Guide to Understanding Matrix Diagrams

What is a matrix diagram?

A matrix diagram is a project management and planning tool for displaying and analyzing the relationships between two or more data sets. Also known as matrix charts, matrix diagrams provide a valuable, visual look at complex information that might otherwise be difficult to understand at a glance.

Matrix charts are great for displaying, organizing, and analyzing many types of data sets, including:

  • Concepts
  • People
  • Materials or equipment
  • Tasks
  • Statuses
  • Locations

Types of matrix diagrams

There are several types of matrix diagrams, each with a different shape and different ideal use cases.


L-shaped charts are the most common type of matrix diagram intended to display the relationship between two data sets. At a glance, L-shaped matrix diagrams look like simple data tables, with one data set represented in the top row and another data set represented in the left column. The intersecting cells contain additional information and context in the form of numbers, labels, or symbols. Use an L-shaped matrix diagram when comparing two sets of data. For example, you could create an L-shaped chart to display the relationships between staff members and work shifts.


If you have three groups of data to compare, you can create a Y-shaped matrix chart by arranging the data sets in a Y-shape. It can also help to imagine a triangle with a list of items from each side. The three data groups should be closely related in a Y-shaped matrix diagram. That way, the chart can compare each group to all other groups. An example of a Y-shaped matrix diagram could include a chart featuring the relationships between staff members, work shifts, and locations.


A C-shaped matrix diagram is another way of representing three data groups. Unlike the Y-shaped chart, the labels are arranged in a sideways C shape—one on the left, one across the top, and one on the right. The shape of the chart resembles a 3D cube, and it can be difficult to draw without the help of a matrix diagram software. C-shaped matrix charts can display the same type of data as Y-shaped charts. For example, you could create a chart depicting the relationships between staff members, work shifts, and work locations.


T-shaped matrix diagrams are shaped like a sideways T and are used to compare three distinct groups of information. Unlike Y-shaped and C-shaped diagrams, they are best for situations where you want to compare two data groups to a third group but not to one another. For example, the chart could display the relationships between products and manufacturers and the connections between products and customers—but not between manufacturers and customers.


An X-shaped matrix diagram is one of the most complex of these examples. Although it displays four different data groups, it's easiest to understand X-shaped diagrams in the context of their similar T-shaped counterparts. For example, you could create an X-shaped matrix using the scenario from the T-shaped matrix above to make a chart displaying:

  • The relationships between products and manufacturers
  • The relationships between products and customers
  • The relationships between shipping partners and manufacturers
  • The relationships between shipping partners and customers

But not:

  • The relationships between manufacturers and customers OR
  • The relationships between products and shipping partners

When to use a matrix diagram

With so many types of diagrams, maps, charts, and graphs available, how do you decide when to use a matrix diagram? In general, matrix diagrams are great for:

  • Visualizing complex relationships
  • Identifying problems and growth opportunities
  • Comparing potential solutions
  • Reviewing performance

Some other, more specific use cases for matrix diagrams include:

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning and management technique to help identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats within a project, team, or organization. There are many ways to set up a matrix diagram for a SWOT analysis—a simple L-shaped matrix is a great place to start.

SWOT analysis

Requirements gathering

For businesses that provide products or services according to specific customer requirements, a matrix diagram is useful for tracking and displaying those requirements. You could use an L-shaped or Y-shaped matrix diagram with whatever data groups you want to compare customers, specifications, products, and account managers.

Strategic planning

Many executives, marketers, and other professionals use matrix diagrams as a strategic planning tool for exploring and identifying strategies for growth and expansion. One specific type of strategic planning matrix is an Ansoff matrix, also known as a product/market expansion grid. An L-shaped diagram is a common format for an Ansoff matrix, but you could use any type of matrix to support your strategic planning goals.

Ansoff matrix

Resource allocation

You can use a matrix diagram to explore issues and opportunities in resource allocation, logistics, and other business efforts. The above-mentioned idea of a chart displaying the relationship between staff members and work shifts is one example of a resource allocation matrix.

