A multi-criteria analysis is a formal decision process you might use when making a weighty decision. This is the second of a three-part post that walks you through the process, step-by-step.
- Step 1: Complete your research
- Step 2: Generate and weight criteria (i.e., define your desired outcome)
- Step 3: Identify and/or create options, alternatives or solutions
- Step 4: Complete a side-by-side comparison
- Step #5: Objectively assess each option against each weighted criterion
- Step #6: Make your decision
Step 3: Identify and/or create options
Having completed your research and articulated a set of weighted criteria, you now need to converge on a rich set of options. Let’s continue with the example of selecting a college.
Whenever you are generating alternatives, always diverge broadly. Avoid what psychologist refer to as “premature closure.” That is, you don’t want to converge on a set of options before you have explored all possibilities; otherwise, you risk leaving an optimal choice off the table.
As mentioned in Part 1, no decision-making process is linear. Therefore, the reality is that options are being explored during research (Step 1) and while generating and weighting the criteria (Step 2). For example, an aspiring college student and her family may begin the decision process with a preliminary list of possible colleges. That list may then grow to a dozen and perhaps as many as 20 colleges as they complete research and begin to articulate criteria.
Once all options are on the table, apply your decision criteria as a “first sort” to filter out suboptimal choices and to begin to converge on the final set of options that will require more intense scrutiny. During the research and criteria generation phase, my daughter’s list grew to as many as 16 colleges and then was slowly pared to just three schools.
Returning to the example of the Elmsford facilities task force case study: whereas they began by considering five robust facilities scenarios, they quickly converged on three final options:
- Demo the old Dixson primary and build a new one
- Renovate Dixson primary
- Renovate the grade 2 – 6 Grady Elementary to accommodate all students PK-6
Step 4: Complete a side-by-side comparison
Creating a side-by-side comparison is not rocket science. Simply build a table with your options listed across the top and your criteria listed down the side. From your research, add quantitative and qualitative evidence of each option’s “contribution” to each criterion. The Elmsford task force created an evidence-based side-by-side comparison of their three options against the 11 criteria (see sample below).
The side-by side comparison template is generic and can be used for any multi-criteria decision. For the college selection decision, simply place the names of the institutions still in the running across the top and the decision criteria down the side. Then complete the side-by-side comparison by entering factual data, either quantitative or qualitative, that objectively demonstrates how each option contributes to each criterion.
At this point, you have a solid decision framework that includes your final options, weighted criteria and clear evidence of the contribution of each option to each criterion. In How to: Multi-criteria Analysis: Part 3, we discuss how to advance this framework by assessing each of the options numerically against the weighted criteria and then making the decision!