How to make and use a 2x2 decision-making diagram

I interviewed seasoned product manager, Karleen, for the podcast this week. She talked about a strategy she often uses for decision making and prioritization - something that a consultant at Pivotal taught her at a previous job.

The 2 by 2 - a decision making technique - is a very simple technique that all product managers should have in their toolbox.

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When should I use a 2x2?

  • When your backlog contains so many user stories/ features/ tech debt tasks and you can't really tell which ones matter
  • When you're in sprint planning and the team can't decide what to put in the damn sprint
  • Prioritizing a list of bugs for a launch
  • Any time in life as a regular human where you have to make decisions

Here's how to do a 2x2 (I like the rhyming there)

1. Find a white board and draw two simple axes - importance and effort, forming 4 quadrants. It should look like this:

2. Collect a list of tasks you're trying to decide between. It's best to write these on sticky notes. So you're gonna need sticky notes. You can do this before the meeting by yourself, or collectively as a team. 

3. Place each task where you think it belongs in the graph. If you're doing this individually, this may only take a couple of minutes. If you're doing this as a team, it may be a process.

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4. Get feedback and agreement from the team. If you're using this during sprint planning, everyone is going to have to agree on the final placement of all the sticky notes.

5. Reprioritize your backlog in JIRA (or whatever tool you use) based on the outcome. If you're doing this exercise during sprint planning, not all of the tasks may fit in the sprint. If you have any left over, prioritize your backlog accordingly.

And that's it! This exercise is super simple - and super effective.