Problem Solving 3: Make a Decision

Deciding how to decide is an important decision.

We take on the complexities of making a difficult decision by asking ourselves, “How we gonna get some pizza?” This look at step 3 of the Decision-Making Process explores the ideas of Screening and Evaluation Criteria and how to build a decision matrix to help you decide among competing alternatives.

Watch the video or read the transcript below for some practical ways to figure out which course of action stands the best chance of solving your problem.


I’m standing here in the coastal town of Gaeta, Italy, where in 997 AD the word “Pizza” was first documented.  People had actually been adding other ingredients to bread since the Neolithic age, and the Greeks are known to have flavored a flat bread called plakous with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic, but Italy is where the word “Pizza” was first written down.

The Italians didn’t get around to adding tomatoes  to pizza until after Europeans made contact with the Americas.  And even after that it took a few more centuries, since many thought that tomatoes were actually poisonous.  But by the late 18th century a tomato topping had become common, and my favorite dish just got better and better from there.  Today, Americans eat about 8.2 million pizzas each day.

We’re talking about pizza because it’s going to help us through step 3 of the decision making process.  All across America, 8 million times a day, young and old alike have to come to grips with solving the problem of how they are going to get some pizza.  A lot of people just have Dominoes or PapaJohns on speed dial, but is that really the best way to get pizza?

Thanks to the problem solving process, there’s a way to find out.   Let’s set the backstory:

So it’s Saturday afternoon back home in America, and you have already identified the problem in Step one.  Here’s the Problem Statement you came up with:

Problem statement:

Wherever we can get it, (where),
As soon as possible (when)
We (who)
Want to have some tasty pizza  (what)
Because we are hungry! (why)

Your brainstorming session in step 2 went very well and you met your goal to come up with at least ten alternative solutions for how to get pizza, and you ended up with a pretty good list.

Now it’s on to step 3 – time to make a decision. In this step we take the alternative solutions from step 2 and sort through them to decide which one best solves the problem for us.

Screening Criteria

The first thing we’re going to do is separate the wheat from the chaff by running our alternatives through a filter we’ll call Screening Criteria.  Screening  Criteria is a go/no-go evaluation of an alternative: either the idea stands up to the test or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, it’s out.

There are three pieces to this: Suitability, Feasibility, and Acceptability.

Suitability means the idea will result in solving the problem.  Going to McDonalds may solve your hunger problem, but you specifically said you needed pizza, so the Mickey-D’s Happy Meal is out.  No toy for you!

Feasibility means that it can actually be done.  The best pizza might be found here in Italy, and that would be a suitable solution, but it’s not very feasible to fly there for some.  You probably don’t have the time or money to spend for that.  Same thing for school cafeteria pizza – it’s OK if you can get past that cardboard taste, but they don’t open again until Monday.  The idea has to be Feasible in order to be seriously considered, so those are out.

Acceptability – you can think of this in terms of risk, cost, and legality.  You could rip off the Dominoes guy who just pulled up next door, but that would be kind of illegal, so not acceptable.  Likewise, you could beg pizza from the neighbor, but you’ve had unfriendly encounters with his pit-bull– not going to risk another one, even if it is for a tasty slice.  And there’s no way we’re eating that mystery pizza in the fridge left over from movie night two weeks ago – that’s just nasty.  Somebody should throw it out!

Screening Criteria helps us make sure that any option we are going to seriously consider is Suitable, Feasible, and Acceptable, that way we’re not wasting our time on them.  As you can see, by doing this we’ve cut our list of ten ideas down to four good candidates.  Now we just have to choose from these four.

Evaluation Criteria

There are lots of ways you can decide among alternatives.  They use a coin toss in football.  People have been drawing straws since at least biblical times, then there’s the nose game, Rock/Paper/Scissors, reading tea leaves, throwing chicken bones and deciphering cloud patterns.  These are all hallowed ways to make a choice, but all tend to be kind of random.  We need to be a little more focused, since this is a serious pizza decision.

Today we’ll use something  called Decision Matrix Analysis…or Grid Analysis.. or Pugh Matrix Analysis…or Multi-Attribute Utility Theory.  Take you pick, it all amounts to the same thing.

So start by coming up with some Evaluation Criteria that we can use to compare the different options.

Evaluation criteria are things that each option might have more or less of that matter to you.  They should be quantifiable if at all possible.  For example you might say that since you are hungry, the quicker you get the pizza the better, and you can measure this criteria in time – the number of minutes before hot pizza enters your face.  Another evaluation criteria we can use is cost – the cheaper the better, right?  And a final criteria is taste – this is more subjective, but I think you’ll agree – still important.

Evaluate Your Options

What Evaluation Criteria you use is up to you – whatever is most important.  For today we’ll use Time, Cost, and Taste .  Now think about these criteria for a second – not all criteria are created equal, so we have to decide which of them is most important and give them  an added power boost.  If you haven’t eaten since last Tuesday, Time might be the most important critera to you; but if you ate only 5 minutes ago, then not so much.  Give each criteria a weight score of 1 to 5 – the higher the number, the more important the criteria is to you.

We’re going to say we’re medium hungry (so time’s a 3), and kind of poor (so cost is a 4), but as a pizza conniseur,  taste is crucial so let’s give that a 5.

Now with all these options, criteria, and numbers, things are getting a little cumbersome, so lets get organized by making a matrix.  Stick your Alternatives into a column on the left side, and list your Evaluation Criteria across the top.  Now it’s just a matter of looking at each option and see how it stacks up against each criteria.  I like to give them scores from 1 to 5, with the higher the number, the better the score.

Let’s start with time.  It probably takes the delivery guy 45 minutes to get our order here.  Making it at home probably takes about 60 minutes; driving out to get frozen, then bringing it home and heating it up might take an hour and a quarter, and going to a restaurant, you could probably be eating a slice within 45 minutes. So, since delivery and going out are quickest and about the same, we’ll give them a 5.  Make it at home takes a little longer, so 4.  And getting frozen takes longest of all, so 3 for that option.

Do the Math

But we’re not done with time yet – and this next part involves some math, so brace yourself.   Take each score and multiply by the weight for that criteria for the weighted score.  I like to draw a diagonal and put the raw score on top and the weighted score on the bottom – it looks cool and technical that way and helps keep the numbers straight.

Making a Decision:  The Evaluation Matrix

So now, take a look at the other two criteria and give each option a raw and weighted score – something like this…..

All right, good job, now to get your answer, you can simply add up the scores going across to get a total for each course of action.  And it looks like we have a clear winner.

The last thing you do is stop for a second and make sure the answer makes sense when compared to your problem statement.  Does it make sense that you might be able to get some really good tasting pizza relatively quickly, even though it might be a little more expensive?  I think so.

Making a Decision – The Takeaway

That’s it – you have successfully taken the large volume of options at the beginning of step 3, applied some Screening Criteria to eliminate what is not Suitable, Feasible, or Acceptable.  Then you came up with some Evaluation Criteria, ranked the criteria based on importance, then added up the scores to get the best alternative.  We’re going out for pizza!

But that means two things more…..  First – you are ready for step 4, where you turn your decision into action.  And second, you have another problem to solve:  What kind of pizza do you want?

Thanks for watching.

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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