Decisions, decisions, decisions. Making good decisions can help you steer your team in the right direction and hit your goals—but how do you know which decision is the right one? When faced with two seemingly equal choices, do you flip a coin? Roll the dice? Ask a Magic 8-Ball for help?
Decision-making is a critical part of good business planning—but it can be tricky to know which option is the right one. The key is making a quick decision without being hasty, and making the right decision without losing velocity.
If this sounds like an impossible conundrum, don’t worry—it isn’t. With a decision matrix, you can quickly address the pros and cons of each option, weigh different variables, and make a good decision quickly and easily.
A decision matrix is a tool to evaluate and select the best option between different choices. This tool is particularly useful if you are deciding between more than one option and there are several factors you need to consider in order to make your final decision.
You may have heard a decision matrix called by another term—even though they’re all talking about the same thing. Some other names for decision matrix include:
Multi-attribute utility theory
Problem selection matrix
You don’t always need to use a decision matrix. This process is powerful—and relatively easy—but it’s most effective when you’re deciding between several comparable options. If the evaluation criteria aren’t the same between your different choices, then a decision matrix likely isn’t the best decision-making tool. For example, a decision matrix won’t help you decide what direction your team should take for the next year because the things you’re deciding between aren’t comparable.
Use a decision matrix if you are:
Comparing multiple, similar options
Narrowing down various options into one final decision
Weighing a variety of important factors
Hoping to approach the decision from a logical viewpoint, instead of an emotional or intuitive one
If a decision matrix isn’t right for your current situation, learn about other decision-making approaches below.
A decision matrix can help you evaluate the best option between different choices, based on several important factors and their relative importance. There are seven steps to creating a decision matrix:
Decision matrices are a helpful tool to decide the best option between a set of similar choices. Before you can build your matrix, identify the options you’re deciding between.
For example, let’s say your team is launching a new brand campaign this summer. You need to decide on a vendor to create the visuals and videos for the design. Right now, you’ve identified three design agencies, though they each have their pros and cons.
The second step to building a decision matrix is to identify the important considerations that factor into your decision. This set of criteria helps you identify the best decision and avoid subjectivity.
Continuing our example, your team has decided that the important criteria to factor in when selecting a design agency are: cost, experience, communication, and past customer reviews.
A decision matrix is a grid where you can compare important considerations between the various options.
Naturally, we build our decision matrices in Asana. Asana is a work management tool that can help you organize and execute work across your organization and provide the clarity teams need to hit their goals faster.Read: Introduction to work management
For example, here’s what your decision matrix skeleton looks like in Asana if you’re deciding between three agencies and factoring in cost, experience, communication, and customer reviews:
Now, rate each consideration on a predetermined scale. If there isn’t a large variation between the options, use a scale of 1-3, where three is the best. For more options, use a scale of 1-5, where five is the best.
This is where the advantages of a decision matrix really start to shine. For example, let’s say you’re deciding between three agencies and you have four important criteria, but you don’t make a decision matrix. Here’s how each agency stacks up:
Agency 1 is really cost effective but they don’t have a ton of experience. Their communication and customer reviews seem average.
Agency 2 isn’t very cost effective, but they aren’t the most expensive agency. They have a good amount of experience, and they have great customer reviews, but their communication so far has been a bit lacking.
Agency 3 is the most expensive, but they also have the most experience. Their communication so far has been average and their customer reviews are pretty good.
These three descriptions are all relatively similar—it’s hard to decide which is better based on a short paragraph, especially because each agency has its own pros and cons. Alternatively, here’s what the three agencies and their four considerations look like on a decision matrix when ranked from 1-5, with five being the best:
Sometimes, there are certain considerations that are more important than others. In such a case, use a weighted decision matrix to identify the best option for you.
To continue our example, imagine you absolutely can’t go over your budget, so cost is a critical factor in your decision-making process. Customer reviews are also important, since they give you a baseline sense of how effective each agency has been in the past.
To add weight to a decision matrix, assign a number (between 1-3 or 1-5, depending on how many options you have) to each consideration. Later in the decision-making process, you’ll multiply the weighting factor by each consideration.
Here’s what that looks like in our example:
Once you’ve applied your rating scale and assigned a weight to each consideration, multiply the weight by each consideration. This ensures that the more important considerations are being given more weight, which will ultimately help you select the best agency.
To continue our example, here’s what it looks like when you apply the weighted scores to each consideration for each agency:
Now that you’ve multiplied the weighted score, add up all of the considerations for each agency. At this point, you should have a clear, numbers-based answer to which decision is the best one.
For example, this is what the finished decision matrix looks like:
As you can see, Agency 2 has the highest score, so that is the agency you should go with. Even though Agency 1 was cheaper, the average cost of Agency 2, combined with their years of experience and stellar customer reviews make them the best option for your team. All that’s left is to contact the agency and move forward with the brand campaign.
You can use decision matrices for a variety of business decisions, as long as you’re weighing the best option between different choices. These decisions don’t always have to be business-critical, either. You can use this model to quickly make a simple decision as well.
For example, create a decision matrix to decide which chair you’re going to buy for your work from home setup. You like four different chairs, and your important considerations are comfort, cost, and reviews.
If the decision matrix method isn’t quite right for your choices, try:
An Eisenhower matrix is a 2x2 grid to help you prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. This matrix is helpful if you are juggling a variety of non-similar tasks and need to decide which tasks or initiatives to work on first.
In the upper left-hand corner, list urgent and important work: These tasks are a top priority. Do them now, or as soon as possible.
In the upper right-hand corner, list less urgent but important work: To ensure you get to these tasks, schedule them into your calendar, or capture the due date in a project management tool.
In the lower left-hand corner, list urgent and not important work: These tasks need to get done, but there is probably a better person for the job. Delegate this work if possible.
In the lower right-hand corner, list less urgent and not important work: Defer these tasks, or don’t do them. Clarifying your priorities and letting team members know that you can’t work on something right now is one way to reduce burnout.
One of the most important decisions you have to make during the project planning process is to decide which stakeholders should be included, consulted, or informed. For this decision, create a stakeholder analysis map. This map helps you categorize stakeholders based on their relative influence and interest.
There are four categories in a stakeholder analysis map:
High influence and high interest: Involve these stakeholders in the project planning and decision-making process.
High influence and low interest: Let these stakeholders know about the project and monitor their interest in case they want to become more involved.
Low influence and high interest: Keep these stakeholders informed about the project. Add them to your project status updates so they can stay in the loop.
Low influence and low interest: Touch base with these stakeholders at regular checkpoints, but don’t worry too much about keeping them informed.
Once you’ve figured out your key stakeholders, you can also create a RACI chart. RACI is an acronym that stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. RACI charts can help you decide who the main decision-maker is for each task or initiative.Read: Your guide to RACI charts, with examples
Sometimes the best way to make a decision is to host a good old fashioned team brainstorm. Hold a whiteboard brainstorming session or share ideas in a project management tool.
At Asana, we like to use Kanban boards for dynamic brainstorming sessions. To start, the brainstorm facilitator creates a Board where team members can add ideas, thoughts, or feedback. Then, once everyone has added their ideas, each team member goes through and “likes” individual suggestions. Then, the team discusses the tasks with the most likes as a group to decide what to move forward on.
Making quick decisions is an important part of good project planning and project management. Whether you use a decision matrix to make a complex decision or a simple one, these tools can help you consider different factors and make the best decision for your team.
To learn more about project management, learn the 25 essential project management skills you need to succeed.