Incident Priority Matrix: From Chaos to Clarity

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Eduardo Messuti

Founder and CTO

September 07, 2023

Incident Priority Matrix: From Chaos to Clarity

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IT leaders often find themselves under pressure to support business outcomes while also trying to manage help requests. An incident priority matrix makes the incident management process much more seamless. It helps companies handle priority incidents within reasonable resolution times while ensuring other concerns are met.

In this blog post, we delve deep into the concept of the Incident Priority Matrix, its significance, and how it can transform your incident management processes. To help you navigate the content efficiently, here's an overview of the topics we'll cover:

Content Index:

What Is an Incident Priority Matrix?

Customer service representatives deal with a constant flow of tickets through the help desk. Organizations need a way to determine incident urgency to guide which issues get handled more quickly. An incident priority matrix helps businesses define the importance of incidents and the speed at which teams must act to resolve a problem.

By visualizing priority incidents, a matrix helps companies allocate available resources. High-priority issues are quickly identified, allowing for prompt action. Tasks placed at a lower priority are dealt with at a slower pace within acceptable resolution times.

The Importance of Prioritizing Incidents

Businesses typically only have so many resources available to allot to any given task. They need to make the best use of personnel, time, money, and technology. That means deciding what to consider major incidents that need immediate attention.

Normally, when multiple incidents occur at once, you might start with the problem that attracts a lot of customer attention, or the team that gets to it first might decide on priorities. However, this might not be the most effective and efficient way to do it, and you could lose time and resources.

A priority incident matrix makes the incident management process smoother. It considers both the impact and urgency of each separate issue, allowing your teams to better define priorities.

Effective prioritization helps companies locate and deal with incidents as a function of consequences and time to reduce harm to their operations, assets, reputation, and assets. It lowers the potential of security damage caused by a bad actor managing to exploit vulnerabilities caused by critical incidents.

Additionally, organizations can mobilize response teams and gather resources more quickly. That way, companies can contain incidents before they progress and cause more damage.

Many industries follow regulatory requirements dictating the management and reporting of major incidents. Using an incident priority matrix positions organizations to address incidents with compliance implications. They avoid dealing with fallout that could lead to legal and regulatory consequences.

Key Components of an Incident Priority Matrix

Two terms typically used when calculating an incident’s priority are impact and urgency.

Impact measures how an incident affects your day-to-day functioning and the damage caused. For example, to assess the impact of a CRM crashing while customer service agents try to handle service requests, you might assess how the incident affects users and how much revenue you could lose.

Urgency measures how quickly an organization should move to find a resolution. You might consider how much time you have to get that CRM up and running before a significant number of users are affected. Urgency also factors in the resources and time it would take to resolve the incident.

Levels of Impact

These categorizations refer to the degree of consequences an incident might cause an organization. For example, a blown transformer that shuts down power would have a bigger impact than a crashed website, even though both might rank high in urgency. Below are some examples of typical levels of impact:

  • Low impact. Low-impact events are unlikely to affect the majority of a business’s customers.
  • Medium impact. These incidents can lead to moderate operational disruption, which can impact a significant number of customers.
  • High impact. High-impact incidents severely disrupt user functions and have widespread impacts on a business’s customers.

Levels of Urgency

Urgency levels vary based on how quickly you need to resolve an incident. Below are examples of common levels of urgency:

  • Low urgency. These incidents aren’t considered time-sensitive and may have minimal impacts on business functions if dealt with over a longer period of time.
  • Medium urgency. Medium-urgency incidents need attention in the near future but won't immediately cause major issues with business functions.
  • High urgency. These types of incidents can escalate quickly and lead to significant business harm if not dealt with promptly.

Levels of Priority

Incident priority levels represent categories that rank and differentiate incidents based on their impact and urgency. By determining the priority level of an incident, you can tell incident response teams how to allocate resources, figure out responses as a function of time, and decide on the best course of action.

The numbering and labeling of priority levels varies. They typically follow a structure that maps out several distinct groups for incident categorization. Below are some examples of standard priority labels.

  1. Critical Priority. Incidents that fall under this category have a severe and immediate impact on core business operations. They demand instant intervention to prevent extensive damage or financial loss. Any delay in addressing these issues can lead to prolonged downtime, reputational harm, or a significant operational setback.
  2. High Priority. High-priority incidents pose a potential threat to primary business operations or functions. While they may not cause immediate severe disruptions, they can escalate to critical levels if not addressed promptly. Swift action is necessary to prevent the incident from worsening and to minimize its adverse effects.
  3. Medium Priority. These incidents can disrupt certain non-essential business functions, but they don't pose an immediate threat to core operations. However, if left unattended, they can evolve into high-priority issues over time. Responding to these incidents within a stipulated time frame can prevent further complications and potential losses.
  4. Low Priority. Low-priority incidents have a limited impact on business operations. Although they don't disrupt primary functions or lead to significant immediate losses, they still need attention. Addressing them within an acceptable timeframe will ensure that they don't accumulate or lead to larger, more complex issues in the future.

