Paired Comparison Analysis

Working Out Relative Importances


When you're choosing between many different options, how do you decide on the best way forward?

This is especially challenging if your choices are quite different from one another, if decision criteria are subjective, or if you don't have objective data to use for your decision.

Paired Comparison Analysis helps you to work out the relative importance of a number of different options – the classical case of "comparing apples with oranges."

In this article and video, we'll explore how you can use Paired Comparison Analysis to make decisions.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

About the Tool

Paired Comparison Analysis (also known as Pairwise Comparison) helps you work out the importance of a number of options relative to one another.

This makes it easy to choose the most important problem to solve, or to pick the solution that will be most effective. It also helps you set priorities where there are conflicting demands on your resources.

The tool is particularly useful when you don't have objective data to use to make your decision. It's also an ideal tool to use to compare different, subjective options, for example, where you need to decide the relative importance of qualifications, skills, experience, and teamworking ability when hiring people for a new role.

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Decisions like these are often much harder to make than, for example, comparing three similar IT systems, where Decision Matrix Analysis or some form of financial analysis can help you decide.

How to Use the Tool

To use the technique, download our free worksheet, and then follow these six steps:

  1. Make a list of all of the options that you want to compare. Assign each option a letter (A, B, C, D, and so on) and note this down.
  2. Mark your options as both the row and column headings on the worksheet. This is so that you can compare options with one-another.

Note:

On the table, the cells where you will compare an option with itself are blocked out. The cells on the table where you would be duplicating a comparison are also blocked out. This ensures that you make each comparison only once.

  1. Within each of the blank cells, compare the option in the row with the option in the column. Decide which of the two options is most important, and write down the letter of the most important option in the cell. 
  2. Score the difference in importance between the options, running from zero (no difference/same importance) to, say, three (major difference/one much more important than the other.)
  3. Finally, consolidate the results by adding up the values for each of the options. You may want to convert these values into a percentage of the total score.
  4. Use your common sense, and manually adjust the results if necessary.

Example

For example, a philanthropist is choosing between several different nonprofit organizations that are asking for funding. To maximize impact, she only wants to contribute to a few of these, and she has the following options:

  • An overseas development project.
  • A local educational project.
  • A bequest for her university.
  • Disaster relief.

First, she draws up the Paired Comparison Analysis table in figure 1.

Figure 1 – Example Paired Comparison Analysis Table (not filled in):

  A: Overseas Development B: Local Educational C: University D: Disaster Relief
A: Overseas Development        
B: Local Educational        
C: University        
D: Disaster
Relief
       

Then she compares options, writes down the letter of the most important option, and scores their difference in importance to her. Figure 2 illustrates this step of the process.

Figure 2 – Example Paired Comparison Analysis Table (filled in):

  A: Overseas Development B: Local Educational C: University D: Disaster Relief
A: Overseas Development   A, 2 C, 1 A, 1
B: Local Educational     C, 1 B, 1
C: University
 
    C, 2
D: Disaster
Relief
       

Finally, she adds up the A, B, C, and D values and converts each into a percentage of the total. These calculations yield the following totals:

  • A = 3 (37.5 percent).
  • B = 1 (12.5 percent).
  • C = 4 (50 percent).
  • D = 0.

Here, she decides to make a bequest to her university (C) and to allocate some funding to overseas development (A).

Key Points

Paired Comparison Analysis is useful for weighing up the relative importance of different options. It's particularly helpful where priorities aren't clear, where the options are completely different, where evaluation criteria are subjective, or where they're competing in importance.

The tool provides a framework for comparing each option against all others, and helps to show the difference in importance between factors.

Download Worksheet

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Comments (27)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi adkikani,

    Your understanding of the chart is correct, except the last point. The preference of A (Overseas Development) is correct, but the scoring is a value assigned by your chosen ranking system (1 - 3, 1 - 5, and so on). In other words, Overseas Development has a moderate level of importance on the scale of one to three, and is therefor assigned a score of two.

    Thank you for your question.

    BillT
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago adkikani wrote
    Hi, the BLUE BAR graphs go on increasing as we do down since we do not want to duplicate a comparison, is it correct? Does A2 in first row second column mean that I am choosing Overseas Development over Local Education and former is twice more important than later. If possible, please share a detailed example in career cafe. Thanks and regards.
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi balajisgvtb,

    A warm welcome to you! I suggest that you post a new topic in the Forums to gain additional help in understanding this concept. More members will see your post over there and the Forums allow for more interaction. If you need some assistance in creating your first Forum post, let us know. We're happy to help.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
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