Career Development

How To Use a Decision Matrix

February 22, 2021

A decision matrix can be a helpful tool when you need to make decisions at work. If you need to choose amongst a list of options, you can compare and contrast them against one another through the decision matrix table. Understanding how a decision matrix works and knowing how to build your own will enable you to take a logical approach to decision-making and streamline your process. In this article, we explore decision matrixes and provide steps to help you use them.

Related: Decision-Making Methods for the Workplace

What is a decision matrix?

A decision matrix is a decision-making table that you can use to evaluate and compare different options. This tool can simplify your process because you only need a list of options and the relevant or significant criteria to judge them. You will then score each option, and the highest-scoring option typically represents the best decision because it most fulfilled your criteria. Using a decision matrix table enables you to compare and contrast your options in a simple-to-read format.

Related: How To Become a Better Decision Maker

When to use a decision matrix

You can use a decision matrix in a variety of situations, from making decisions to solving problems. This tool works well if you have several options that you can compare easily using the same criteria. Because a decision matrix focuses on ranking and rating options, it also is best used for decisions that rely on logic rather than emotions.

For example, a hiring decision may be too complex for a decision matrix because you also need to look at candidates' personalities and how well they fit into your work environment or team. You base your assessment of who they are as people on your personal perceptions rather than a logical determination. However, a decision matrix can help with quantifiable business decisions such as choosing a vendor, purchasing software or tools and choosing an office location.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition and Examples

How to use a decision matrix

You can use the following steps to create and use a decision matrix:

1. List your options

When you need to make a decision, determine which options you want to evaluate and compare against one another. You will then start creating your decision matrix by listing those options as the rows of the table. For example, if you need to choose which of several software options you want to purchase for your office, the left-hand side of your matrix table may look like this:

Options
Software A
Software B
Software C
Software D

2. Determine your criteria

Now you need to determine the criteria that will help you make your decision. While you can brainstorm a long list of criteria, you likely want to narrow it down to no more than eight factors to ensure you do not get overwhelmed. Think about the most important criteria for your decision. You will then list those items as the columns of your matrix table. Using the example of software to purchase, you may create the following criteria columns:

Options Price Features Integration Customer support
Software A
Software B
Software C
Software D

3. Weigh your criteria

As you developed your list of criteria, you determined which factors mattered most. Now, you must assign weights to them, ensuring that you do not treat the criteria equally when some hold more importance than others. Depending on how many criteria you have, you may rank them from most important to least important. Using the software example, you can rank the four criteria on a scale from one to four. You determine that:

  • Price has a weight of 4 (most important).
  • Features have a weight of 3.
  • Integration has a weight of 2.
  • Customer service has a weight of 1 (least important).

Once you have determined your weights, create a row beneath the criteria. You will place their corresponding number in those cells. You will use these numbers later to help score the option and make your final decision.

4. Score your options

Next, you need to create a rating scale to score how well each option meets the criteria. A common scale to use is from one to five, where one represents a poor rating while five represents an excellent rating. However, you can use as large or small as a scale as you would like—whether you rate items from one to three or one to 10. Then, define what each number on the scale represents. Once you have defined your scoring, move through the table and assign ratings to each option.

Using the example, a software option that scores five under the features criteria means that it has all the features you sought. Meanwhile, a software option that scores one means that it has very few of the features you sought.

5. Calculate the weighted scores

You scored each option, and now you must use the criteria weight to determine the weighted scores. To do this, move through the table and multiply each score by the criteria weight. This calculation determines the options' weighted scores and considers the varying levels of importance of the criteria. For example, software A scored three on price, and you had determined price had a weight of four. Therefore, its weighted score for pricing is 12.

6. Make a decision

Once you calculate the weighted scores, you need to add them. Place the sum of each options' scores in a "Total" column at the end of your table. Now that you have your totals, you can see which option scored the highest across all criteria. That represents the best choice based on your wants or needs, thus enabling you to make your final decision.

In some situations, you may not solely rely on the decision matrix. For example, one option may have scored highest overall but may have scored lower in the criteria that mattered most to you. You can conduct further discussions or assessments to determine which option makes the most sense for you, but the matrix at least offers a strong starting point to base your decision.

Related: Optimizing Your Workplace Decision-Making Process in 7 Steps

Example

You need to choose a new office space for your company and have a list of four options. Next, you determine the criteria and rank their importance:

  • Price has a weight of 4 (most important).
  • Size has a weight of 3.
  • Location has a weight of 2.
  • Amenities have a weight of 1 (least important).

Next, create a rating scale that determines how you evaluate each option against the criteria. You decide that you will rate them from one to five, with five representing an excellent rating and one representing a poor rating. Using all this information, you can create the following decision matrix:

Options Size Price Location Amenities Totals
Weights 3 4 2 1
Office A 2 (X3) = 6 3 (X4) = 12 1 (X2) = 2 2 (X1) = 2 22
Office B 4 (X3) = 12 4 (X4) = 16 3 (X2) = 6 3 (X1) = 3 37
Office C 5 (X3) = 15 4 (X4) = 16 4 (X2) = 8 4 (X1) = 4 43
Office D 3 (X3) = 9 2 (X4) = 8 2 (X2) = 4 3 (X1) = 3 24

Looking at the totals, you can see that Office C received the highest score and thus represents your best option.

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