Creating a Shared Need: The Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix

Not long after any initiative’s core team has been assembled, it is essential to get that team aligned and to get them thinking about the potential effects of their initiative.  A “best practice” is to have the team collectively work through this tool to find ways to frame the need for change as a threat and opportunity over both the short and long term, for all stakeholders. 

What is it?

Most readers will be familiar with SWOT Analysis.  The concept with the Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix is to put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholders being impacted by your initiative and imagine their perspective.  Framing the need for change as a short-term threat can serve as the proverbial 2×4 to the side of the head that gets attention and creates urgency.  But long-term organizational effort is sustained by opportunity not crisis, so it is necessary to frame the need for change as opportunity as well.   A frequently overlooked benefit of this tool is that it gets the team thinking about potential resistance to the initiative early in the process.

Why do it?

The purpose for using this tool is threefold (See Figure 1)

  1. To enable the team to articulate the need for the change in terms that will resonate with the stakeholders being impacted.
  2. To anticipate the pushback the team may get from those affected by the change, and to begin an adoption risk mitigation plan
  3. To build alignment and consensus among the team leading the initiative
Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

Figure 1 – Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

How do it?

There is no right or wrong way to do this.  The value is in the conversation that the team has and the list that is generated.   It can be done with sticky-notes on a flipchart, on a whiteboard, or at a table with a scribe on a computer.

Before using this tool, pre-work should include a list of stakeholders and the project charter.  It can also be valuable, though not essential, to pull a cross-functional team together to participate in this exercise.  

1.   Working individually, CAP team members list the reasons for the change initiative.

a.       List both the threats of not changing and the opportunities created if the change is successful

b.      Additionally, try to anticipate the resistance by considering the potential pushback from skeptical stakeholders, i.e. the threat if we DO change and/or the opportunity if we don’t change.  This is a first look at potential resistance to the initiative.

2.     Team members then share their perceptions and then debate and discuss similarities and differences.

3.     Team members then collate and sort the reasons into short vs. long-term.

4.    The team should review their list of stakeholders and try to ensure that they have identified reasons that will resonate with all key constituent groups (e.g., manufacturing, marketing, engineering, sales, etc.).

Tips:
  1. Most reasons for an initiative can be articulated as both a threat and an opportunity.  For example; failure to change will result in job losses, vs. successful change will lead to job growth.  It is useful to retain both versions early in the process.  The team may decide later to portray the need for change one way instead of the other to maximize its effectiveness.
  2. Some teams may struggle articulating the need for change, or to do it for all stakeholders, early in the project.  Therefore, it may be useful to begin this discussion and then revisit it once the vision has been articulated.  It may also drive additional conversations with the project sponsor to clarify the need from the leadership perspective.  Effective teams treat this as a living document and both update it and refer back to it regularly – the team’s understanding of the stakeholder’s perspective will (and should!) evolve over time
  3. A “Best Practice” is to use this tool together with 3-Ds matrix
When do it?

This tool should be used early on in the project, even during the team chartering process.  Though subject to modification throughout the project, this initial statement of need is essential to moving forward with a clear sense of why this change initiative is essential to do at this point in time.

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