Is This Project Worth Doing? The Fit Matrix

I have a tool I use as a quick first check on any effort that someone is proposing. I call it the Fit Matrix.

Someone wants to see a new service, or a new piece of software. Maybe someone wants to bring in a vendor for an overview of a product line. Or the question might be whether we should keep doing something we’re already doing.

I’m writing this from an IT management perspective, but the tool is easily generalized for other areas.

The Fit Matrix is a two-by-two matrix:

Business Fit
Low High
IT Fit High Solution Looking for a Problem Do It!
Low Don’t Do It! Problem Looking for a Solution

It’s intended for a quick assessment. It’s not a substitute for a feasibility study, a cost analysis, a risk analysis, or strategic planning. You’d use this as a quick look before you get to those more involved assessments.

Business Fit: Does it serve the organization’s directions?

Business Fit looks outside the IT group to match up the work with what the organization as a whole is up to. You’ll rate Business Fit as High or Low. Neither assessment guarantees that the work will or won’t be pursued. You’re just stacking it up against the organization’s known directions.

The proposed work has High Business Fit if:

  • It directly supports a documented organizational goal.
  • It directly supports an important business process within the organization.
  • There’s a target audience that is likely to want something along these lines.

Otherwise, the proposed work has Low Business Fit. It doesn’t support documented organizational goals or important processes, or we don’t really have an audience for it.

What about a gray middle? Maybe there’s a request people often make, but nothing in the organization’s plans call for it. I’d usually call that a Low Business Fit. For Business Fit, we’re not (yet) asking whether the idea would be popular. We’re asking whether we can match it up with known organizational directions.

IT Fit: Does it fit with IT’s directions?

This is the internal view – how well the work fits in with the current or planned IT environment. Just like Business Fit, IT Fit will be judged as High or Low, and neither assessment guarantees what we’ll do with it.

The proposed work has High IT Fit if:

  • We have the technology to do it, or we’re already planning to acquire the technology.
  • We have the know-how, or we’re planning to get it. For this purpose, I’m not making a distinction between insourced work, outsourced work, or other approaches. The question is whether we do or don’t have a reasonable expectation that the necessary expertise will be in place, wherever and however we might come by it.
  • We expect it will integrate well with the existing or planned IT environment.

Otherwise, the work has Low IT Fit. We don’t have the technology, we can’t get the expertise, or we don’t see how it’ll work well with our intended environment. We’re not ready, not willing, or not able to do it.

The Four Outcomes, and What to Do With Them

Do It! (High Business Fit, High IT Fit): This is the ideal outcome. The organization needs it, and you can deliver it. You’ve got a case for taking a closer look. You’d still need to do appropriate levels of investigation, planning, and prioritization, but for now, you can say it’s a good candidate for such consideration.

Problem Looking for a Solution (High Business Fit, Low IT Fit): This is important, because the organization has a need, but somehow the idea in question is not a good fit with what you’re already doing. Either you need a better idea that will fit your IT directions, or you need to modify your IT directions to accommodate the solution. Or you don’t need a new solution because the current solutions are fine (for now).

Solution Looking for a Problem (Low Business Fit, High IT Fit): The idea seems cool, from a technology perspective, but you can’t tie it to organizational priorities. A Solution Looking for a Problem is less important than a Problem Looking for a Solution. Either you reject the idea altogether, or you allow it as an experimental side project with the hope that it may yet prove useful, at least as a learning exercise. But you don’t throw lots of resources at it.

Don’t Do It! (Low Business Fit, Low IT Fit): This idea isn’t a good fit for the organization or for IT. It’s not a good candidate for further pursuit, even as an experimental project. This situation will come up, and it’s not a personal failure for the person who suggested it. A good-faith suggestion that turns out not to be a good fit is still a Good Thing. You now have the opportunity to increase awareness of what is or isn’t a good fit, and you’ve handled the suggestion before much time was spent on it. If you want to send the message that you welcome suggestions, treat the person well even though the idea was rejected this time. Next time, they’ll be a little smarter about what’s going to fly.

What if you don’t have documented directions for the organization, or for IT?

You might find yourself in an organization that has no clear, documented directions. You don’t know what to match against. Or you might have inherited an IT group that hasn’t spelled out its own directions, or the directions have little to do with what the organization as a whole wants.

Make your best guesses, and use the Fit Matrix anyway. Give people something to react to. Maybe you’ll shake something out of the tree if you describe why you think something is or isn’t a good fit. You have a chance to learn something, and get greater clarity about the needed directions.

Foster Awareness

The Fit Matrix gives you your elevator pitch for any work you’ve assessed – why you are, or aren’t, pursuing a particular area of effort. The quick assessment of the Fit Matrix gives you a quick way to foster awareness of your activities and directions. Give it a try!