Pugh Matrix
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Overview

Also known as the Decision Grid, Selection Matrix, Weighted-Decision-Matrix and Pugh Method, this model will help you make systematic decisions when faced with multiple options. 

The Pugh Matrix involves selecting an option from a range of possibilities, by assessing each against a baseline option using weighted selection criteria. 

USE BASELINE AND WEIGHTING. 

The Pugh Method is likely familiar to you, in that involves generating a table with options matched against criteria. The two useful additions to this instinctive approach are: 

  • Weighting: create multipliers for each criteria to reflect how important they are. You might capture a simple 1, 2, 3 if the criteria are almost equally important, or 1 to 5 or % scale to identify highly important versus ‘nice to have’ criteria. 

  • Baseline: rather than scoring each option with a number from 0 to 10, this method encourages you to select and compare options to a ‘baseline’ option. This option might be the current or default state, or the perceived best option, but is ideally real and known. From there you can assess every additional option in relation to that baseline. At its simplest, this involves marking each criteria with a '-', if it’s worse; ‘S’, if it’s the same; or ‘+’ if it’s better. Or you might want to assign a range of numbers to capture much better/ worse options. 

THE PROCESS. 

The Pugh Matrix is a particularly useful approach for team decision-making, as it surfaces competing mental models about selection criteria and their respective importance. 

A typical process to generate a Pugh Matrix is outlined in the Actionable Takeaways below, but will essentially involve establishing criteria; establishing weighting of that criteria; selecting options; selecting a baseline to compare options against; filling out the table for each criteria; and multiplying each against the respective weighting to establish a final score. 

BEFORE YOUR FINAL DECISION.

It might be tempting to default to the highest scored option — don’t. Firstly, if there is no clear winner, consider if there is a clear loser. Remove the losing options, then aim to improve and refine the criteria and weighting and try again. You might even try a sensitivity analysis by changing the weighting of particular factors and observing the overall impact. 

Importantly, you can also brainstorm how to combine strengths or mitigate weaknesses from different options to create a new alternative. If one low-weighted option has a standout strength, consider whether it's transferable. Alternatively, if a strong option is let down by a weighted selection criteria, consider what you could change to reduce the weighting of the criteria (make it less relevant) and/or improve that result. 

IN YOUR LATTICEWORK. 

The Pugh Matrix is a strong supplemental approach and even an alternative to Cost-Benefit Analysis and other approaches to choose from multiple options. It helps to guard against a range of biases, including the Sunk Cost Fallacy and Availability Heuristic, but is not a guarantee since those same biases can occur in selecting and assessing criteria. 

The power of comparing options to a baseline can be understood by considering Anchoring and Framing. In terms of weighing up criteria, consider combining this approach with the MOSCOW Method or even including criteria from the RICE Score

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Actionable takeaways
  • Brainstorm and then select the criteria. 

Consider the end-user perspective as well as internal development criteria when selecting criteria.

  • Assign weighting to the criteria.

This includes deciding on whether to work with a limited scale (e.g. 1 to 3) or extended (e.g. 1 to 5).

  • Brainstorm options and select a baseline. 

The baseline might be the perceived best option but is ideally the current state/ default that people are familiar with. The more tangible and real it is the more useful as a starting point for further comparisons. 

  • List the options and start assessing them against the baseline in each criterion. 

Multiply each assessment number by the weighting to gain a total score for that option. 

  • Play with options before you make a selection. 

Before landing on the final option, consider removing weaker options before running a sensitivity analysis, by shifting weighting numbers and seeing the impact. It also might include mitigating weaknesses and/or combining options to create new alternatives before moving to a selection. 

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In Practice

Toasting bread. 

The example below was developed by Dr Stuart Burge in his paper on The Systems Engineering ToolBox and uses the method to determine the best way to toast bread. The example selects a toaster as the baseline. 

Limitations

The main problem with the Pugh Matrix is humanity. Our internal biases will still play out in the selection and weighting of criteria and assessing various options. That said, it does present a more accountable and systematic approach that might expose and interrupt such biases more than most alternatives. 

Another challenge is that this process often results in no clear winners. That’s where we’d suggest considering combining selection criteria with the MOSCOW Method, particularly having ‘must have’ criteria, beyond weighting, as a clear qualification point.

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Origins & Resources

The Pugh Method was developed by Stuard Pugh, a UK-based product designer turned academic, whose 1991 book Total Design: Integrated Methods for Successful Product Engineering explored the methodology of design.

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