How To Use the Incident Priority Matrix

An incident priority matrix typically consists of a grid made up of rows or columns. The columns represent the different incident impact levels, while the rows denote the urgency levels associated with each incident.

A priority matrix will typically have three rows for the urgency levels (low, medium, and high) and three columns for the impact (low, medium, and high). You determine an incident’s priority by finding the intersection of its urgency and impact levels on the matrix. Its priority number is in the cell where the impact column's level intersects with the urgency row's level. Higher priority levels will get lower values.

For example, the row for high urgency and the column for high impact intersect at a cell containing “1.” That lets you know an incident of high urgency and impact is a priority 1 incident. You should then follow the instructions on how to handle an incident of the highest priority level.


In short, the incident priority matrix is a visual tool that helps you determine the priority of an incident based on where its impact row and urgency column intersect. The following steps can help organizations make the best use of an incident priority matrix.

Assess Incident Impact and Urgency

Start by defining whether an incident would rank as low, medium, or high-impact. You determine that based on the incident’s potential operational disruption. Will critical functions grind to a halt, keep one department from getting their work done, or impact a few users sporadically? How much revenue loss would your business endure if the situation wasn’t handled immediately?

Then, determine an incident’s impact rating. Any incidents with the potential to bring your business to a halt immediately should be labeled at the highest urgency rating. Think about the importance of the impacted functions to your overall operations and your employee’s ability to perform. Also, consider the incident's total duration and when it could escalate. Establish the likelihood of an incident coming to pass. Your documentation should also outline when to escalate incidents based on how they affect your employees and their ability to handle daily tasks.

If business can continue, but you have customer-facing areas impacted by a disruption, you may decide that should fall under medium-impact and placed at a medium urgency level. The issue may not bring everything to a halt, and poor customer service could negatively affect your company over time. However, if you stand to lose a significant number of customers in a short period of time, you may determine that a high urgency level is the most appropriate.

For example, let’s say your CRM stops saving customer service representatives' notes about user information. However, they’re still able to take calls and record the essentials. You may decide to map that to a low-urgency incident with medium-level impacts.

If the CRM application fails entirely, you now have a situation where representatives can’t record information for internal or external customers. In your incident matrix, you may want to indicate a high impact rating and a high urgency level.

Map Incidents to Priority Levels

Start assigning incidents to priority levels based on the information you discover. Your classes should correspond to the levels you established regarding impact and urgency. For example, a low-urgency incident with medium-level impacts will get a priority of 4. You should choose to deal with lower-priority-value incidents before this one. However, 1-level incidents should take precedence over all others.

Develop escalation rules for incidents mapped to lower levels that might cause them to rise to a higher level. That can impact the resolution times deemed acceptable by the organization. Something that may only impact a few users initially can gradually expand to the point where it affects a company’s ability to provide reliable service.

From there, start mapping out response plans for every priority level. They should guide the way teams approach impact resolution.

Allocate Resources and Response Times

Once you have your priority levels assigned, you can come up with responses, related actions, and incident communication strategies. Think through how you can strategically distribute manpower and time. You also need to budget enough to provide an appropriate incident response. Define how many resources are necessary to mitigate issues at different incident priority levels. Questions you should answer during this planning stage include:

  • Which personnel need to be involved?
  • What skills are needed to mitigate an incident?
  • Which tools are available?
  • How will team members communicate about incident resolution?
  • Is legal support necessary?

Complex issues may require more resources, even at a lower priority level. Critical incidents may also require only a few people with specific skills to handle a situation. Consider all these scenarios when determining resolution times and who should be on the response team.

Benefits of an Incident Priority Matrix

Many organizations use an incident management matrix to streamline their entire service management process. Having a structured framework makes it easier to evaluate and figure out where incidents rank in importance. It also provides valuable information when determining how to respond to an incident.

Efficient Resource Allocation

An incident priority matrix provides clear guidelines on which resources to deploy when responding to an incident. That keeps organizations from wasting money on lower-priority incidents or increasing security damage because of an inadequate response.

Improved Incident Response Times

Organizational users can use an incident priority matrix to identify high-priority or critical incidents quickly. They also make it easier to determine incident urgency and incident impact. That can reduce the potential damage from the fallout.

Enhanced Incident Management and Communication

Information exchanges during incident responses are more straightforward when everyone has a common framework. Everyone ends up speaking the same language regarding incident severity and allocating resources. Managers have what they need to make informed decisions quickly based on an incident’s priority level. The matrix also defines escalation rules, procedures to follow, and notification protocols for incident escalations.

Integrate Incident Priority Matrix With Incident Communication Tools

StatusPal makes it easier for businesses to establish organized communication during an incident response. See how your company can benefit from our platform by signing up for a free trial.

Gravatar for

Eduardo Messuti

Founder and CTO

September 07, 2023

Eduardo is a software engineer and entrepreneur with a passion for building digital products. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years and has experience in a wide range of technologies and industries.
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