How To Make Decisions With 4 Quadrants

We have to take smart decisions on a permanent basis, and quality decision-making can be downright hard. Especially if it relates to an important thing, that we’ve been preoccupied with for quite some time. A thing that’s always on our back-burner, or on our radar, depending on who prefers what.  The very fact of being preoccupied might blur our thinking, and we lack clarity in evaluating options.  Everything looks messed up, and with all the input coming from various sources (the most common two of them being other stakeholders and clients) the ultimate decision-maker might feel disoriented. How to make sense of it all?

Here’s the case where we might encounter some challenging choices: Getting Started experience in a software product. Do we need to lay all we have on the line to let our customers have a much easier start with it? There’s a simple technique that can help decide. What it requires is only a piece of paper and a little bit of your laser-focused time. This technique involves the Cartesian plane, as with x-y axis and the 4 quadrants. The problem at hand needs to be dissected coolly with the 4 following questions (counterclockwise starting from the upper right):


4 Quadrant Decision Making



1. What happens if this doesn’t happen? Things will remain as they are, and for this quadrant we need to collect the pros of this thing not happening. What will we keep, or gain, if Getting Started experience stays as is?

2. What happens if this happens? Things will change; zoom in on the pros of this thing happening. Which positive outcomes will having a better Getting Started experience bring us?

3. What won’t happen if this happens? Now we switch to the downsides of this thing happening. The 3 and 4th quadrant operate within the negative, as they’re located below the Y-axis, in the minus zone. Remember, this decision-making technique refers to Cartesian quadrants, that’s why it’s tied to the 3-4 quadrants as in the negative, and 1-2 quadrants as in the positive. So, with Getting Started experience improved, what is it that we will lose or miss?

4. What won’t happen if this doesn’t happen? What is it that we will lose or miss if the Getting Started experience stays as is? Be careful about this last quadrant. The negatives of this thing not happening. Our brain can be lured into sliding along the same track as with answering the 1st quadrant question, because this 4th question is put as a double negation. And your answers could be very similar to the 1st quadrant answer.

Why is this technique so good? The 4 quadrants help get clear about the consequences of each possible decision, and consider it from 4 different angles. This technique primarily tackles our unwitting self-sabotaging pattern to dwell on just one question: what happens if this happens?

What’s important with this technique is to actually use a piece of paper to write things down. Our mind will get confused holding many alternative viewpoints. So, this should either be a piece of paper or a digital note.

This approach should work particularly well for strategic decisions that drill down to the ultimate solo decision-maker. Sometimes, however, we need to create a multi-dimensional decision-making canvas. For example, when we are prioritizing backlog or choosing which major feature to implement next in a product, it would make sense to develop a model with several variables, and go from there.


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