Video: 2 minute intro; Tutorial: Worked examples; Help: Contents

May 23, 2010

Step 4: Analysis (Buying a Car)

Back: Step 3 - Detailed research (buying a car)

My table in the previous step was a good way of listing the pros and cons of each car, and even counting the number of things I liked and disliked, but it didn't show me which criteria were the most important.  I could see that the Swift was a winner in many categories, but were they the most important ones?

To get a clearer picture I extracted my criteria from my notes and organized them into a hierarchy in bCisive Online in five steps:
  1. List all the criteria that come to mind (brainstorming)
  2. Identify all the major criteria (what's most important)
  3. Group the major criteria into categories
  4. Organize the minor criteria
All these cars had satisfied my original criteria, but in the course of my research I had identified many new criteria, which I hoped would serve to distinguish them.

To help me with this somewhat daunting task I turned to bCisive Online, which is ideally suited to sifting, organizing, structuring and refining a mass of ideas.  Its drag & drop and automatic layout allowed me to brainstorm and categorize, and play with different arrangements until clarity emerged.  Its flexibility allowed me to use both top-down and bottom-up styles of structuring, and to switch freely between the two.  Here's what I came up with:

My detailed criteria as a map (click for a larger image)

The new criteria, broken down into the categories that emerged, were:
  1. Handling: On the road, parking, acceleration
  2. Comfort: Height of the interior ceiling, feel of the gearshift, seat comfort
  3. Cost: purchase price, fuel economy, cost of parts and services
  4. Storage: Trunk capacity, size of spare tyre
  5. Safety: Crash safety rating, brakes
Now that my criteria and categories were in order I had a simple, elegant scheme for evaluating each car on its own merits, without losing sight of the big picture.

Next: Step 5 - Analysis and ranking (buying a car)

Step 3: Detailed research (Buying a Car)

Back: Step 2 - Basic research

Now that I had a manageable shortlist of 6 cars it was time to compare them in more detail.  By the end of this step I wanted to have a clear and comprehensive list of criteria.  These detailed criteria would enable me to:
  1. Identify the 3 (or so) leading cars
  2. Articulate my criteria for purposes of comparison and ranking (for use in step 4)
  3. Start to prepare me for the bargaining process with car dealers (step 5)
As I considered the six cars on my shortlist I became aware of a further, hitherto tacit, criterion:
  • Does the car look good to me?
In my reading I also began to take notice of what the experts were saying.  While the experts would be applying different criteria and I did not have the patience to go through all the minutiae in their reviews, general consensus among experts carries some weight.  Hence:
  • Has the car received generally good reviews? 
    By answering these two additional questions I was able to narrow my selection to the 3 most appealing and acclaimed cars: Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris. 

    My next step was to visit a few dealerships, take these cars for a test drive, and grill the dealers for more information.  I noted what I liked and disliked about each car and after a few test drives I had a good idea of what to look for.  Here are my notes:

    Honda Jazz

    Suzuki Swift

    Toyota Yaris
    Spacious boot (trunk)
    Narrow body
    Fuel economy not great
    Full-sized spare
    tinted windows
    High safety rating
    Small boot (trunk)
    Wide body
    Excellent fuel economy
    Small spare
    Great around corners
    Excellent brakes
    Great acceleration
    Very good fuel economy
    Full-sized spare
    High safety rating
    Great safety rating
    Good brakes
    Cheap to repair
    Mechanics love it
    At this point my list of criteria was expanded (although not yet organized) and I had a much clearer idea of what to consider.  I had the reassuring feeling of being in much greater control of the process:
    1. I was no longer was paralyzed by choice, having reduced my selection to a very manageable final list;
    2. I no longer felt ignorant, having researched my selection and noted each car's pros and cons; and
    3. I no longer was afraid of paying too much, having ascertained the market price of my prospective cars.
    I was now ready to compare the finalists in detail and was only one step away from driving a hard bargain for myself.

    Next: Step 4 - Brainstorm and categorize

    May 16, 2010

    Step 2: Basic Research (Buying a Car)

    Back: Step 1 - Basic criteria

    Step 2: Do your research
    With my basic criteria -- price, car type, transmission -- in hand I set out to find what sort of cars I might consider buying.  In the case of looking for cars, there are plenty of search engines that allow you to search on these (and many more) criteria, so that's what I did ...

    ... and got 624 matches (click to enlarge)

    As you can see, there were plenty of cars that met my basic criteria, and I quickly added another criterion to my list - I sorted on mileage:
    New criterion in light of initial search results: low mileage
    However, I still had far too many to choose from, but I was heading (driving?) in the right direction.

