A new way to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in

The approach of Decision Free Solutions

Jorn Verweij
01 Feb 19

An original article by Decision Free Solutions

The full article is available as PDF. For the PDF file of this report click on the download-icon on the left-hand side of this page or simply click here.

Management summary

The approach of Decision Free Solutions (DFS) is a new and original approach “to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in”. The approach is based on logic and is both systematic and generic.

The approach is systematic in that its aim is achieved by applying four steps, five principles and the successful fulfilment of the leadership-role, all of which are clearly defined. The approach is generic in that it can be applied in all possible fields where goals are to be achieved. Each time the approach is applied in a certain field, it results in a method. Examples of this are DF Management, DF Procurement and DF Birthing. This article introduces the approach, not a particular method.

In essence, DFS overcomes two challenges: how to achieve transparent communication between experts and non-experts, and how to prevent (hierarchical) decision making from impeding the utilisation of available expertise.

To resolve these challenges a paradigm shift has to be made. The way members of the Namibian Himba tribe — who have no word for blue — struggle to make a distinction between green and blue, so organisations and individuals fail to identify decisions which increase risk, and decisions which don’t — as both are called the same. In DFS, as follows logically from the dictionary definition, a decision is defined as “a choice which is not fully substantiated to contribute to a desired outcome”.

DFS recognises that not all organisations will be able to successfully implement the approach. The key prerequisite is a “level of perceptiveness” to establish the de facto culture to utilise expertise. This level of perceptiveness — which applies both to the organisation as a whole and the individuals who take on the leadership-roles within the organisation — cannot be measured. DFS is unique, however, in explaining how this level of perceptiveness can be observed. This, in turn, allows the behaviour of both individuals, teams, departments and organisations to be predicted.

DFS is essential in a resource-critical, competitive, dynamic and rapidly changing environment, as only the maximal utilisation of expertise will minimise risk and minimise the need for resources. DFS is essential as only a culture-of-making-expertise-matter will both attract and retain the expertise organisations need to realise their mission and make change happen.

Implementing DFS is an antidote to the fragility, the madness, the wasted resources, the frustration and the risk involved in how organisations operate. As DFS is a wholly logical approach, it requires no assumptions, no leap of faith, no degree in semantics, no complex “contracts”, no special training — and it is entirely for free.

The first section of this document sets out to clarify the challenges to be overcome, followed by a section explaining the approach’s motto: Resolve frustration, Utilise expertise, Free up resources, Make change happen. The final section introduces the various elements of the approach of DFS.

The call, the builder, the orthopedist, and decision making

When the project’s lawyer called me to say that a vendor was taking us to court, I replied “okay”. It was the exact opposite of my body’s reply to me. This was not okay. Being challenged over the way we had organised the tender was the last thing I needed. The lawyer continued and I tried to listen. Instead I acutely felt how this development could derail the project.

I was the manager of a project to realise a proton therapy centre, which included the purchase of highly complex medical technology. Both the companies building these quality machines and the hospital I worked for employed motivated and talented people. But bringing all this motivation and talent together in one room was a frustrating affair. The challenge we faced with all of the vendors we met wasn’t “trust”, or “complexity”, or “cost” — it was communication. We simply didn’t speak each other’s language.

Not speaking the same language is a problem when you need the other’s expertise to achieve a desired outcome. When two experts are to solve a problem they will collaborate. They will share information, use technical terms and talk details. When an expert is to solve a problem for a non-expert, however, “collaboration” is not an option. The challenge becomes communication. Is the problem really understood? Can it be solved? Is the expert really an expert?

The challenge of communication between experts and non-experts is an everyday occurrence, for all of us. During this same period I had to hire a contractor to renovate our bathroom. How could I be sure he would do a good job? Should I try to “control” him? Then my mother fell and broke her shoulder. Sitting in the orthopedist’s office with her I saw the stress when the orthopedist asked her to share the decision making with him. Was she supposed to have simply absorbed all the information? Did the orthopedist actually know which outcome mattered most to my mother?

