Useful decision making process

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Rank II

Traveler I

Siran, Hérault, France
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Sharing this here in the hope that it’s useful for any of us with our decision making.

“Decide” when you trace it back to its latin roots means “kill choice”. One of the biggest challenges we‘ve come across in every area of our lives - from where we live, to how we setup our garden, to the vehicle we bought, and now what we put in it, is that we are drowning in a sea of almost limitless choice. Decision fatigue is a real thing, as i’m sure many of us have experienced, and so I wanted to share the simplest set of questions that we use in our life and work.

When building technology (hardware or software), we go through a process of listing out functional requirements (what does the technology need to do), before writing up the technical requirements (how is it going to do it). So for instance “need to be able to get myself out of soft sand unassisted“ would be a functional requirement for a trip to North Africa (for us). Depending on where we’re going, there are a number of technical solutions (winch, recovery plates, or a chinook helicopter with support crew). Once we’re clear on the technical requirements (recovery plates, for instance), then we can make decisions about vendors (e.g. MaxTraxx).

In every area of our lives we see so many costly and avoidable mistakes being made by conflating these three things. My wife and I can’t afford to drop even $30K on a vehicle and setup right now. We gave ourselves a total budget of 10K, and the only way we could achieve this was by being ruthless about the choices we made.

In order to document and prioritise our requirements, we use a simple four step process: Must > Should > Could > Won’t
This is a well used framework that engineers in the world’s largest technology companies use on a daily basis.

To provide an example of how we used this to make a decision about a vehicle to buy (in France, in the middle of a pandemic), here is what we came up with.

  • be true 4x4
  • have automatic transmission
  • have strong international service infrastructure
  • have high gvwr
  • be able to attach a full size rtt
  • be able to attach a roof rack
  • have high safety for two dogs
  • have space for dogs in the cab
  • be easily modifiable for overlanding
  • have power steering
  • be able store bikes inside
  • Be able to store enough food and water and emergency gear for one month
  • be able to fit in a standard shipping container
  • Be able to be parked undercover at standard heights
  • have Air-conditioning
  • have solid maintenance records
  • not have windscreen damage
  • fit in a standard parking space
  • be able to sleep inside
  • be diesel
  • have a relatively narrow road profile for narrow roadways
  • have central locking
  • have high towing capacity.
  • not have carpet
  • not have excessive paint damage
  • have auxiliary power
  • be able to cook inside
  • have at least one additional seat
  • have heated seats
  • have a long range tank
  • be an exotic or hard to find car marque
  • be clapped out
  • have excessive rust
  • require any mechanical work to get registered
  • smell
  • have been excessively modified
  • be a garish colour
  • have been in major accidents
  • have been recalled
Additionally, we determined that it must:
  • be within 100km from our home (because we were not able to drive further than that at the time)
  • have a minimum three month warranty, with the option to pay for a longer warranty
  • be sold by a dealer or a mechanic (because they would be able to be help us with the paperwork)
  • be able to be paid for with an American credit card (because we had limited cash and a hell of a lot of credit)
  • cost no more than €7500 on road (because we had other financial priorities, and the more we spent on the car, the less we would be able to spend on outfitting it)
So ultimately, despite the fact that there are a vast number of vehicles available to us in Europe, we wound up with a 2004 Mitsubishi Pajero, because it was the only vehicle that met all of these requirements. Was it the vehicle I wanted? No. I’m an Aussie, and would much prefer to have a landcruiser. Was there a landcruiser that met all of our requirements? No. Am I happy with our choice? Yes - because it meets our requirements.

We are now going through exactly the same process with our interior build, and I have to say that the time spent thinking about our requirements is ensuring that we are spending considerably less time researching all of the potentially relevant options, and have been able to narrow our search to only that which we actually need.

Anyway, sharing this in the hope that it’s helpful to some. We use this process for every major decision we make. It not only speeds things up, but helps us to more easily find potential points of misalignment at the earliest stage so that we can resolve them before we get any deeper into the process. And for those of us who aren’t planning alone, having a clear process for decision making clearly has the potential to not only save an immense amount of brain damage, but nights alone on the couch as well.


Rank III

Enthusiast III

Thanks for sharing - it's a good approach. We're accustomed to think of "MUST" as our objectives (or SoR), "SHOULD" as technical specifications (or BoD), and so on.

We think of trip planning in this way also, with the "MUST" including overall trip objectives, such as (for example) to find local traditional fabrics, learn how they're made, meet the artists making them, and acquire examples (when possible). This sets the stage for choosing where to go. If an objective is to see wildlife, then we include this in the "MUST", look into habitat, migration, chances of seeing/appreciating, etc. For example, if one were to want to see the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River, then that establishes a window in the calendar, around which the rest of the trip is built.

I'm guessing that you also incorporate contingency plans into your process. Using the example above - we monitor (for example) the wildebeest migration in the year we're travelling on that trip, and have flexibility in the plan so that if the Mara crossing is earlier than in our base case plan we go to "plan B" and go there earlier, adjusting the plan to meet the other objectives in a practical manner. If I'm thinking of your example, then the base case might be not to have carpet, however it the optimal solution for a vehicle has carpets, then the contingency could be either to take them out and put in suitable mats, or simply to cover them with suitable mats.


Rank IV

Off-Road Ranger I

Mid Ohio
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It's always good to have a cut list:

-Reliable engine
-3400#+ cargo capacity for RTT, motorcycles, slide in camper, or whatever setup the trip requires.
-4wd and lockers front and rear
-Ability to fit 35" MT's
-strong enough drivetrain the withstand the lockers and offroad use.
-33" water fording capability
-11,000#+ tow capacity
-reliable transmission
-seating for four adults, even though it'll only contain 2 for overlanding.
-free spin front hubs, oem or aftermarket
-reasonable access to aftermarket suspension tuning options
-400+ mile range
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Rank III

Enthusiast III

Rings true for me - our goals are to visit places we haven't experienced, meet people, learn their culture, history, language (at least a start), enjoy food, drink, and relax under the stars. Specific additional goals are to appreciate traditional textiles (as noted), art (particularly contemporary art and traditional art), music, dance, nature, wildlife, and traditional architecture (particularly cobbled streets).

The road is a means of access, and the vehicle a tool to gain access, and to provide shelter. It's a means to an end, not the end in itself. Others have different goals and they're all valid.