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A Decision Making Process: A Decision Matrix for Problem Solving

Updated on June 3, 2013

It’s so easy to ask friends and family members for advice on what you should do when it comes to difficult decisions. However, there are times when we have to make decisions on our own. This can be very hard. We may try to put ourselves in our friends and families’ places to imagine what advice they would give us, but this isn’t an effective way of making a life-alternating decision since we are just speculating. Often we have to be independent, and make a decision that will drastically change our life alone. This can be scary, because if we make the wrong choice, we will have regrets.

There are many ways to make a decision. If you have a two-choice decision, you can flip a coin, assigning a decision to each side, and before looking at the resulting answer, think about what you wanted it to be. It’s a way to trick your subconscious into telling you your true feelings about the decision. Of course, some people use the magic eight ball, a pair of dice, or poll people online. While these methods may work, they really aren’t analytical. They aren’t letting you go thru the pros and the cons of each choice in order to make an educated decision.

Many people make a list of the pros and cons of major decisions. Then, they see which side has the most pros. That is the option they chose. The problem with this analysis is that not all pros and not all cons are weighed equally.

When making a huge decision, it is crucial to have in front of you all of the elements that you need to make the decision. This takes brainstorming. You may not be able to make the decision in one day because of this. You need to know the pros and cons, be able to weigh them out, and brainstorm every possible element that would go in the pros and cons sections.

The decision matrix is a great way to accomplish all of this. Once you determine your decision based on the decision matrix, it may not be the decision you really want. It may help you subconsciously know which decision you really wanted and thought was right. Also, if the pros and cons come out very close, you may need to re-examine your analysis, brainstorm more, or go with your gut.

The decision matrix is made up of two sections: (1) Should I do this? (2) Should I not do this? Under each of these sections are two categories.

Should I do this?

 
What are the advantages of doing this?
What are the disadvantages of doing this?

Should I not do this?

 
What are the reasons it would be good to do this?
What are the disadvantages of not doing this?

While these may seem a bit repetitive, they are made to help you brainstorm, think outside of the box, and think of the decision in different ways.

To make an Excel spreadsheet showing the Decision Matrix:

(1) On the top line (Columns A thru H), merge and center it, and label it what the decision is.

(2) On about row 4 and about row 16, merge and center the cells between columns A through D. These two merged cells should be labeled: (1) Should I do this? (2) Should I not do this?

(3) Beneath (1) Should I do this?, in cells B5 and C5, you should have the questions:

  1. What are the advantages of doing this?
  2. What are the disadvantages of doing this?

(4) Beneath (2) Should I not do this?, in cells B17 and C17, you should have the questions:

  1. What are the reasons it would be good to do this?
  2. What are the disadvantages of not doing this?

(5) Now you can widen columns B and C, since this is where you will be putting your reasons, and you can reduce the size of columns A and D, since this is where you will put the weight of each reason.

(6) Since brainstorming an important decision, you will most likely have quite a few reasons to fill up these spaces.

(7) Therefore, you can add further space for more reasons and more weight.

(8) Columns E and H can be used for the weights of the reasons. You can reduce the size of these columns.

(9) Columns F and G can be widen enough to still fit on the page so you can see it, but wide enough that you can fit a reason.

(10) In cells F5 and F17, you can just title them “More Advantages.”

(11) Likewise, in cells G5 and G17, you can just title them “More Disadvantages.”

(12) In cells F15, F25, G15, and G25, you can title them “TOTAL.”

(13) In cell E15, the following formula will accurately calculate the right totals: =SUM (A6:A15)+SUM(E6:E14).

(14) In cell H15, the following formula will accurately calculate the right totals: =SUM(D6:D15)+SUM(H6:H14).

(15) In cell E25, the following formula will accurately calculate the right totals: =SUM(A18:A25)+SUM(E18:E24).

(16) In cell H25, the following formula will accurately calculate the right totals: =SUM(D18:D25)+SUM(H18:H24).

(17) The total of E15 + E25 will show you the weighted amount of the pros.

(18) The total of H15 + H25 will show you the weighted amount of the cons.

(19) Compare these two numbers to determine whether the pros or the cons outweigh the other. This should help you decide which way to go, especially if one number is extremely lower than the other.

(20) The weighted amount of each reason should be a number between 0 and 10, with 0 being completely unimportant, and 10 being the most important.

Decision Matrix

Here is an example of how to use the Decision Matrix:


(1) Question: Should I stay at the job I currently have at XYZ Company?

(2) “Should I do this?” section with the two sections: “What are the advantages of doing this?” and “What are the disadvantages of doing this?”

