Impact and Uncertainty

The Impact and Uncertainty exercise allows you to surface key risks and unknowns and take focused action to reduce them.

Do you have thoughts and fears rattling in your brain about all the risks, unknowns, opportunities and obstacles facing your business? Are you taking action on some of these, but things don’t seem to be improving? Do you struggle to focus on working on the important over the urgent?

The Impact and Uncertainty exercise is designed to turn all of this into focused and appropriate actions that move your business toward success. After this exercise, you and your team will identify the highest impact areas of your business and have a focused way to address them.

It is important to have an updated Lean Canvas (or Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas) and Company DNA handy during this exercise.

Set the Stage

Assemble your team around a large whiteboard. Grab a pen and draw a large grid on the left side of the board. We recommend making 20-30 quadrants.


Impact 1.mov

Reflect: Guesses and Unknowns

Each person grab a pad of stickies and silently reflect on your Lean Canvas, (or Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas). Take about 3 minutes to work individually and write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, where are we making guesses or have unknowns? Write one key guess/unknown per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up.


Impact 2.mov

Share

One at a time, have your team come up to the board, quickly read out each sticky, and put it in one of the quadrants. If team members already have duplicate stickies on the board, that’s fine, put yours in the same quadrant. It’s important to read out and place each sticky as fast as possible, with little or no discussion. Quick clarifying questions are ok.

Reflect: Risks and Obstacles

Again, take about 3 minutes to work individually and write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, what risks or obstacles do we face? Write one key risk/obstacle per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up.


Impact 3.mov

Share

One at a time, have your team come up to the board, quickly read out each sticky, and put it in one of the quadrants. If team members already have duplicate stickies on the board, that’s fine, put yours in the same quadrant. It’s important to read out and place each sticky as fast as possible, with little or no discussion. Quick clarifying questions are ok.

If your risks/obstacles overlap with or are related to a guess/unknown, place it in the same square. Try not to debate at this time. Group the stickies if they’re a good fit, and if not, place them in a new quadrant.

Reflect: Opportunities

Again, take about 3 minutes to work individually and write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, what opportunities do we have? Write one key opportunity per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up.

Impact 3.mov

Share

One at a time, have your team come up to the board, quickly read out each sticky, and put it in one of the quadrants. If team members already have duplicate stickies on the board, that’s fine, put yours in the same quadrant. It’s important to read out and place each sticky as fast as possible, with little or no discussion. Quick clarifying questions are ok.

Reflect: Anything else?

After seeing everyone’s guesses/unknowns/risks/obstacles/opportunities go up to the board, take a moment, and surface anything else bouncing around your brain. Bring out all the extra guesses/unknowns/risks/obstacles/opportunities that have surfaced, again write one per sticky and put them into the appropriate quadrants. (2-3 min)

Summarize

Next, enable the team to compare and differentiate each grouping by giving a label to each quadrant. Will you know what your label means two months from now? If so, good job. If you find yourselves debating about a grouping, feel free to split the quadrant in half. Write the grouping label on a different colored sticky note.


Impact 4.mov

Organize: Prepare the Matrix

Now, draw a horizontal line on the right side of the board. This is the x-axis of the Impact Uncertainty matrix.

Take another colored sticky note, and begin to place your guidepost experiences along the x-axis.

Impact 5.mov

Guidepost Experience: Obvious

First, come to an agreement about a shared experience in your collective past where how to move forward was painfully obvious to everyone in the group. Did your conclusion require expertise? Then it’s not obvious enough. Find a moment where anyone off the street would have arrived at the same conclusion. Take a sticky, write “Obvious” at the top and in the middle write a title for this experience. Place this sticky at the far left of the x-axis.

Guidepost Experience: Chaos

Second, think about a shared experience in your collective past where the solution was nearly impossible to know, but you did know that you had to do something immediately.  Metaphorically, these are moments that felt like you’re running around in a burning building. It may seem like these happen every day in your company, find one that really stands out. Take a sticky, write “Chaos” at the top and in the middle write a title for this experience. Place this sticky at the far right of the x-axis.

Guidepost Experience: Complicated

Third, think about a shared experience in your collective past when it wasn’t obvious how to solve the problem, but after talking with experts their analysis allowed you to come to a sound conclusion. Take a sticky, write “Complicated” at the top and in the middle write a title for this experience. Place this sticky at the middle left of the x-axis.

Guidepost Experience: Complex

Finally, think of a shared situation in your collective past where the data available supported multiple hypotheses concurrently. As you reflect on experience, at the time it wasn’t clear how to move forward and only in hindsight was it clear what actions were the important ones. Take a sticky, write “Complex” at the top and in the middle write a title for this experience. Place this sticky at the middle right of the x axis.


Impact 5.mov

Organize: Uncertainty

Now, that you have your guidepost experiences, use them to orient all your groupings along the x-axis. As a group, take each grouping and compare it to your guidepost experiences and place it relative to those guideposts and other groupings. For now don’t worry about the y-axis and try to keep the groupings along the x-axis.


Impact 6.mov

Organize: Impact

Next up, consider the y-axis. Move the stickies up and down on the y-axis according to their level of impact on the business. Make sure to maintain their x-axis position while adjusting along the y-axis.


Impact 7.mov

Segment

Now, take a pen and draw a line separating the obvious region from the complicated region. Draw another line separating the complicated region from the complex region. Draw a final line separating the complex region from the chaos region.


Impact 8to11.mov

You’ve now defined four regions: obvious, complicated, complex and chaos. The way you take effective action on each group depends on the region.

Take Action: Obvious 

For the obvious region, pick your high impact items, make a decision and take action.

Take Action: Complicated

For the complicated region, pick your high impact items, analyze the data, consulting multiple experts on how they would handle the situation and then take action. Consider using the Improvement Worksheet to help you with your analysis and next actions, the PDF version is here and the Google Doc template is here.

Take Action: Complex

For the complex region, the environment is likely coevolving fast enough that analysis isn’t effective. Taking action in this region involves running multiple, small experiments to gather more evidence about the nature of the environment or involves running experiments to get desirable patterns to emerge in the environment. Take your high impact items and design multiple, small experiments that are safe to run. Download the Experiment Worksheet to help you. The PDF version is here and the Google Doc template is here.

Take Action: Chaos

For the chaos region, pick your high impact items, take quick action, and pay attention to the results.

Integrate Actions into Work Management

Take the high impact items in the Obvious region and add the tasks related to your decision to your backlog. For the high impact items in the Complicated region, add tasks to your backlog to figure out what experts to consult and what analysis is necessary to take action. In the Complex region, take your high impact items and design multiple, small experiments using the Experiment worksheet and add the tasks related to the experiment to your backlog. For high impact items in the Chaos region, addressing them can be urgent. If it’s urgent, consider expediting them through your work management system.

Keep this board around. Review it monthly, and make sure to apply your learnings back into your Lean Canvas and Company DNA.

You can download an Impact & Uncertainty worksheet as a PDF here and as a Google Doc template here.

Gratitude

Parts of this exercise are adaptations of the great work Dave Snowden has done in the field of complex adaptive systems, specifically his Cynefin framework and his Four Tables Contextualization method.

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