How do you make decisions?
It can be overwhelming when faced with a big decision, especially when there are a lot of things to account for. So I started exploring some mental models to help improve my decision-making abilities.
I came across the Weighted Decision Matrix (also sometimes called the Pugh Matrix) and it's been super helpful. It's going to be a tool I reach for in the future whenever I need to make a decision.
Why this is awesome
It provides a great, concise visualization. When making a non-trivial decision, it's easy to lose sight of what's important. By putting everything together on a single page, it makes it easy to compare and contrast the various options.
It forces you to make implicit things explicit. By laying out all your criteria and then ranking them, if forces you to think about what matters most. When making a group decision, it identifies where your priorities might not be aligned.
It relies on relative and intuitive comparisons. Rather than crafting scoring rubrics for every criteria, you can instead make comparative evaluations. It can be tough to measure how “complex” a project is. But, it's a lot easier to have discussions comparing two solutions to determine if one is more complicated to implement than another.
Recently, my truck started experiencing electrical issues. I had already spent a significant amount of money replacing the battery, starter, and wiring harness. Yet the problem persisted. I felt like I had the following options:
- I could spend more money to replace more things in a hope that it would resolve the problem.
- I could buy a new truck.
- I could buy a used truck.
- Maybe I didn't even need a truck? Could I get something smaller and cheaper?
Here's the matrix containing these options:
We'll go into the details of how to use the matrix in more detail in a bit, so not all the numbers will make sense. But, the thing to grasp here is that I was able to enter in my own criteria and how important each of those criteria were to me. Then in a very short period of time, one option emerged as better than any of the other options. Now that I am writing this article, I find it quite amusing that the car I ended up purchasing was a Toyota Matrix.
How to use the matrix
- Select your criteria and weigh them. Make a list of all the things that are important to you in this decision. If you're making a decision as a team, involve others in making this list. You want to ensure that you're encompassing everyone's concerns. After you have this list, you're going to assign a weight to each criterion (generally a number from 1 to 5) where a higher number indicates more important criteria.
- List your options and pick your baseline. All your scoring is going to be relative to your first option (also called your baseline). The ordering of all the other options doesn't matter. I recommended that you pick the option you understand the best as your baseline.
- Calculate your scores. For each of your options, evaluate the criteria listed in the associated row and enter one of the values shown in the table below. For the baseline itself, enter all zeros. Then you'll calculate the final scores by multiplying the baseline.
- Interpret your results. I would caution you against the tendency to take the best score without thinking about the analysis. How do you feel about this result? Now that you're looking over everything at once, are there extra criteria or options that come to mind? If there are stakeholders that this decision will affect, have you shown them your matrix and received their feedback.
While the Weighted Decision Matrix isn't the perfect tool in all situations, I've found it to be handy in quite a few of them. Next time you have a decision to make, give it a try! If you're willing to share, I'd love to hear how useful you found this tool!
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