THE BLOG
10/21/2016 09:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Leverage a 2x2 Grid to Become a Better Decision Maker

2016-10-17-1476709261-9340640-VishalAgarwal.pngBy Vishal Agarwal

Recently, President Obama made a casual remark: "I am the guy that got Mark to wear a jacket and a tie!" He was talking, of course, about Mark Zuckerberg - the founder of Facebook. Both men have famously claimed to wear the same clothes every day to eliminate decisions. It's one more minute they don't have to spend deliberating. There is some correlation between leadership and decision making that is worth exploring.

One of the biggest differences between good and great leaders is their ability to make sound decisions. Consideration takes time, but time is money. How do we become efficient in this decision-making process -- and by efficient, I mean being able to objectively evaluate all our options at that time and choose the best (or least bad) option?

Most of us do not have the immense responsibility of being a world leader, or bringing social media to the entire planet, but at our individual levels, we are all burdened with the enormity of decision making. I have found one particular tool that helps me in evaluating my options in a more objective manner, and eases the process of decision making: the simple 2x2 grid.

The Good Old Grid

At the end of the day, why is the task of decision-making so enormous? It boils down to being able to evaluate your options and selecting the best one.

The 2x2 grid, made famous by Boston Consulting Group, helps me evaluate my options. It was used to place the various units of a company in relation to their growth rate and market share. But the application of this 2x2 grid reaches far and wide, and its utility varies based on our mode of thinking. For example, we are aware of the "risk versus reward" scenarios, the most common application being in gambling. The higher amount you bet, the more you can win - or lose. The 2x2 grid can easily be used to evaluate a few different options we may have in our business (or personal life) to determine which opportunities can give us a relatively higher reward with low risk.

The Speed Versus Quality Dilemma

In the specific case of engineering, speed and quality are inversely proportional. If you focus on shipping multiple features ASAP, then there will be quality issues in the code which will be uncovered later (known as technical debt). If you focus on shipping only high-quality, highly scalable and maintainable code, there will be limitations on the number of features your team can ship. This is a dilemma all teams face and something that is only determined by the top management. Using the grid below, we can analyze where we stand, and corrective measures can be taken more easily.

HR Placement: Putting the Right People in the Right Position

This also becomes very relevant in analyzing various situations in our business. The late Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, perhaps had the biggest influence on all the great business leaders of today. He outlined a practice in his highly-acclaimed book, High Output Management, which talked about the right job for the right person. This can also be demonstrated more visually in the form of a 2x2 grid to determine whether we have the right person in the right job:

In an HR context, this tool becomes an effective way for leaders to analyze why some people are getting fired, and others are quitting. Alternatively, it can become a proactive periodic exercise by an HR department to make sure people with the right skill sets have been placed in the right positions.

The Importance Versus Urgency Dilemma 

If you're like me, you receive more than a hundred emails each day from different sources: boss, colleagues, vendors, team members, spam, even personal - but it's not possible or (even desirable) to give equal importance to all of them. Usually, "important" is confused with "urgent" so many of the emails we receive are marked as "urgent." In actuality, the outgoing email status feature in many corporate email systems is self-defeating, because only the recipient knows the status of his or her inbox and schedule, and thus only they can decide what is actually urgent.

Could this inability to distinguish what needs to be done, and when, be the reason why we are always running behind on deadlines? Instead of diving into your inbox first thing every morning, try categorizing your emails as "Urgent" and "Important" according to the grid below to help increase your productivity.

In summary, the 2x2 matrix is a very simple method to help us evaluate our options and help with decision making. If you make this as a way of life, you'll soon realize you're putting everything in this framework and sorting out options in your mind very efficiently. A picture is a worth a thousand words, and a grid is a mental picture of your options. It will at least help you to understand where you are currently, where you want to go, and what path to take to get there.

Vishal Agarwal is the founder and CEO of ItsaCheckmate.com