    Tip: Stepping back from the car example for a moment, this is not an uncommon result.  If you are lucky (or very good) your initial criteria will yield a manageable number of options.  However, if your criteria are too tight, you may not have enough (any?) results to work on, which means that you need to  keep looking and/or loosen your criteria by dropping something.  If your criteria are too loose, there will be too many results, and you will need to identify additional criteria.

    At this stage there were a few things I could do to help me identify further criteria and thereby trim my results:

    Some ways to cut down the list (click to enlarge)

    In this case I was happy to use popular opinion as a guide, so I searched online for the most popular cars in my category:

    (Chances are someone else has been looking up the same thing on Google)

    And before long I had a short list of popular, highly rated cars that met my basic criteria:

    Honda Jazz, Holden Barina
    Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent

    Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris

    Next: Step 3 - Detailed research

    Step 1: Basic Criteria (Buying a Car)

    Back: Major Purchase Overview (Buying a Car)

    Looking for a car can be daunting: in every category there are so many cars to choose from, and so many features.

    So we'll start with something simple.

    Step 1: Start with basic criteria
    I might not know everything that I'll want, but I do know some things.  These explicit criteria are where I start.  Later in the process (step 3) I will uncover further criteria.
    My basic criteria
    • Price: $10,000 - $20,0000
    • Type of car: Small
    • Transmission: Manual
     And, just for fun, let's use bCisive Online to show why these are important to me:

    bCisive Online map of my basic criteria (click to enlarge)

    Expert tip: Since there is no "Criterion" box in bCisive Online, I simply edited the heading of the "Requirement" box to get the required effect.

    Next: Step 2 - Basic research

    Tutorial: Major Purchase Overview (Buying a Car)

    Back: Introduction & Contents

    For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to dive into a major purchase example, buying a car.

    Please note that many of the steps that we go through will be applicable to other purchases, and to other kinds of decisions.

    The first thing that we need to do is set an objective.  Here's mine:
    Choose the best car for me, and get a good price.
    Next, we need a process (or steps) to achieve our objective.  Here's my process for buying a car:
    1. Start with basic criteria, however vague.
    2. Do some basic research: look online, and shortlist 5 or 6 cars that match my basic criteria.
    3. Detailed research: Choose 3 cars that particularly appeal to me, and test-drive them; this helps me to expand my criteria and shortlist the leading cars.
    4. Analysis: Brainstorm all of the criteria that come to mind in light of my detailed research and use bCisive Online to easily arrange and categorize them. 
    5. Evaluation: Perform a detailed comparison of the leading cars by ranking them in each criterion and category, possibly with the assistance of an expert.* 
    6. Use my now detailed knowledge of the best cars, to drive a hard bargain for my preferred car.
    *Note: if all leading candidates are ruled out during step 4, I will need to revisit (and loosen) my criteria.

    For me this process has the advantage of addressing what seemed like the major obstacles in achieving my objective:
    1. Paralysis by choice: there are so many cars to choose from
    2. Feeling of ignorance: I am not a car buff, and I needed to learn more about the differences between the various cars, and which differences I cared about
    3. Fear of paying too much: I want to be well-equipped to haggle with the car dealers, once I have made my choice
    Naturally, your preferred process may well be different depending on personal style and the details of the situation.  Fortunately bCisive Online is flexible; it does not mandate any particular process, so you can go with whatever works best for you.  Please feel free to use my process as a starting point.

    Next: Step 1 - Basic criteria

    bCisive Online Tutorial: Introduction

    bCisive Online is a great tool for cutting through the detail of difficult decisions, especially those involving:
    1. Significant ramifications (i.e. important)
    2. Many factors (sizeable)
    3. A lack of clarity at the outset over what is important, and what can be reasonably compromised on (complex)
    General examples include:
    1. A major purchase
    2. Negotiating a deal
    3. Formulating a strategy
    4. Outlining a pitch or case
    For the purposes of this tutorial we will walk through examples of each, introducing process, techniques and tips along the way.

    This tutorial assumes that you:
    1. Have created your own bCisive Online site
    2. And are comfortable with the mechanics of making and editing maps in the bCisive Online workspace.
    Before proceeding you may wish to review the basic map editing video, and have a bit of a play in a workspace.

    Let's start with an example of a major purchase with a personal flavor, buying a car.

    Next: Major purchase Overview (Buying a Car)

    May 2, 2010

    Attention bloggers: Embed bCisive Online maps in your blog posts

    You can now publish a bCisive Online map, making it available to the whole world to view, or just to members of your site.  It's basically a YouTube for your maps.

    For example, here's a map based on this editorial in the New York Times:

    Unlike a screenshot, you can pan, zoom, and hide and show sub-branches of the map.

    So give it a try to:
    • make complex discussions easier to follow
    • add visual interest to your blog
    Note: You can also embed maps on other html web pages (not just blogs), or instead of embedding link directly to a web-page that hosts the map.