How to use a decision matrix to streamline your decision making process

Decision matrix is one of the simplest decision making techniques. You identify the key elements of your decision making situation. You assign each such element a special number (score). You then put those numbers into a special table and use a simple calculation to tell you which choice is the best.

This allows you to process a complex decision on paper, one byte at a time, without choking your mind with too many details at the same time. A decision making matrix also makes it easier for you to comprehend the bigger picture of your situation.

To build a decision matrix you first need to decompose your decision making context into its basic elements, its building blocks. There are two main types of such building blocks. The first type is your options or alternatives from which you are choosing. Write those down. You may want to extend your options further by taking another sheet of paper and going through a brainstorming exercise.

The second type of decision elements is the selection criteria you can use for judging your options. For example, various kinds of costs or losses, as well as benefits (in terms of money, time savings, health, fun, and so on). Think carefully about those and list all of them on paper. Look at them again. Can you make them more clear and specific? Are you missing any other relevant factors?

Now you can make the first step in converting your decision context into numbers. In particular, based on your feeling of the relative importance of different factors, assign each judgment criterion (selection factor) some weight of importance. Just pick some numerical scale, let’s say 1 to 5. Then use that scale for weighing the importance of each criterion. The more important a given factor feels to you, the higher number you give it, within your chosen range.

Next use your lists to start a weighted decision matrix table. The rows and columns of the table correspond to your judgment criteria and options/alternatives, respectively. The first column lists all selection criteria. The second column lists the importance weights of the corresponding criteria. Then each additional column will describe your alternatives. Put the names of the alternatives across the top of the weighted matrix as column headings.

Score your alternatives. Again choose some range/scale, like 0 to 5, or 0 to 100. The roughest scoring system could be –1, 0, 1 (“positive impact”, “negative impact”, and “does not matter”). Now go alternative by alternative (columns), and then criterion by criterion (rows), and put some score at each table cell. The score should reflect your best judgment, based on your feelings and knowledge, of the benefits of a given alternative in terms of a given selection criterion.

Now based on all those numbers you can calculate the total score (overall desirability) of each alternative in the weighted decision making matrix. For each alternative (column) in the table, multiply all scores by the corresponding weights of importance (from the second left column), and then sum those weighted scores together. This one number will be the total score/desirability of a given alternative. Put such numbers in an extra row at the bottom of the table.

Finally, the alternative that has the highest total score is your decision matrix’s conclusion on what is your best choice.

Complement your decision matrix with your intuition
Intuition can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your decision making, especially when combined with rational analysis. Get a better idea of where intuition fits best and how to use it properly.

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