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How to Create an Effective Weighted Pro-Con List

Pro-con lists are a quick and easy way to analyze a decision. But pro-con lists can be misleading—not all pros and cons have equal importance. Enter the weighted pro-con list.

Weighted pro-con lists enable you to indicate how relevant a pro or con is to your decision, by specifying a number to indicate a factor’s importance. The higher the number, the greater the factor’s importance.

For instance, if deciding whether to buy time tracking software instead of continuing to track time using printed timesheets, you might create the following:

PROS CONS
Weight Factor Factor Weight
3 More accurate time tracking Costs money 4
4 Faster report generation Requires a laptop or tablet 3
5 Adds client and project reports Requires employees to change behavior 3
3 Reduced data entry errors
15 10

Instead of counting the number of pros and cons, add up the weights associated with your pro and con columns. If your pro total exceeds your con total, go forward with the decision.

Alternatively, you can subtract your con total from your pro total to create a score for your decision. In the above example, the score would be 15 – 10 = 5.

Positive scores point toward yes decisions, while negative scores point toward no decisions.

Best Practices

Use these tips to improve your weighted pro-con lists:

  • Limit Your Scale
    Use a scale that gives you the levels of importance you need, but no more. A scale from 1-5 works well. Use scales from 1-10 or higher sparingly and avoid using fractions. Don’t aim to be precise. You’re assigning weights subjectively anyway. An ideal scale forces you to think whether a factor should be a 4 or a 5, rather than giving you an easy halfway point that allows you to dodge the deeper thinking.
  • Brainstorm First, Assign Weights Second
    Avoid assigning weights while you are listing your pros and cons. Your weights will be more accurate when you have the entire picture of all your pros and cons laid out. And switching from brainstorming to weighting and back makes you less effective than sticking in brainstorming mode until you’re done.
  • Assign Highest & Lowest Weights First
    Mark all the pros and cons that are 5’s first, then mark all your 1’s. Then mark all your 4’s in one go, 3’s in one go and 2’s in one go. By assigning weights one level at a time, you can compare all the factors at that level to see if some should be bumped up or down a level. Ideally all the factors with the same weight should hold the same level of importance to your decision. Mark your highest and lowest weights first, since these are often the easiest to mark off, giving you fewer you need to review for the middle numbers.
  • Ask Why
    Pro-con lists are about the process as much as the result. Ask yourself why you are assigning the ratings you do. Use pro-con lists as a framework for thinking about your decision, not just a scoring tool.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. On Thursday, we’ll dive more into how you can improve your weighting systems when rating factors in pro-con lists and other decision tools. Stay tuned, and if you haven’t subscribed yet to get twice weekly updates, you can do it here.

Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by Chris Potter.

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