Benefits of using matrix diagrams

Their versatility is one of the primary benefits of matrix diagrams, as demonstrated by the wide variety of use cases. Other key benefits of matrix diagrams include:

Simplifying complex connections

Matrix diagrams make understanding the complex relationships between different project elements easier. By arranging data groups in a visual framework, you can easily see and label the points where various ideas intersect.

Facilitating decision making

Once you can see and understand all the elements at play in your matrix diagram, it's easier to make informed, strategic decisions about the project or problem at hand.

Improving processes

Ultimately, matrix diagrams are a powerful tool for improving processes and solving problems. They provide a structure for data and a systematic way to evaluate how data groups interact.

How to make a matrix diagram

Learning how to make a matrix diagram by hand is straightforward, and if you have access to a graphic design or matrix diagramming software, it gets even easier. Once you've decided on the rows and columns of data you'd like to analyze, you'll need to select a type of matrix diagram and create a template. From there, simply input your data groups and label the intersection of each data point using whatever notation works best to classify those relationships.

Follow these steps to create a matrix diagram:

  1. Define your objective. Before making your matrix chart, consider what insights you hope to gain from the exercise.
  2. Collect your data. Once you understand your objective, identify your data groups, and gather relevant information for each group.
  3. Select the best matrix type. Choose the type of matrix that best fits your objective, type of data, and the number of data sets. see the above section types of matrix diagrams for more information. After choosing a matrix type, use a matrix diagram software with premade templates.
  4. Begin filling in your template. Start adding your data categories to your matrix template.
  5. Choose your notation type and labels. As you identify points of intersection between your data sets, decide how you will label those cells. You may choose a number, symbol, word, or phrase depending on your objective. If you use symbols in the chart cells, be sure to also create a key to define your symbols.
  6. Analyze the data groups and add notation. Methodically look at each cell and the ideas connected to it. Use your chosen notation method to record information about the relationships between those ideas. Fill in the whole diagram in this way.
  7. Review and interpret. Study your finished matrix chart, and draw conclusions based on the notations you made in step 6. Reflect on your findings as they relate to your objective.

Why use MindManager to make matrix diagrams

While you can make hand-drawn matrix diagrams, we recommend using a digital matrix diagram maker. Matrix diagram tools like MindManager allow you to create large, complex charts that are easy to edit and share.

MindManager is an industry-leading collaborative mind mapping and matrix diagramming software. Key benefits of using MindManager include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your matrix charts
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Numerous templates, tools, and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web

MindManager is a powerful tool for boosting productivity—it empowers plans, projects, and processes, helping you transform abstract, unstructured ideas into dynamic visual diagrams. Bring clarity to your communication and take your teaming capabilities to the next level with MindManager.

Matrix diagram templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with many matrix diagram templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project

Matrix diagram FAQs

Which type of matrix diagram should I use?

There are several types of matrix diagrams, each with unique features and ideal use cases. For example, L-shaped matrix diagrams are commonly used to compare two data sets. Select a matrix diagram based on your objective, data type, and the number of data groups.

When should you use a matrix diagram?

Use a matrix diagram when you need to identify and evaluate the relationships between multiple data groups. Common uses for matrix diagrams include SWOT analysis, requirements gathering, strategic planning, and resource allocation.

What do you need to make a matrix diagram?

Before creating a matrix diagram, consider what insights you hope to gain and what data you plan to use. Then, choose the matrix diagram shape that best fits your data and objective and start building your diagram.

Organize and analyze data with a matrix diagram

Matrix diagrams are powerful tools for project management and strategic planning. They provide a way to organize and analyze complex data groups and their relationships visually. Individuals and companies use matrix diagrams to facilitate project planning, process improvement, product development, and more.

Visualize more with MindManager

Want to make a matrix diagram? Try MindManager, and build any type of matrix diagram using our library of premade templates, icons, and images.

Try the full version of MindManager FREE for 30 days