Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pairwise Ranking - the forgotten tool

Pairwise ranking is a tool that was once included in the Coast Guard Performance Improvement Guide (PIG*). As the PIG grew this tool was removed partly for space concerns and partly because there are other prioritization tools included.

Pairwise ranking is a method for listing a small number of items/options in priority order. It can help you:
·         Make decisions in a consensus-oriented manner
·         Promote discussions of items in a head-to-head manner
·         Further discuss and decide among the top options (breaking ties) resulting from another prioritization tool such as a Muti-Vote

How to use it:

Discuss the choices. Ensure a common understanding of all items represented. One method to accomplish this is to have a subject matter expert address each option.

Letter the choices. This makes tabulating the votes easier and counting less confusing.

Construct a pairwise matrix.  Each box in the matrix represents the pairing of two items (the choice shown at top of the column compared to the choice shown at left of the row).  If your list has five items, the pairwise matrix would look like the one below, with the top box representing option A paired with option B:

Note: Each progressively longer row is labeled with the second through the last choice. Each progressively shorter column is labeled with the first through the next to last choice.

Rank each pair. For each pair, have the group (using a consensus-oriented discussion) determine which of the two ideas is preferred. Then, for each pair, write the letter of the preferable idea in the appropriate box. Repeat this process until the matrix is filled in.

Count the number of times each alternative appears in the matrix.

Rank all items. Rank the alternatives by the total number of times they appear in the matrix. Where two ideas appear the same number of times, look at the box in which those two ideas are compared. The idea appearing in that box receives the higher ranking.

Jeff Wright

*The Coast Guard PIG is not copy written and available electronically. You can download a copy from


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