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Selecting the best solution

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If you have several potential solutions, how do you pick the best solution(s) for implementation? What factors would you consider to evaluate the solutions? Is there a structured approach to selecting the best solutions? How can we convince others that we have chosen the best solution(s)?

The answer to the above questions is the Solution Selection Matrix. In a Solution Selection Matrix, each solution is evaluated based on 4 criteria: Sigma Impact, Time Impact, Cost Impact, and Other Impact. Sigma Impact is a measure of the amount of improvement in the output that the solution can generate. A solution that has a big impact on the output will score higher on this criteria compared to a solution that may not have a big impact on the output. Time impact looks at the time it would take to implement the solution. A solution that can be implemented quickly would score higher than a solution that would take a long time for implementation. Cost impact looks at the amount of resources required to implement the solution. A solution with lower cost scores would higher than a solution with higher cost. Finally, other factors are considered in other impact, such as risk, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction etc. A solution with lower risk would score higher than a solution with higher risk.

The next issue arises when you have two solutions where one solution is better because it can be implemented quickly and the other because it is less expensive. Which solution do you pick? This is where weighting the different factors comes into play. You need to have a discussion with management to determine what is the relative importance of each of these factors – for some Time Impact may be more critical and for others Cost Impact may be more critical. Once you set the relative weights of the four factors then we would be able to make these trade-offs between time and cost. A good mechanism to determine the weights is to use a structured approach such as the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP). In this approach, each factor is considered pair-wise with another factor and based on this comparison, an overall weighting is determined for all the factors. A more detailed discussion on AHP is out-of-scope of this article. Here are the steps you can use to determine the selected solution:
  • First, make sure that all the solutions you consider for the solution selection matrix are valid solutions that you could sell to your stakeholders and get agreement. Solutions that may be against the law, company policy, cause a large adverse effect on the customers etc. would be eliminated from this list.
  • Ensure that all the solutions that remain can potentially meet the requirements of the project: they should be able to meet the required output levels of quality, performance, reliability and be within the timeframe and cost that is reasonable from the company perspective.
  • For each of the above solutions, evaluate the relative importance of the four weighting factors: Sigma Impact, Time Impact, Cost Impact, and Other Impact. You could use the AHP process to determine these weights.
  • Evaluate each solution against these 4 criteria to come up with relative scores for the solutions on a scale of 1-10. Use any facts and data you have or perform a pilot study to come up with as realistic score as possible. Use a standard rating scale to have a more objective way of determining the scores. For example, Time Impact would range from 1-10 where 1 is for projects that can be implemented in less than a day and 10 is for projects that would take more than a year to implement. This scale would also need to be rationalized – in the sense that on a relative basis a 10 for time-impact is comparable to a 10 for cost-impact etc.
  • Enter these values in the solution selection matrix and select the solution that has the highest overall total score.
  • Perform a sanity check to ensure that the solution or solutions recommended by the solution selection matrix make sense.
Here is an example of the Solution Selection Matrix using the Sigma Magic software. The problem being considered is the selection of software for machine code processing.

Solution Selection Example

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