The purpose of this tool is to help focus an organization’s thinking about new ideas by measuring them against the following criteria: the idea’s potential impact—i.e. the extent to which its successful completion is likely to move the organization closer to its goals, and the organization’s capacity to complete the program successfully considering its current resources.
The 2×2 matrix on the right pairs these criteria to create four quadrants into which ideas might fall. See the explanations below for a description of the types of ideas that fall into each quadrant.
Low Impact/ Low Capacity
This quadrant represents projects an organization doesn’t currently have the capacity to complete successfully, and even if it did, the program would have little or no impact on the organization’s mission. Ideas that fall in this category should be discarded immediately. A great way to find resources for new projects is to examine your current work and find what you are doing that fits in this quadrant. Look for complicated processes or reports that you spend a lot of time on, do poorly, and never use.
High Impact/ Low Capacity
This is a category for “maybe someday” ideas. The ideas that land here have the potential to be very useful to the organization, but based on current resources, are not possible. Ideas that land here may be good fodder for future capacity building meetings but should not be pursued right now.
High Capacity/ Low Impact
This quadrant is a trap where many organizations spend too much time. If a new (or existing!) program is easy, it often gets accepted without much scrutiny, but every minute spent here, is not being spent on High Impact/High Capacity programs. If your organization finds itself working hard with little or moderate success, chances are too much time is being spent in this quadrant.
High Impact/ High Capacity
This is where effective organizations spend their time. Projects that fall here help organizations make obvious headway toward their goals and are well within their ability to complete successfully.
Using the Impact/Capacity Grid
To use this tool, consider each new idea in terms of its potential impact and the organization’s capacity to complete it to determine the quadrant to which it belongs. To be successful, ideas must be considered objectively and in comparison to the other options available. When a group finds all of its ideas landing in the High Impact, High Capacity quadrant, a second round of review may help to decide which ones have the greatest potential impact and for which the organization has the most capacity.
Also, remember an organization’s capacity must be looked at in its entirety. When considered individually, many new ideas are possible, but when considered in light of the rest of the organization’s commitments, capacity becomes an issue.
Finally sometimes the answer to a shortage of capacity is to end a current program in favor of a new idea.
3 thoughts on “Impact/Capacity Grid: A tool for choosing among good options”
Thanks. I think I will use this grid to measure the ideas I want to pitch to my boss.
The only problem I see is that it is difficult to judge the impact of an idea. It seems that if a group has high enough capacity to implement an idea, they will overestimate the impact it will have.
You make a valid point. In fact, groups who really want to do things also sometimes overstate their capacity. I worked with a group one time who listed everyone of their 50 ideas in the high impact/high capacity quadrant–which is a dead giveaway that the process isn’t being used correctly.
The key is to measure impact compared to other things you are doing and back up that measurement with concrete evidence.
So rather than asking “Will this idea have high impact on our work?” ask “How might the impact of this project compare to the great work we already do?” If a new idea has the potential to be as valuable or more valuable than your best current stuff it’s probably worth keeping.
If not–it may still be worth considering, but you will probably need to use it to replace another project that isn’t working well.
BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONS IN LOW HANGING FRUIT QUADRANT AND THE ONE IN SOLVING THE PUZZLE PROGRAM QUADRANT, WHICH ONE SHOULD BE CHOSEN SAY FOR PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION?