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3 Steps to Building a Decision Matrix

Learn to create a decision matrix to determine the best course of action on a project, in a meeting, or any other situation requiring complex decisions.

We’ve all been in a situation during a meeting when the group needs to come to a decision and choose one or more options among several contenders. This often happens while brainstorming potential projects, market opportunities, or even locations for your next office party. Sometimes the answer is simple and obvious, but other times it is more difficult and requires the analysis of multiple factors. In these situations, we like to use a decision matrix.

How to Create a Decision Matrix

Below are three steps you can take to create a decision matrix and get to the best decision.

1) Define how you plan to evaluate your options

Ideally this is done before you generate any options so you don’t run the risk of criteria being selected in order to drive the results. Four things to consider when deciding on your options:

  • Identify attributes that the winning option must have (e.g., mission alignment, below $X, etc.). If you know the required attributes, you will quickly be able to remove any options that don’t meet these requirements. For example, if you’re trying to choose a vacation destination, you may have a requirement that you can drive there.
  • Define the ranking criteria (e.g., return-of-investment, goal alignment, probability of success, resource availability, etc.). These are the factors that are considered when you’re evaluating your options. Staying with the vacation destination example, you may rate options based on Affordability, Fun, and Ease of Travel.
  • Determine if the criteria need to be weighted. Let’s face it—not all criteria are created equally. If financial drivers are the most important factor for your group, then that criterion should be weighted the highest. As a best practice, the weighting should be defined immediately after the criteria is determined.
  • Define how items will be scored (e.g., 1-10, 1-100). Decide up front how the group will score each factor. There must be a lower and upper bound to the scoring so the options can be comparatively reviewed.

2) Evaluate your options in a matrix

Once you’ve defined your criteria and scoring method, begin evaluating your options using a matrix. We often do this in Excel, but you can easily do it on a white board during a meeting. In either method, create a table with your options running down the leftmost column and the scoring criteria along the top row.

  • Discard or ignore all options that do not meet the minimum required criteria. This will ensure you’re not wasting your time discussing ideas that will never happen.
  • Score all remaining options based on the defined criteria. As a group, define the score for each option across all criteria. You can also have people complete the scoring individually and then compile the results, but that is not effective in real-time.
  • Rank the options. With each cell completed, you can calculate the combined score by adding up the scores in each row. If the criteria is weighted, you will multiply your score by the weight for each criteria before adding them together. Once the combined scores are calculated you can sort the options from largest to smallest to get a prioritized list.

Table 1. Vacation options using an unweighted decision matrix. When all three criteria are weighted equally, New York City scores the highest.

3) Review your ranked list and refine the criteria, if necessary

Despite the data-driven process of scoring and ranking, there is a lot of subjectivity involved in decision making. As such, it is important to review your ranked list and confirm whether your model is logically sound. Faulty logic in the weighing of criteria, generous scoring, or even clerical mistakes may distort your rankings. Issues can also occur if there is not enough variation in the scoring of criteria.

  • Review the results for one final gut-check. Ask yourself (or your group) if the options at the bottom of the list surprise you. This is a better test than confirming the right items are at the top (if we knew the top options, we would not be using this process!).
  • Refine the criteria weights as needed. Go ahead and change the weights, as a group, and recalculate and rank the options.
  • Select the winning option(s).

Below is a second example of the vacation decision matrix, this time using weighted criteria. As a result, Hershey Park received the highest score.

Table 2. Vacation options using a weighted decision matrix. To calculate the weighted score, multiply the weight by the score for each option. For example, Hershey Park's affordability is scored as a 5, and affordability is weighted as a 3, so the weighted score for Hershey Park's affordability is 15.

How Nexight Can Help

At Nexight Group, we’re often asked to help clients make complex decisions on project portfolios or during facilitated workshops, and the decision matrix tool is one of the first we turn to. Get in touch if you would like to learn more about how Nexight can help you with strategic decision making.

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