Summary The issue here is not the matrix itself, but how it is often used.
How the Project Prioritization Matrix is commonly used
During the course of an idea generation session, planning workshop or collaborative event, the working titles of potential projects are written on Post-it Notes, and participants assign each Post-it to the relevant box.
Items assigned to the bottom-right box are discarded, on the basis that, although easy to accomplish, the potential value yield is low.
Those assigned to the bottom-left box are also discarded. The potential value yield is low, and they will be hard to accomplish.
People sometimes have good intentions about the items assigned to the top-left box, where the potential value yield is high but the road to accomplishment is likely to be long and hard. This location is often called the Too Hard box. It is rare for any attempt to be made to bring these projects to fruition, which is a tragedy because these are often the projects that will make the greatest contribution to the ongoing survival and future prosperity of the enterprise.
What workshop and event designers really want to identify are the items in the top-right box, the so-called Quick Wins. The logic at work here says that the aims of an enterprise-wide change programme are likely to be regarded by (let’s say) a truck driver as abstract and irrelevant, but the prospect of a quickly-implemented improvement in the logistics area will be perceived as concrete and personally beneficial. Achieving a Quick Win sends a positive message to the workforce and the outside world: “Look everyone, change is happening. The initiative is bearing fruit already.”
A more honest name for the Project Prioritization Matrix would be the Quick Win Identifier, although accomplishing the project is often far from quick and sometimes the hoped-for win turns out not to be a win after all.
How to address the issue
1. Assigning Post-its to boxes must be done much more thoughtfully and thoroughly. The reasoning behind each attribution must be challenged: “How do you know that?” etc.
2. Sufficient time must be allocated to discussing how ‘red box’ (top-left quadrant) projects will be taken forward.
3. The necessary infrastructure, resources and processes for accomplishing ‘red box’ projects must be put in place, and the will to see these projects through to fruition must be present in the right people in large measure.