Purpose – Effective decision making is a crucial activity for manufacturing firms of all sizes. To this end, statistical techniques, such as variance theory, cognitive maps, heuristics and process theory, are widely used. However, such techniques rarely help chief executives to understand the dynamics of competitive behaviour, and often fail to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Indeed, from a small- and medium-sized (SME) firm perspective, such techniques are rarely used owing to inadequate resources and/or skills. The paper seeks to address these issues. Design/methodology/approach – This paper proposes and tests a new approach to multivariate analysis based on the conditional formatting of spreadsheets. The analysis was confirmed using conventional statistical methods in order to validate the proposed methodology. Findings – The results are depicted as a visual picture of the attribute(s) under consideration and can be visually analysed. Originality/value – Such an approach can be used to complement and enhance current research techniques as well as facilitating data analysis
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