Need/Know Matrix

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The Need/Know Matrix helps shake out what is critical for the success of your idea and what should be tested before moving forward.

There are two things you need to think about here:

  1. Critical vs. non-critical — Is this item critical to the success of your idea? If the assumption is wrong, will the idea still be possible to execute? If not, then it’s a critical assumption.
  2. Known vs. unknown — Do you know, or can you easily find out through simple research, if this assumption is true? If you would have to do a test to validate or find out, then it’s unknown.

Three Steps for the Need/Know Matrix

  1. Using sticky notes, jot down all your assumptions (one per sticky) about the challenge or project.
  2. Using a quadrant chart (each point should be labeled with the following: Critical, Not Critical, Known, and Unknown), plot each sticky note in the appropriate quadrant.
  3. All the assumptions that fall in the Critical Unknown quadrant should be tested before moving forward to ensure that the idea is realistic and feasible for implementation.

Here’s an example of how the Need/Know Matrix works: When the founder of Zappos was building the company, he designed his plan on the assumption that people would buy shoes online, sight unseen — a novel idea at the time. Before investing loads of money into implementation, he needed to test this assumption.

Because his assumption was critical to his idea, yet unknown at the time, you would place this assumption in the upper right quadrant of the matrix, Critical and Unknown.

Need/Know Matrix

Get started with your own Need/Know Matrix. Use this worksheet to guide you.

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