too diverse. Reach is estimated with real user metrics, Impact—with subjective numbers, Confidence—with percents, and Effort—with the real number of development days. Such scales are very inconvenient and make the evaluation slow and inconsistent.
To estimate Reach, you must first gather the data. That will steal a lot of time. And even if you manage to collect some numbers, they will still be approximate. Doesn’t it sound like a waste of time?
Prioritization is supposed to help you decide and make it fast to add velocity to your decision-making. Estimation with real metrics won’t make your top priorities perfect so that you don’t have to think about which project to implement.
The best solution here is to use the same score scale. There are many popular sequences to use, like 0-3, 0-10, Fibonacci 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, or Exponential 1, 2, 4, 6, 8. Choose one that seems appropriate to your team and stick to it.
Estimating all the criteria with the same numbers cycle after cycle and then seeing the implemented results will help you develop an inner understanding of the scores so your estimations will become dependable.
To achieve reliability faster and lessen the subjectivity in the beginning, add scores meaning to criteria descriptions. For example:
Reach—How many people will this feature affect within a defined time period?
1 - >100 people
2 - 100-300 people
3 - 300-600 people
5 - 600-900 people
8 - about 1K or more people
Estimating the backlog on one's own has a few drawbacks.
First of all, you miss out on expert estimations. It's unlikely that anybody else but the engineers can accurately tell how long is a feature to ship. PMs will estimate user impact better, whereas stakeholders impact on business.
Secondly, making your teammates estimate the criteria will help them to be more conscious about their tasks. A better understanding of users and business needs affects their day-to-day decision-making when doing the job. Those tiny decisions are what creates the team clarity and shared understanding in the end.
This one follows the collaborative prioritization we've mentioned in the previous tip. When all the teammates have assigned their scores, it's interesting to look at them and compare. You may find out that someone on the team:
Sometimes even more! You see that all the scores are totally different, and the whole team doesn't understand the project or the criteria. Such exercise is useful for highlighting the gaps in team alignment around the goals. You need good team clarity and shared understanding if, when building a rocket, you want to get a rocket, not the flying saucer.
Discuss only projects or criteria that have scattered scores to spot the problem. There's no need to discuss the whole backlog together on the call. And this is the third bonus—you also save a lot of time on work around work.
A 2x2 matrix is super handy when you need to decide what to develop next from a big product backlog. It’s great to rank all the tasks on a list, but how do you know where your Quick Wins end and Major Projects begin? Distributing projects into four quadrants will immensely improve your sprint planning. The matrix will visually divide the backlog into four edible parts depending on how fast you’ll get the results and how significant they’ll be.
Estimating several positive criteria and using matrix filters can help you surface low-hanging fruit for different objectives. This is useful when you need to juggle and grow multiple metrics at the same time. You can pick some quick wins for user Activation and Retention, making sure they are also highly beneficial to your Revenue.
When the whole team is informed about their OKRs, has scored their possible future projects, resolved the disagreements, and the priorities list is ready, it’s time to decide what you all will work on next. And no, it doesn’t mean to simply take a few top projects and be good to go.
During the sprint planning meeting, look at your priorities together once again, and state which projects you all agree are best to ship. Each team member should be able to say not just ‘I’ll do this task because it’s at the top,’ they should be able to explain—I’m implementing the X project because the results will impact the Y customers and influence the Z objective.
Understanding what the team is doing, who for, and why is the only key to making the right decisions. And thus, solid growth and development.
We once heard of a task that’s lived in a backlog for nine years. Nine years, Carl! Don’t want to repeat the story? Re-evaluate your backlog from time to time.
To begin, priorities change fast, sometimes overnight. A project may not make it to the top at first but become super valuable in a few sprints. If you don’t want to lose great ideas at the bottom of your backlog, re-assess them once again over time according to new circumstances.
Such re-evaluation also helps to find trash in the backlog. If a project gets low scores cycle after cycle, that is a red flag—rethink the idea to make it more valuable or delete it for good.
Keep your backlog neat and clean and your priorities straight! Oh, and please don't tell us you still use Sheets for prioritization! 😳
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Four-factor framework for prioritizing initiatives.
Total Score = Reach x Impact x Confidence / Effort.