Workshop Exercises: Understand

Adjacency Matrix

Find hidden relationships between features and functional areas

Illustration of Adjacency Matrix
Run a Adjacency Matrix play

Timing: Planning

Run time
60 minutes

Group size

Why: Identify how closely related features are to how you are doing business today to better understand product complexity and dependencies

When: Use to ensure all potential user and feature interactions are considered making roll out straight forward

Making a new product feature successful requires more than building it.

The Adjacency Matrix exercise is designed to uncover hidden relationships between features or components within a project and the rest of your organization. By mapping relationships between product components, their bound complexity within their product and interdependencies can be identified.

Identifying dependencies between features and components help identify and highlight critical paths within the project timeline. Recognizing potential conflicts between features and components allows for better risk mitigation helping to prevent issues from arising and enabling teams to address them proactively. This foresight simplifies the inherent complexity of growing products, making decision-making processes more manageable.

The Adjacency Matrix also facilitates better collaboration among team members. By collectively discussing and mapping out feature relationships, teams ensure a shared understanding of the product’s intricacies. This collaborative effort can lead to more cohesive planning and execution, as everyone involved has a clearer picture of how different parts of the project interact with one another.

Conducting the exercise involves preparing a list of features or components to be analyzed and creating a grid where each feature intersects with every other feature. For each intersection, the team discusses and marks the relationship between the features, using symbols or colors (colored post its work great) to indicate the type of interaction. Reviewing the completed matrix can reveal clusters of highly interrelated features, indicating areas of high complexity or risk that may require additional planning and management.

Adjacencies are evaluated by determining how much each of their activities must change to support the new initiative. Your only choices are:

  • Trivial. Almost no changes required. “Training” is an email or one Zoom session. Adjusting sales and marketing material means adding a few bullets.
  • Adjustment. Change-management required, but manageable within current processes, norms, and organizational structure, similar to a “large new feature release.” Requires training. New sales slides. A new web page for the website. A non-trivial change to pricing and packaging. New SMEs in Support.
  • Overhaul. Major change needed: hiring for new skills or for capacity, significant retraining that might require new specializations, structural process or management changes, especially if the org chart is changing. Often you’re not entirely sure of the full extent of the changes, i.e. it is sufficiently complex that we can’t identify all the challenges and risks that await us.

These insights are then used to adjust the project plan, ensuring that dependencies are managed, conflicts are addressed, and areas of high complexity receive appropriate attention. Regularly updating the Adjacency Matrix as features and their relationships evolve ensures it remains a valuable tool throughout the project lifecycle.

Instructions for running this play

  1. List all the features or components you want to analyze along a horizontal line of columns (the X axis of the matrix).
  2. On the vertical line, list all of the functional areas your company has. This will create a grid where each feature intersects with functional areas.
  3. For each intersection, discuss and mark the relationship between the features and functional areas. This can be a direct dependency, a potential conflict, or any other type of interaction you deem important.
  4. Use colored sticky notes to indicate the type of relationship:
    • Trivial: Almost no changes required. (green sticky note)
    • Adjustment: Change-management required but manageable within current processes. (yellow sticky note)
    • Overhaul: Major change needed, possibly requiring new skills or processes. (red sticky note)
  5. Review the matrix to identify clusters of highly interrelated features. These clusters might indicate areas of high complexity or risk that require more detailed planning.
  6. Use the insights from the matrix to adjust your project plan, ensuring that dependencies and potential conflicts are managed appropriately.
Functional Area Course Creation User Management Analytics Dashboard
Marketing Adjustment
(new promotional materials for courses)
(new strategies for user retention)
(new reports for marketing insights)
Sales Overhaul
(new sales strategies for bulk course purchases)
Trivial Overhaul
(integrating sales metrics)
Support Trivial
(standard support for new courses)
(new training for user management)
Product Adjustment
(new features for course creation)
(new user roles and permissions)
Engineering Trivial
(minor tweaks)
(restructuring user database)
(adding new analytics features)
Business Model Trivial
(existing plans are sufficient)
(new pricing plans)

Tips to perfect this play

Master and adapt the play to fit your context and needs.

Tip: Think in layers

Consider layers of interaction. Some features may not be directly related but can have indirect impacts that should be considered.

Tip: Use color coding

Use different colors for various types of relationships, such as direct dependencies, potential conflicts, or synergistic relationships.


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