Have you ever made a decision that haunted you with doubts for weeks afterward? You wake up at night with nagging thoughts that you should have checked this, or should have thought of that? Or worse, you realize that the decision you made is NOT, in fact, the best decision.
Well, fear not – we’re here to help.
This post will outline a very easy, yet extremely helpful process called the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). It sounds more complex than it is. According to Wikipedia, AHP “is a structured technique for organizing and analyzing complex decisions”. I’ve been using this approach for decades when deciding which (of often many) technology solutions will be the BEST option for a particular corporate challenge. And the good news is: you can apply this process to ANY type of decision.
In its simplest form, AHP is nothing more than a list of important features, with a weight assigned to each. There is one important rule: the total of all weights must add up to 100 (AHP purists use fractions to total up to 1).
Before we get into an example of how to do an AHP, let’s cover WHY you should.
It requires you to actually define what is important within the context of the decision
When applied to IT projects, this makes us identify exactly what elements must be present. Through this identification process, we build our list of measurements that all vendors will be judged against. This makes it easy to toss out IT vendors who are missing key elements. Likewise, for personal decisions like which house is best, defining your most important features will help you isolate those homes that deserve more attention from those that don’t measure-up. Why waste time touring homes that are missing key features?
Armed with the list of important features, we remove bias from the process (or at least minimize its influence)
Everyone has bias. For example, I tend to be biased against Microsoft products and in favor of Google products (don’t judge – you also have biases!). Without a system to manage them, bias creeps into the process and can derail your decision. Going back to the house example, if you hate the color of the walls it may cause you to toss out a viable home, but walls can be easily painted. If they aren’t important, they shouldn’t count against the decision.
Assigning weight to each feature forces you to make tough decisions about priorities
As we learn in the animated movie The Incredibles, “everyone’s special” is another way of saying no one is. The same applies to software/hardware features, vendor skill-sets, requirements when looking for the best house — whatever. To make the features total up to only 100, you need to decide on your primary goals and prioritize some features over others. This is good. Some things really ARE more important than others.
Here is a simplified AHP for a typical IT project decision. After identifying your features/requirements, apply a weight to each, then grade each vendor against each feature. To get each vendor’s score, you just multiply the weight by the grade, then total each vendor. Highest score “wins”.