Listing pros and cons

Some time ago I wrote about Tom Gilb’s impact estimation tables. I tend to use them only for big design decisions, and yet for smaller decisions I’ve found I’ve adopted from them one very simple principle: when listing pros and cons, I make sure every pro or con topic is considered for all options. This makes comparisons much easier.

An example would help. Suppose we want to market our company and we’re deciding whether to build our own website from scratch or use a SaaS blogging platform. It’s very easy to document our options like this:

Blogging platform. Pros: Quick to get going. Lots of templates.

Build-your-own. Pros: Good options for backend integration. Cons: Would need to hire someone.

This is fine, but it’s hard to compare our two options on specific topics. A blogging platform allows us to get going quickly—but speed of getting started is not directly addressed for build-your-own. A blogging platform has lots of templates—what about build-your-own? No cons are listed for the blogging platform—is that true? And so on.

If we work hard then we might be able to tease out the answers, but this is just a simple example. For more realistic situations we can expect lots of pros and cons, and comparisons will be more difficult.

So instead I’ve found myself listing each topic being considered, and seeing how each option stands on that topic. If we do that, we might get something like this:

Blogging platformBuild our own
Design optionsTemplates (large but finite selection)Total freedom, all built from scratch
Speed of getting startedDaysWeeks
Implementation by…?Anyone in MarketingWill need to hire
Backend integrationVery limitedMuch freedom, all built from scratch

I find this allows my colleagues and I to compare options much more even-handedly. And I think our decisions are quicker and better-informed as a result.

Photo by jenny downing