On The Level: Some Tools Nicked From The Military: Ike’s Matrix and The Figure of Merit

Words: Jude Nosek

Words and Figures: Jude Nosek

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

I use these tools primarily for business purposes.  However, I have found that they also work for me personally; such as, for my immediate family movie night, for my extended family when we took a 19-person vacation, for my lifelong friends if I am subtle about it, and for my “other communities” like my PTA, HMO, religious or fraternal organizations, or other groups I’ve opted to join. I have found that suggesting them as a “filter to frame the options” has helped when these teams have struggled to decide. It took me a long time to accept selections that I did not champion personally. Moreover, my enjoyment in working with others increased when I let go of my need to be right or to have the answer. Finally, I have found that our decisions have been better for the group as a whole without me trying to guide the results. 

In the last few articles, we’ve touched on how to figure out what to work on (“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”) and a couple techniques on getting a group to find a consensus (round robin/all-play-all; weighted voting techniques). Along the same lines, here are a few other tools in my toolbox for decision-making, selecting and prioritizing. For me, the key is to find simple, effective strategies and tools that I can employ right now. 

The Eisenhower Matrix

Effectively utilizing our time and resources is the great goal. “What to work on?” is a more important question to answer than “How should we work on this?” The Eisenhower Matrix is a terrific tool to sort out what to tackle for oneself right now, what to schedule, what to hand off, and what to eliminate from everyone’s agenda.

For each item on your list, consider the following two questions: “Is this urgent?” AND “Is this important?”

A picture containing chart

Description automatically generated
YesYesDo it now.
YesNoSchedule it.
NoYesDelegate it.
NoNoDelete it

Importance is determined by impact. I usually consider things in relativity. I consider resources and people affected, things critical to the business, or my well-being. For instance, it is important that I eat something healthy. What exactly that is, is NOT important. If you have a few important and urgent items, you might need to run them through a different tool like the Top 1 Next 4 from a few months back, the FoM below, or the Round Robin technique from the last article to come up with your hit list. 

Urgency is determined by time. The spans of time and their influence on what needs to be done will change based on what you’re doing. Painting a room makes more sense before it’s loaded with furniture unless the movers are dropping everything off in an hour. Then, the painting is not urgent, and the move is. Plumbing is another great example (my home is 100+ years old, and my love/hate relationship with it is strong). Is having functioning plumbing important? Yes. Is it urgent? Maybe. Is my plumbing working right now? If yes, then there are more urgent items.  If no, then it’s right to the top of the list, trumping anything that isn’t life-threatening.

I had a mentor suggest I couple this tool with the TOUCH IT ONCE technique. For every idea and item that needs addressing, take the time to address it and determine its IKE Matrix classification. Once it is decided (Do, Delegate, Schedule or Delete), put it into the workflow that would bring it to its conclusion. 

The Figure of Merit or FoM Tool

This tool is a bit more sophisticated (there’s math!), and it’s great for comparing things that are not easily compared. For instance, at Keson, we needed to decide among priorities from various departments and disciplines. Below are a few items we’ve tackled in the past decade. I am going to pretend they all came up at once, and our exec team has to decide what to prioritize. The Figure of Merit is a tool that weighs impact against resources and time. 

Rated each item with a number defining its impact on the organization as a whole. This is its Merit. That number is then divided by the effort/resource and time it will take to accomplish it. One key finding we made was that as executives, we were good at defining the impact number (its merit), and then it was best to get the actual people who were going to execute it to define the resources and time it would take.

Merit ÷ Time ÷ Effort = Figure of Merit

How important is it? 1-10 M = merit
How long will it take? 1-10 T = time
How much will it take? 1-10 E = effort (time & money)
= Figure of Merit

ProjectMeritTimeEffortFoMTo Do
New pad printing machine5122.501
Hire a west coast sales manager6330.673
Hire a customer service rep4221.002
Design a new series of chalk line reels8840.255
Rebrand Keson10480.314

You get to decide which thing to do and when. The FoM tool enables us to have a common framework for making good, company-wide decisions. At Keson, we invite Accounting, Human Resources, Operations, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service and any other departments impacted to have a seat at the table in the discussion.  We spend most of our time discussing the Merit number, and those discussions can be lively. The Effort/Resources column is the next most contentious. Time is usually the simplest, and our Director of Operations always makes us double it. 

If you are interested in these tools and others like them, there are resources available that I would be happy to share with you.

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