Pugh Decision Matrix

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Have you …

  • Had an important decision for which you’ve waffled between several viable choices?
  • Had a decision that split your team into camps with no consensus and poor buy-in?
  • Had a design decision or policy that kept being attacked or reconsidered, months or years down the road?
  • Been using Set Based Development — exploring several design alternatives, looking to pick the final choice for this version of the product at the “last responsible moment”?

A great decision making tool for this kind of situation is a Pugh Decision Matrix, with the technique often called Pugh Concept Selection. “Pugh” comes from its originator, Stuart Pugh.

Here’s an example of a spreadsheet, applying our variant of the technique. I was looking at alternatives for buying a cellphone here in the US. Based on what I’ve filled in so far, the Nokia 6682 with T-Mobile is the best choice.

So how does this work? The basic steps of the Pugh Concept Selection Process are

  1. Brainstorm alternatives, list them across columns of sheet. Make one alternative the “default” — often it’s the “do-nothing” or status quo choice. This choice is rated zero for all criteria.
  2. Brainstorm criteria and characteristics important to the customer. List them down rows of sheet.
  3. Begin filling in 1, 0, or -1 ratings in the main area of sheet, based on whether that alternative is better, equivalent, or worse than the status quo for that criteria.
  4. If some criteria are more important than others, adjust the weights. If some products are much better than others, adjust the rating weights in the main area of the sheet. Don’t go overboard with this.
  5. Look at what the spreadsheet tells you is the best choice. Do you and the group feel good about that decision? If so, you’re done.
  6. If not, look again at steps 1-5 — do you have a complete set of criteria, or was something important to the decision missed? Are the weights you’ve assigned close enough?

I’ve found this technique personally useful whenever a simple pro/con sheet didn’t cut it — and taught the technique to a few hundred people at a little company here in Redmond, WA. The response was often positive — “this is a great way to more methodically make a tough decision as a group, and leave behind a record of why we made it.”

Sound interesting? Jump to our Pugh Decision Matrix page to download templatized versions of this spreadsheet to try yourself. Thanks for any feedback you have!