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Swim Lane Diagram:
Dive Into Complex Decision-Making

Some weeks ago, I shared a decision making method that utilized a Two-By-Two Diagram to rank/filter ideas using two key parameters.

While I received positive feedback, I was asked what to use when you need to rank/filter ideas that involve more than just two parameters.

For this, I recommend using a “swim lane” diagram. (It involves parallel rows akin to lanes in a pool). This diagram allows you to rank an unlimited number of ideas by an unlimited number of qualities.

How It Works (The Basics)

Let’s say you and I have come up with three really great ideas that will help build awareness and excitement for our winter product line. They are summarized as…

  • Idea A,
  • Idea B, and
  • Idea C.

We have also determined that there are four key parameters by which we want to judge these ideas. They are…

  • Ease of Implementation (challenging to easy),
  • Investment of Money (expensive to cheap),
  • Brand Fit (erodes to strengthens), and
  • Investment of Time/Training (high to low).

Let’s plop these into a swim lane diagram. We’ll make the lefthand side the “undesirable” qualities, and the right the “desired.” The “better” ideas will score more to the right.

Next we’ll plot our three ideas where they fall in each lane.

Finally, I’ll connect the lines.

Now we can see how these how these ideas rank according to our key parameters.

  • Idea A is difficult to implement and requires a lot of training, but doesn’t require a lot of cash.
  • Idea B is the easiest to implement, but is fairly expensive.
  • Idea C is expensive, but helps build the brand and doesn’t require much training.

At a glance, I would say Idea C may be our best bet.

I know… I know what you’re thinking… this isn’t very scientific. AND if we had any more ideas or parameters to plot, it would be unclear how the ideas rank.

If the basic method isn’t robust enough for what you’re working on, I recommend these additional steps.

How It Works (Advanced Method)

Let’s allocate an Importance Score – a value between 0% and 100% – for each parameter. 0 will indicate lowest importance. 100 will indicate highest importance.

We’ll then multiply the parameter score by the importance %. (The parameter score for “ease of implementation is 1, multiplied by the importance score of 100%… and so on).

Finally, we’ll do this for each idea and see which has the highest weighed score. THIS is the idea that is our best bet.

Using this advanced method, I was able to confirm my initial assessment that Idea C would be our best bet.

With more parameters and more ideas to plot, this advanced method will provide reliable results.

Finally, I’ve added a hand-drawn version of the swim lane diagram below. I don’t want the fact I used a drawing program to make this look like a complicated exercise. You can use a white board, flip chart, or the back of a napkin and do this process in just a few minutes.

After you’ve given this a try, please share your success stories!

This article was originally published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

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