(3) For cells B6 to B15, I entered the reasons that I saw as advantages of staying with the company.

  • Excellent IT Department
  • Am Knowledgeable of the products now
  • Excellent pay
  • Flexible schedule
  • Can take a short lunch in order to leave early
  • The office is near my gym
  • I’ve already passed the interview and done the paperwork
  • The work is simple
  • I get my own office
  • They allow many breaks

(4) For cells F6 to F14, I entered the following additional reasons under “More Advantages:”

  • Great insurance
  • Awesome office supplies
  • Able to work independently
  • Am able to run errands
  • Avoid rush hour traffic
  • The company appreciates me
  • I would have a steady job
  • They understand if I need to take off
  • The office is near my bank

(5) “Should I not do this?” section with the two sections: “What are the advantages of not doing this?” and “What are the not disadvantages of doing this?”

(6) For cells B18 to B24, I entered the reasons that I saw as advantages of not staying with the company.

  • Will not have to work there
  • Can concentrate on school and ace my current class
  • Can study for my CMA
  • Can go on interviews during the day
  • Can make/take job calls during the day
  • Can run errands during the day
  • I have money saved up

(7) For cells F18 to F23, I entered the following additional reasons under “More Advantages:”

  • Can take time off to get my MBA
  • Can hold out for a better fit
  • Can work on getting a government job
  • Can take teaching tests
  • I might be happier

(8) The opposite side of things…. “Should I do this?” section with the two sections: “What are the advantages of doing this?” and “What are the disadvantages of doing this?”

(9) For cells C6 to C13, I entered the reasons that I saw as disadvantages of staying with the company.

  • Unfriendly people
  • Unflattering office
  • Can’t interview or talk on the phone during the day
  • They think I am an Oracle expert
  • There’s lots of OT
  • It’s a long drive
  • There is lots of traffic
  • Am required to take only a 30 min. lunch

(10) For cells G6 to G13, I entered the following additional reasons under “More Disadvantages:”

  • Makes my nights short
  • Can’t find a better job
  • No benefits
  • Can’t leave early
  • They are disorganized
  • They seem stupid
  • Won’t have time for homework
  • Will be gone all day

(11) “Should I not do this?” section with the two sections: “What are the advantages of not doing this?” and “What are the not disadvantages of doing this?”

(12) For cells C18 to C24, I entered the reasons that I saw as disadvantages of not staying with the company.

  • Won’t have a job
  • May not be able to find a job like this
  • Lose out on the high pay
  • Gap in my resume
  • Have to constantly talk to employment agency
  • I would let the company down and not get more oil and gas experience
  • May not have a chance for more OT like this

(13) For cells G18 to G21, I entered the following additional reasons under “More Disadvantages:”

  • Lose insurance options from agency
  • Would have no money coming in
  • Already did orientation
  • May lose ties with that employment agency

Based on this example, the pros add up to 159, and the cons add up to 148. These numbers are very close. When you have 100 vs. 20, it’s a pretty obvious choice. In this case, this is a decision you will have to carefully analyze. First, you should make sure you listed ALL reasons of pros and cons. Second, make sure your weighted numbers are accurate for each reason. Third, go with your gut and subconscious to see which way you really want your decision to go. Since they are so close, either decision is reasonable.

Often it is very easy to make tough decisions, but when you are truly stuck, and you cannot get solid advice from someone you consider to be wise, a Decision Matrix can greatly help. Again, the pros and the cons may be close, so you may have to go with your wants and gut feeling. However, if the pros and cons are close, be sure to re-analyze your Decision Matrix to ensure you did it as accurately as possible. You may have left off a huge reason that makes all the difference in your decision. Be sure to brainstorm thoroughly. Good luck in making those difficult life choices! I hope the Decision Matrix helps you make those tough decisions.

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  • denise.w.anderson profile image

    Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

    This is a very comprehensive approach to the decision making process. It is helpful to show the example of how the matrix works and how to create it on your own computer. Assigning weights to the pros and cons helps to determine which would be the better choice! Great job on a hub well done!

  • misslong123 profile image
    Author

    Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

    Thank you! I learned this method, and it became very useful to me. I hope it helps someone else.

  • profile image

    SirJackSullivan 3 years ago

    Thanks for your very thorough explanation and examples. I read another very interesting article recently about how to make good decisions faster. It really shed some light for me about how I make my decisions. You can read it at: http://www.timesmartme.com/timetips/decision-makin...

  • misslong123 profile image
    Author

    Michele Kelsey 3 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

    I'm glad this article was helpful! :)

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