Paired Comparison

Paired Comparison Analysis

In many situations, there is a need to determine which alternative is the most appropriate. Many times people get paralyzed by the idea of having to make a decision, and then end up making no decision at all, which is a decision by itself. Paired Comparison Analysis is an activity for evaluating a small range of options by comparing them against each other.

Paired comparison analysis is an easy and useful tool for rating and ranking alternatives for decision-making where evaluation criteria are subjective. It is particularly helpful when priorities aren’t clear enough, when alternatives are completely different, or where there is little objective data to base our decision on. It is often used when choosing the most compelling problem to solve, or when selecting the solution that will be the most effective. For example, it can be used when selecting the most appropriate concept designs to test the success of a new product idea before marketing.

How to Implement a Paired Comparison Analysis:

Paired Comparison Matrix
The Paired Comparison Matrix

The following steps describe how to implement a paired comparison analysis:

  • Identify the options/alternatives to be evaluated and the evaluation criteria to help you make the decision (e.g. the most important, the most interesting, etc.).
  • List all alternatives on the left hand column and on the top row of the Paired Comparison Matrix.
  • In each blank cell of the matrix, compare the option in the row with the option in the column based on the identified criteria.
  • Write in the cell the option that better meets the criteria. You may also give a weighted score for each comparison where zero means no difference while 3 means major difference.
  • Repeat the process until all possible pairs are evaluated.
  • Count the number of times each option has been chosen.
  • Rank the options based on their count (or weighted score) then consider the options with the highest ranking.


As an example, let’s say that you want to decide how to spend your coming summer holidays and you have four specific ideas in mind. Use the paired comparison analysis to help you make this decision.


The following is an example that uses the paired comparison analysis to identify and rank the top motivators for a team.

Further Information:

  • The highest scoring option doesn’t mean that it is the most important. It provides however a basis for further thoughts and discussions.
  • When the exercise is implemented by a team, people should be selected based on their knowledge of the subject matter.
  • Paired comparison analysis becomes cumbersome once there is more than ten options to consider.