How To Decide with Criteria and Weight


How to decide among a lot of options? … You can improve your decision making by adding criteria and weight.  This helps you prioritize effectively.  The key is making the criteria explicit.

This is effective for personal decision making, and it’s especially effective for group decision making.   It works well for personal decision making because it forces you to get clarity on your own criteria.  It works well for group decision making because you create a shared set of criteria.  When people know what’s valued, it’s easier to understand and weigh in on the decisions.

It’s also a good way to find out mismatches on expectations.  For example, if one person thinks the color of the room is the most important, but another thinks the size of the room is more important, you can have a conversation around the usage scenarios and trade-offs and share perspectives.  The other beauty of using criteria and weight is that it helps make the issue less subjective, so you can have a less defensive, and more objective evaluation of the options.

To make this easier to follow, I walk through an example to illustrate the approach.

Summary of Steps
If you need to make an important decision, the following steps can help:

  • Step 1.   Identify the criteria
  • Step 2.   Rate the criteria.
  • Step 3.   Rate your options against the criteria and multiply by the weightings

Step 1. Identify the Criteria
In this step, identify the key factors that matter.  For example, when I was giving input on hiring our new leader, I identified the following criteria:

  • Microsoft Experience
  • patterns & practices Experience
  • Attract the right talent
  • Execution
  • Customer-connection
  • Engineering Competence
  • Business Competence
  • Political Competence

I knew ultimately it was not a linear decision, and that it’s about satisfying the various skills for the job (the business perspective, the technical perspective, the political perspective, the customer perspective … etc), but I thought that if I shared the frame for how I was thinking of the new leader, it might help make a better decision, avoid simple pitfalls and create a more objective frame for discussion, dialogue, or debate.
Step 2. Rate the Criteria
The next step is to identify the weighting of each criteria.  This is where you start to get clarity on what really matters.  I find that that sticking to a scale of 1-3 helps keep it simple.  In this case, 1 is less important and 3 is more important, since we will multiply by these numbers in the next step.

Criteria Rating
Microsoft Experience 2
patterns & practices Experience 3
Attract the right talent 3
Execution 3
Customer-connection 3
Engineering Competence 2
Business Competence 2
Political Competence 2

Step 3. Rate Your Options Against the Criteria and Multiply by the Weightings
In this step, you rate your options against the criteria, and then multiply by the weightings:

Criteria Candidate A Candidate B Candidate C
Microsoft Experience 9 5 0
patterns & practices Experience 10 0 0
Attract the right talent 8 5 5
Execution 10 5 5
Customer-connection 9 5 5
Engineering Competence 9 5 5
Business Competence 8 5 5
Political Competence 5 5 5

When you score against your criteria, you can have an objective discussion around the criteria.  This helps especially when everybody may be on different pages.  For example, in my experience, political competence varies by situation.
The 5 rating for political competence I gave across the board is actually interesting.  It’s far easier to get a 1 for political competence than anything past a 5  given the mix of “task-focus” and “people-focus” among our melting pot of disciplines, cultures, engineering focus, product mentality, and company maturity level.  Really, political competence is a matter of situation and networks — where some networks are better than others.  The good news is that most political competence challenges can be addressed with grooming and tuning (I see it every day.)  Other people certainly have different views and experience on political competence, so this was a good backdrop for the conversation.

Multiply by the Weightings
Here is the result of multiplying the candidate scores against the weightings.

Criteria Rating Candidate A Candidate B Candidate C
Microsoft Experience 2 18 10 0
patterns & practices Experience 3 30 0 0
Attract the right talent 3 24 15 15
Execution 3 30 15 15
Customer-connection 3 27 15 15
Engineering Competence 2 18 10 10
Business Competence 2 16 10 10
Political Competence 2 10 10 10
Score 173 85 75

For example, Candidate A is gets an 18 in Microsoft Experience (9 x 2, where 9 is the candidate’s score and 2 is the weighting of the criteria).  As you can see, the numbers helped highlight some key differences between the candidates.   It’s not so much that you can your decisions into numbers, since it’s rarely that black and white, instead, it’s really that you expose your thinking, get clarity on your values, and have more meaningful dialogues.

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Photo by purplbutrfly.


  1. This is a GREAT way to evaluate options. I never would have thought about this because I’m SO not a math person (yes, even the minor multiply doesn’t come to my mind easily) but I think this would be a great way to weigh options. Thanks for this!

  2. Hi JD,

    You know what fascinated me the most about this post? The process you listed is very linear and my brain does not do good in linear thinking. Yet in my own way, I do something similar and attain the same results. Pretty cool. 🙂 Thank you for providing a different view. I love it.

  3. Here is the irony about this one. Been in arch gig today discussing one solution over another. We identified few criteria and gave it a score. The funny thing that our gut feeling was pointing to one solution bat after running through the scores we ended up with another. It surprise us a bit but then it perfectly made sense.
    Creating key criteria and giving it a score – similar to what you outlined here – just works in practice!

  4. Beautiful technique, but very dangerous example!

    Splitting up “guesswork” is often much more reliable than guessing the whole. Another example is when you have to guess how long a project will take: you will be much more accurate if you make rough guesses about each of the steps. Same trick works if you are guessing how much the contents of your shopping cart will cost in total: split it up in product groups and guess each group separately.

    For hiring, however, things do not simply add up. There is a minimum knowledge on each of the subjects that the candidate must have. It is not a sum, but a logical AND. The true question in hiring is not which candidate is the best one, but which of the candidates satisfy all the minimum requirements. You can only use the analysis you describe if each of the candidates you are evaluating is satisfying your minimum requirements.

  5. @ Positively Present

    The secret is it’s less about the math, and more about putting the values out on the table. Complex decisions are really pattern matching exercises, rather than math, but framing things out can help you see what you might have missed.

    @ Nadia

    Thank you. I’m with you, I’m more intuitive and random than linear. My best intuition comes from where I have the most experience (like a doctor that’s been there, done that), and it fails me when I lack relevant experience. The beauty of the model is that you can get quick feedback on your thinking, as well as create agreements if you have to influence a team.

    @ Alik

    It’s so true. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to see it. Everybody has a map in their head, but it’s not shared, so everybody argues from a different vantage point. This helps create a common vantage point.

    @ Rob

    Good point and you actually articulated the key idea in this case.

    It was really about satisficing to set a min bar, rather than the best bar. In this case, it was way more about having a common frame to look at what’s the minimum so people don’t fail. In terms of best, I think that’s more about the goals of the org and the chemistry of the people and the landscape. That puts the decision more into a chaotic scenario, which means, pattern matching and intuition based on experience are the best guide. I didn’t link to it here, but check out my post on Pattern-Based Leadership vs. Fact-Based Management … I think it echoes your point, just from a slightly different angle (facts for simple cases vs. complex decisions.)

    I like your precision … “splitting up guesswork” is more reliable than guessing the whole.”

  6. Articulating the criteria is 80% of the job. Helps you think through what you’re measuring even if putting a numerical value doesn’t quite work. This would be a pretty good way of working through criteria for an innovation as well.

  7. @ Fred

    Very well put. Once you know what you’re evaluating for, it makes it a lot easier to test your results.

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