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Definition

decision tree

A decision tree is a graph that uses a branching method to illustrate every possible output for a specific input.

Decision trees can be drawn by hand or created with a graphics program or specialized software. Informally, decision trees are useful for focusing discussion when a group must make a decision. Programmatically, they can be used to assign monetary/time or other values to possible outcomes so that decisions can be automated. Decision tree software is used in data mining to simplify complex strategic challenges and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of research and business decisions. Variables in a decision tree are usually represented by circles.

Here’s a simple example: An email management decision tree might begin with a box labeled “Receive new message.” From that, one branch leading off might lead to “Requires immediate response.” From there, a “Yes” box leads to a single decision: “Respond.” A “No” box leads to “Will take less than three minutes to answer” or “Will take more than three minutes to answer.” From the first box, a box leads to “Respond” and from the second box, a branch leads to “Mark as task and assign priority.” The branches might converge after that to “Email responded to? File or delete message.”

decision tree

See also: decision support system, decision management

This was last updated in July 2012

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