By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder


There are 3 major reasons software development projects fail:

  1. Unclear project specifications
  2. Poor communication
  3. And poor planning

In this video, we’re going to talk about how to address all 3 with one simple method: an Impact/Effort Matrix.

An Impact/Effort matrix is a simple and commonly used way to find out which features in your software will have the highest impact with the lowest effort. 

You can use this matrix to kickstart your project development plan and get everyone on the same page about your goals, vision, and overall strategy.

Why you need a features list first (and how to create one)

Before you can create an Impact/Effort Matrix, you’ll need to create a features list and then break your features list down into smaller categories. Doing this will help you avoid choice paralysis as you work on your matrix.

In our project briefs, we ask clients to break their features list down using these four categories: must-haves, should-haves, nice-to-haves, and bonuses. We talk more about how to do this in our guide, “5 Elements Your Software Development Brief Should Include”. 

When you download the guide, you’ll also get a template for creating your features list. Just go to our website, enter your email address, and we’ll send you the free guide and template to your inbox.

How to create an Impact/Effort Matrix

Okay, so assuming you’ve got your features list, let’s talk about the Impact/Effort matrix. 

An Impact/Effort matrix is a 2×2 grid with each square representing a different level of effort to build the feature and the impact it will (or won’t) have. 

In software development, we define impact in two ways: positive and negative.

The positive impact would be the return on investment and customer satisfaction. The negative impact would be loss of revenue or poor performance.

Effort is exactly what you think it would be: how much time, manhours, and strategizing will this feature take?

Here’s an example of an Impact/Effort Matrix

As you can see, in the top left square, you’ll list the features that are quick wins – they’ll have a high impact on your users, great return on investment, and take little effort to build.

In the top right square, you’ll list the features that your users will love but it’s going to take more planning or revenue to build. You might consider releasing these features down the road when you have more funding.

Sometimes, you’ll have features that are very tempting to build. They require little effort and don’t chip away at your budget too much. However, it’s important to consider if those features will actually make any impact on your users. If not, list them in the bottom left square and…move on.

Finally, in the bottom right square, you’ll list features that will take a lot of your budget, time, and energy – with little or maybe unknown impact. Table these features for now. You can survey your users as your startup grows to determine if the impact is worth the effort.


As you create your Impact/Effort Matrix, we suggest doing this as a team exercise. Draw your matrix on a whiteboard and write each feature on a sticky note. Then take each sticky note, discuss the feature, and vote on how much effort it will take and the impact it will have on your users.

Download our free guide to get step-by-step instructions and tools to effectively communicate your product vision and avoid costly mistakes. Get it now.