Redefining what it means to have a “great” idea.

brainstormingOne of my favorite tools to utilize when selecting potential improvement ideas is the impact – effort grid. This tool is a simple, yet effective, approach for identifying solution ideas that have a high impact and require a low effort. For years my clients and I have used this tool with success, but occasionally the ideas that come from using this tool don’t work as planned. One of the reasons I believe this happens is because the tool fails to address one of the biggest challenges to making improvements stick – people!

The grid focuses solely on the idea from just a problem perspective. How big an impact will the solution have in solving the problem and achieving the goal? How much effort will it take to implement the solution? Both are great questions and will lead to a potential solution, but what is not evaluated are the people implementing the solution and those who will be living with it.

I propose a new dimension needs to be added to the impact – effort grid that includes passion and resistance. A great solution, one that will be sustainable in keeping the problem from recurring, is not simply one that has high impact and low effort, but one that also has high passion from those implementing the solution, and low resistance from those who will be affected by the solution.

A new twist on an old tool.

To refresh on the impact – effort grid, the process begins with a short list of causes to a problem that have been validated as legitimately causing the problem a team wants to solve. This process usually includes some type of quantitative analysis (i.e. correlation, regression, etc.) and / or qualitative analysis (i.e. observation, interviews, surveys, etc.). With a short list of valid causes, a team comes together to work through each cause one-at-a-time by brainstorming potential solutions to keep the cause from recurring.

I suggest setting a scale (i.e. high , medium, low; 1-5; high/low) for the impact of the solution in relation to how it will affect the goal, and using time as a way of establishing the effort required to implement the solution. Illustrated below is a simple grid that can be drawn on a white board or large piece of paper to get started.

The next step is brainstorming solution ideas. I suggest doing a silent brainstorm to begin the process. Over the course of several months I conducted a study to compare group brainstorming and individual brainstorming and found when starting with individual brainstorming ten times more ideas were developed in comparison with brainstorming as a group.  Start first with individual brainstorming and then move on to group brainstorming to come up with a greater number of ideas to evaluate.

Once all ideas have been brainstormed the next step is to place them in the appropriate quadrant on the grid. I suggest letting the person who came up with the idea make the initial placement, and if team members highly disagree with the location then have a discussion to determine where it best fits. To save time you should also have anyone who has a similar idea to the one being placed on the grid place it on top of the similar idea to eliminate the need to evaluate two or more similar ideas. When you are complete with this step your grid will look similar to the one illustrated below.

This is where a typical impact – effort grid would move on to selecting the ideas from the green quadrants as those to review and select in fixing the problem, but what is missing from this equation is the people side of improvement.  People will be needed to implement the idea and people will be asked to accept the idea.  Without evaluating these two elements I would argue a valid idea that has a high impact and requires low effort may not be the best solution.

A new perspective to evaluate the ideas in the green quadrants in relation to people is the final step in this new approach that uses a similar process in evaluating not impact and effort, but passion and resistance.

With just the ideas from the green impact – effort quadrants the team will finish the process by evaluating the ideas in relation to how much passion those who are implementing the idea have for doing so, and the measure of resistance those having to live with the idea have toward using the idea in the process they work within.  Just as before, the post-its can be transferred from the green quadrants on the impact – effort grid and placed in the appropriate grid on the passion – resistance grid as illustrated below.

The final result are ideas that have a high impact on keeping the cause from recurring, and require a low effort in relation to the time to implement in combination with high passion by those who will implement the idea, and a low resistance from those who will have to accept and live with the idea in the process they work within.  This, I would argue, is the true definition of a “great” idea!

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