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Gabriel Rivera
Gabriel Rivera

The Analytic Hierarchy Process

Once the hierarchy is built, the decision makers systematically evaluate its various elements by comparing them to each other two at a time, with respect to their impact on an element above them in the hierarchy. In making the comparisons, the decision makers can use concrete data about the elements, and they can also use their judgments about the elements' relative meaning and importance. It is the essence of the AHP that human judgments, and not just the underlying information, can be used in performing the evaluations.[4]

The Analytic Hierarchy Process


The AHP converts these evaluations to numerical values that can be processed and compared over the entire range of the problem. A numerical weight or priority is derived for each element of the hierarchy, allowing diverse and often incommensurable elements to be compared to one another in a rational and consistent way. This capability distinguishes the AHP from other decision making techniques.

In the final step of the process, numerical priorities are calculated for each of the decision alternatives. These numbers represent the alternatives' relative ability to achieve the decision goal, so they allow a straightforward consideration of the various courses of action.

Several firms supply computer software to assist in using the process.[clarification needed]While it can be used by individuals working on straightforward decisions, the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is most useful where teams of people are working on complex problems, especially those with high stakes, involving human perceptions and judgments, whose resolutions have long-term repercussions.[5]It has unique advantages when important elements of the decision are difficult to quantify or compare, or where communication among team members is impeded by their different specializations, terminologies, or perspectives.

The applications of AHP to complex decision situations have numbered in the thousands,[6] and have produced extensive results in problems involving planning, resource allocation, priority setting, and selection among alternatives.[5] Other areas have included forecasting, total quality management, business process reengineering, quality function deployment, and the balanced scorecard.[1] Many AHP applications are never reported to the world at large, because they take place at high levels of large organizations where security and privacy considerations prohibit their disclosure. But some uses of AHP are discussed in the literature. Recently these have included:

Though using the analytic hierarchy process requires no specialized academic training, it is considered an important subject in many institutions of higher learning, including schools of engineering[17] and graduate schools of business.[18] It is a particularly important subject in the quality field, and is taught in many specialized courses including Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, and QFD.[19][20][21]

The first step in the analytic hierarchy process is to model the problem as a hierarchy. In doing this, participants explore the aspects of the problem at levels from general to detailed, then express it in the multileveled way that the AHP requires. As they work to build the hierarchy, they increase their understanding of the problem, of its context, and of each other's thoughts and feelings about both.[26]

A hierarchy is a stratified system of ranking and organizing people, things, ideas, etc., where each element of the system, except for the top one, is subordinate to one or more other elements. Though the concept of hierarchy is easily grasped intuitively, it can also be described mathematically.[27] Diagrams of hierarchies are often shaped roughly like pyramids, but other than having a single element at the top, there is nothing necessarily pyramid-shaped about a hierarchy.

In the world of ideas, we use hierarchies to help us acquire detailed knowledge of complex reality: we structure the reality into its constituent parts, and these in turn into their own constituent parts, proceeding down the hierarchy as many levels as we care to. At each step, we focus on understanding a single component of the whole, temporarily disregarding the other components at this and all other levels. As we go through this process, we increase our global understanding of whatever complex reality we are studying.

Similarly, when we approach a complex decision problem, we can use a hierarchy to integrate large amounts of information into our understanding of the situation. As we build this information structure, we form a better and better picture of the problem as a whole.[26]

An AHP hierarchy is a structured means of modeling the decision at hand. It consists of an overall goal, a group of options or alternatives for reaching the goal, and a group of factors or criteria that relate the alternatives to the goal. The criteria can be further broken down into subcriteria, sub-subcriteria, and so on, in as many levels as the problem requires. A criterion may not apply uniformly, but may have graded differences like a little sweetness is enjoyable but too much sweetness can be harmful. In that case, the criterion is divided into subcriteria indicating different intensities of the criterion, like: little, medium, high and these intensities are prioritized through comparisons under the parent criterion, sweetness.Published descriptions of AHP applications often include diagrams and descriptions of their hierarchies; some simple ones are shown throughout this article. More complex AHP hierarchies have been collected and reprinted in at least one book.[28] More complex hierarchies can be found on a special talk page for this article.

The design of any AHP hierarchy will depend not only on the nature of the problem at hand, but also on the knowledge, judgments, values, opinions, needs, wants, etc. of the participants in the decision-making process. Constructing a hierarchy typically involves significant discussion, research, and discovery by those involved. Even after its initial construction, it can be changed to accommodate newly-thought-of criteria or criteria not originally considered to be important; alternatives can also be added, deleted, or changed.[26]

Such a hierarchy can be visualized as a diagram like the one immediately below, with the goal at the top, the three alternatives at the bottom, and the four criteria in between. There are useful terms for describing the parts of such diagrams: Each box is called a node. A node that is connected to one or more nodes in a level below it is called a parent node. The nodes to which it is so connected are called its children.

To reduce the size of the drawing required, it is common to represent AHP hierarchies as shown in the diagram below, with only one node for each alternative, and with multiple lines connecting the alternatives and the criteria that apply to them. To avoid clutter, these lines are sometimes omitted or reduced in number. Regardless of any such simplifications in the diagram, in the actual hierarchy each criterion is individually connected to the alternatives. The lines may be thought of as being directed downward from the parent in one level to its children in the level below.

Once the hierarchy has been constructed, the participants analyze it through a series of pairwise comparisons that derive numerical scales of measurement for the nodes. The criteria are pairwise compared against the goal for importance. The alternatives are pairwise compared against each of the criteria for preference. The comparisons are processed mathematically, and priorities are derived for each node.

Priorities are distributed over a hierarchy according to its architecture, and their values depend on the information entered by users of the process. Priorities of the Goal, the Criteria, and the Alternatives are intimately related, but need to be considered separately.

The priorities shown are those that exist before any information has been entered about weights of the criteria or alternatives, so the priorities within each level are all equal. They are called the hierarchy's default priorities. If a fifth Criterion were added to this hierarchy, the default priority for each Criterion would be .200. If there were only two Alternatives, each would have a default priority of .500.

Two additional concepts apply when a hierarchy has more than one level of criteria: local priorities and global priorities. Consider the hierarchy shown below, which has several Subcriteria under each Criterion.

Did you know you make an average of 35,000 decisions each day? Some of these choices are relatively unimportant, like deciding what to eat for breakfast. But others have a greater impact on your future, like choosing which university to attend. When faced with a difficult decision, how do you consider every option to pick the best one? The analytic hierarchy process is one method you can use. It helps you make hard decisions by comparing multiple alternatives to make the best choice.

Linear algebra is a type of math that helps us calculate the importance of criteria using matrices. The AHP uses linear algebra to assess the results of each pairwise comparison. Every criterion receives its own importance weight. The higher the weight, the more important the criterion is to the overall decision. This method of comparison can be applied to many decisions. For example, you can use it to select a product or service, like a car or airline flight. You can also use it to choose the most efficient process or route, such as evaluating whether to use private or public transit to get to school [2].

Every decision begins with a question: which alternative is right for you? For example, you can use the AHP to select which university to attend. In this scenario, you may want to decide which of your top three options (Universities A, B, or C) is best for you. Once you understand the question and the options, you then decide which criteria to consider. Perhaps the three most important criteria for you are finding a school that is affordable, located close to home, and well-ranked. Once you identify these criteria, you can begin the process of pairwise comparisons. 041b061a72


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