Plus, Minus, Interesting

Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Decision

Weigh up the pros and cons.

© iStockphoto/malerapas

Imagine that you're trying to get your IT team to agree on a process for people to follow when they need help.

You think that this will reduce the number of queries coming through to your helpdesk, but some of your team members doubt that the process will work for many users.

Despite your best efforts, you can't get your people to agree on a best way forward; so, you decide to use the PMI tool to reach a decision.

After a few minutes of frenetic brainstorming and good-natured shouting of ideas, you tally the scores and come to a surprising conclusion. The group that opposed the process may be right: it may not be a good idea for the average user. You could be wrong!

PMI stands for "Plus/Minus/Interesting," and it's a useful improvement to the "weighing pros and cons" technique that people have used for centuries. In this article, we'll look at how you can use PMI to make better decisions, and even see problems and issues in different ways.

About the Tool

Edward de Bono developed the PMI tool and published it in his 1982 book, "De Bono's Thinking Course." However, he draws on the tool in many of his published books.

PMI helps you make decisions quickly by weighing the pros and cons of a decision. It's also useful for widening your perception of a problem or decision, and for uncovering issues that you might not ordinarily have considered.

PMI is particularly helpful with a group, especially when you have team members who strongly favor a particular idea, point of view or plan. The tool encourages everyone to consider other perspectives, and it can help the group reach a balanced, informed decision (or at least see an issue from someone else's point of view).

Note:

PMI is useful for making quick, non-critical, go/no-go decisions  . You'll need to use other techniques if you need to compare many different options, or if you need to explore some options in greater depth. For these situations, decision-making tools such as Decision Matrix Analysis   or Decision Tree Analysis   are more appropriate.

How to Use the Tool

It shouldn't take long to use PMI. Complete your analysis quickly, especially when you're working with a group: having a tight time limit pushes you to brainstorm   issues without overanalyzing them.

First, draw up three columns on a piece of paper. Head them "Plus," "Minus," and "Interesting."

In the column underneath "Plus," write down all of the possible positive consequences of taking the action. Underneath "Minus," write down all of the negative effects. In the "Interesting" column, write down all of the "interesting" implications and possible outcomes of taking the action. These may not immediately seem to be good or bad, but could, possibly, lead to new opportunities.

By this stage, it may already be obvious whether or not you should implement the decision. If it isn't, consider each of the points that you've written down, and assign a positive or negative score to it appropriately. (The scores that you assign may be quite subjective.)

Once you've finished, add up the scores. A positive score indicates that you should take an action, while a negative score suggests that you should avoid it.

It's important to remember to "sense check" your scores. If your intuition is telling you that an answer isn't right, take some time to check to see if you've missed something from your analysis.

Example

Daniel's boss has unexpectedly offered him a promotion. Daniel is excited about the opportunity, but he knows that there are several downsides to leaving his current team and taking on a new role. He decides to weigh the pros and cons of the decision using the PMI tool.

Plus Minus Interesting
Higher income (+4) Much more responsibility (-2) Challenge myself professionally? (+4)
Get to meet new people (+3) Likely to be more stress (-4) Will be living in a new area (+3)
Self-Confidence improves (+5) Have to sell house and move (-5)  
  Must learn how to manage others (-2)  
+12 -13 +7

Daniel scores the table as 12 (Plus) – 13 (Minus) + 7 (Interesting) = +6

For him, the promotion will be worth the stress and inconvenience that comes with the new role.

Key Points

PMI is a quick and useful tool for weighing the pros, cons, and implications of a decision.

To use the technique, draw up a table with three columns, headed "Plus," "Minus," and "Interesting." Within the table, write down all of the possible benefits of following the course of action, all of the negative outcomes, and all of the interesting implications and possible results.

If you're still not sure about your decision, you can then score the table to show the importance of individual items. The total score will help you decide whether it's worth going ahead with the decision.

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