Whether you’re the CEO of a company, a manager of a team, a head of household trying to make an important decision, or just a shopper deciding on what car to buy, a decision matrix can help you weigh your options and come up with the best possible solutions for your needs.

Decisions of any kind can be tricky, especially with multiple variables and competing needs. A decision matrix can help you see all the variables and needs in black and white, reducing an ephemeral struggle into cold, hard math.

But how does it work?

Getting Started with a Decision Matrix

Picture a grid. Now, the rows will contain what alternatives you’re deciding between – which car to buy, which employee to hire, which cleaning service to sign a contract with, whatever. The columns will be the factors involved in the decision making.

For instance, if you’re deciding what car to by, you’ll have the models listed as the rows on the left. For the columns up top, you’d have entries for, let’s say, “price,” “safety rating,” “appearance,” “reliability,” and “storage space.”

Now you’re set up and ready to begin inputting your data.

Filling Out a Decision Matrix

Once you’ve got the basics set up, you have to figure out your priorities.

Right beneath the “priorities” row (price, safety, etc.) but above the options row will be a row called “weight.” Now, “weight” isn’t actual pounds and kilograms but rather how you prioritize – you give a “1” to low-priority items and a “2” to high-priority items. If price and safety are more important to you than appearance and storage space, you’d give the former categories a “2” and the latter categories a “1.”

Once you’ve got everything weighted, you research each individual option. Back to our car analogy – let’s say you’re deciding between a Honda Civic, a Nissan Altima, a Ford Fusion, and a Toyota Camry. So, for each car model, you’d go down your list of priorities and give them a 1 through 9 rating. On your Honda Civic row, you’d put a 1-9 in each category: price, safety rating, appearance, reliability, and storage space.

You’d then repeat this process for the Altima, the Fusion, and the Camry.

What Does It All Mean?

Once you’ve punched in all of your ratings, options, weights, and priorities, it’s simply a matter of adding up the numbers to see which option is right for you.

Most decision matrix templates will be in Excel, and they’ll be configured to do the math for you. But just so you know how it works, we’ll elucidate a bit on the matter.

You multiply your ratings in each column by the weight in each column and then add them up across the board to get your final score. The option with the highest score wins – easy-peasy.

For instance, let’s say your Honda Accord got a “9” safety rating, and you weighted it a “2.” That particular cell gets an “18.” Then you roll across the row, multiplying and adding. Again, the template will most likely do this for you, but it’s good to know how the process works.

Then, whichever car scored the highest is likely your decision. Of course, if seeing that number makes your heart sink, that’s also a useful decision-making tool – maybe there’s a factor you’re not considering that’s making you want to choose a different option other than what the matrix put out.

In that case, you’ll want to revisit your matrix and see if you’ve prioritized or weighted something wrong. Then, fix your matrix and try again.

Where Do I Find a Template? 

Basic decision matrix templates can be found all over the web, from MindTools to LaunchExcel to even shared Google Docs that only need to be copied or saved to your desktop.

What’s important is that you find the right template for your needs. A simple template is going to be perfect for most people, especially individuals and small groups making relatively basic decisions. Once you get a little more complicated, or you’re managing complex decisions, you can use multiple different weights, fractions of weights, and even a third category like “viability” that can affect the equation.  

decision matrix template

Tough Decisions Made Easier

If you’ve exhausted your pro/con lists, your friends’ advice, your desperate internet forum searches and are ready for a more advanced tool, a decision matrix might be just what you need.

Because it allows for so many variables and codifies them in clear-cut numbers, you can eliminate ambiguous, frustrating decision-making sessions from your life.

So, cut through that anxiety like it’s a jungle vine and you’re carrying a machete. Try a decision matrix for your next major judgement call.

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