Have you ever been part of a meeting that produced a terrifyingly long list of new projects and initiatives? As a client of mine recently described such a meeting, “It was an energizing and inspiring conversation right up until the point we realized we were going to have to implement all of these ideas!”

Without a systematic way to vet new initiatives and ideas, teams and organizations can fall into the “laundry list” trap. Even worse, they wind up committing to outcomes that are far beyond their capacity to deliver. Over time, the pattern of over committing leads to cynicism, burnout, and underperformance.

For many years I have used a simple but elegant tool that helps teams evaluate and prioritize new goals and projects. I affectionately call it IRMA — “Impact x Resources Matrix.” Creating an impact x resources map enables groups to agree on which ideas are small potatoes, which offer a high return on resource investment, and then coalesce around clear priorities.

Click to view the matrix.

Here are the steps involved in using the matrix:

On a flip chart, ask the group to list the organization’s available resources such as staff time, money, space, information, etc.

On a second flip chart have the group list the impacts that matter most to the organization at this time. The items on this list should be directly linked to the organization’s strategic vision and goals.

Present a blank IRMA chart to the group and explain the two axis and the four quadrants.

High I / Low R = Initiatives that represent the highest return on investment at this time
High I / High R = Potential initiatives to pursue. Assess to see if investment is warranted.
Low I / Low R = Potential distraction if we can’t find a way to increase the impact.
Low I / High R = Abandon. Investment does not warrant the investment

Write the name of each initiative or project on a post-it note and have members discuss where each one belongs on the matrix until consensus is reached.

After the group has reached agreement on the placement of each project on the matrix, review your conclusions and rank the projects across high, medium, and low priority.

This same approach can be used to evaluate an organization’s current programs and initiatives. In particular, nonprofit boards find it useful to periodically assess alignment of resources with the organization’s mission.

How might you use this tool at your next meeting?

Photo Credit: Chris Marquardt

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