Paired Comparison Analysis

Working Out Relative Importances

Paired Comparison Analysis

Compare two options at a time.

© iStockphoto/eli_asenova

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, we'll explore how you can use Paired Comparison Analysis to make decisions.

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.

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.
  2. Write down the letter of the most important option in the cell. Then, 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 (10)
  • Golden wrote This month
    Hey I want ask, I want use decision tools for my thesis, should I use this or AHP tools ?
  • imikh wrote This month
    More details:
    Total = A + B + C + D = 3 + 1 + 4 + 0 = 8
    Now
    (A/total) X 100 = (3/8)*100 = 37.5
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    You are oh so very welcome GB! It's great to hear from you. And I couldn't agree more with the idea that with the proper tools, we can accomplish so much and do it very efficiently! Glad to learn that paired comparison worked well for you.

    Dianna
  • GoldenBoy wrote Over a month ago
    Why is it that the things we consider most complicated (i.e. decision-making) can have such simple solutions. I love this tool! Thanks again Mind Tools!

    TTFN
    GB
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Kimyon,
    Have you gone through the article here? I think that if you download the template and follow the step by step instructions you should be able to work through your own analysis. The example given is quite explanatory and helps you see how the options are scored and how a decision is made.

    Is there a certain aspect of the analysis you are struggling with?

    Dianna
  • Diamond wrote Over a month ago
    Greetings,

    Does anyone know how to use the Paired Comparison Tool? I would like to see it explained in more detail than what's available online.

    Thank you.

    Kimyon
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone

    We’ve given this popular article a review, and the updated version is now at
    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newTED_02.php

    Discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks for sharing how you used the paired comparison model to help with prioritization. That's an innovative way to apply the concept and achieve focus.

    It's true that as an entrepreneur it's hard to decide what needs your attention because you naturally have your hand in everything. What other tools have you found useful to keep your focus?

    Dianna
  • rach wrote Over a month ago
    I think this tool is awesome, the decision on how to split my time was sapping my energy, this tool gave a clear direction over my 5 choices, and when I got the answer it felt right. As a single handed small business entrepreneur, doing everything means i sometimes loose focus on what next, or get distracted. This has brought me right back on course.

    Rachel
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi all


    This is an extremely useful tool. I think many people are often paralysed by the idea of having to make a decision - and then end up making no decision at all which is also, in fact, a decision. A tool like this makes the process of making a decision (especially a difficult one) so much easier and very logical!

    Kind regards
    Yolandé

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