When communication isn’t transparent it readily leads to botched outcomes, wasted resources and increased cost — and also doubt, stress, disappointment and or frustration. To minimise risk in achieving a goal, we are in need of someone who understands what we want, who can tell us what needs to be done why, and do so without confusing us. This transparency is essential not only in identifying an expert, but also in allowing the expert to fully utilise his/her expertise. Transparency was what allowed me to let the contractor do his thing. Lack of transparency is what made me take my mother to see another orthopedist.

Procurement by definition involves two organisations each with their own particular expertise. The challenge the project team faced is a challenge all organisations face all of the time. But also in procurement this challenge has not been satisfactorily solved. Which is quite the understatement.

If you want to fly to the Moon and back, it would be ludicrous for you to try to define a long list of technical specifications for a spacecraft, and then attempt to control how it is built. It would be ludicrous, but it is exactly how almost all organisations operate today. It is also how most organisations hire and manage their employees: write a list of requirements, tell them how to do their work, then inspect and control what they are doing.

In our project we opted for a different approach. Instead of listing requirements we shared with the vendors the aims for our centre, and the context in which the centre had to operate. Instead of flooding us with information we invited the vendors to ask us questions. Then we asked them to explain — in a few pages — which of their performances were most relevant to achieve our aims.

I used this same approach to renovate my bathroom. I invited several builders over, explained what I wanted, and let them do their inspection. What I was looking for was their ability “to see the work” and to explain it to me without using details and jargon. What was it that they wanted to inspect? What questions did they ask? Were they able to explain the work to me, did they verify I understood?

It allowed me to verify that “expertise” — the ability of individuals and organisations to achieve a goal against minimal risk — is something that expresses itself in behavioural characteristics that can be readily observed. To become an expert requires a high level of “perceptiveness”. Of cause and effect, of the environment, of changes therein, of a customer’s or patient’s particular situation and needs. I recognised it in my builder, and missed it in my mother’s orthopedist.

By the time the pages were due we didn’t understand any of the technology any better. But simply by observing the vendors’ behaviour we had a good idea which one was most likely to make our centre a success. Some vendors’ lack of perceptiveness expressed itself in having many layers of management, a strict adherence to hierarchy, a focus on legal issues, a readiness to make decisions without ever questioning them. Scoring the submittals the vendor ranking bore out our observations. But now a single phone call threatened to undo it all.

That I was unable to focus my attention on what the lawyer said was not because a vendor was taking us to court. It was because of this one thought which made me acutely aware of how exposed the team really was: how were the board members in the steering group going to react to this development?

What made the blood rush to my face was the realisation it took only one decision by one board member in the steering group to undo it all. If only one of them felt the need to exert the power that their position in the hierarchy granted them — to make choices without having to substantiate them — then all our careful considerations would be nulled. If only one of them didn’t grasp the issue, or (in retrospect) didn’t like the approach we took, then all could be over in a heartbeat.

I failed to hear the lawyer because at that moment I literally felt the fragility, the madness, the wasted resources, the frustration and the risk involved in how organisations operate. If we all have a stake in achieving the goals of the organisation (of the customer, of the patient), then what is making it so difficult? How to overcome the everyday challenge of communication between experts and non-experts? How to overcome the anachronism that is hierarchical decision making?

It was this one phone call that set me on a path to find a new way to resolve frustration. To define the steps, the principles and the observations to first identify and then utilise expertise. To embrace expertise as a way to free up resources and to make change happen. In short, a generic approach to utilise everyone’s expertise to achieve the goals we believe in.

Resolve frustration, utilise expertise, free up resources, make change happen

Decision Free Solutions (DFS) is an approach to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in. DFS’ motto: Resolve frustration, Utilise expertise, Free up resources, Make change happen. This motto can be read as a sequence of related steps, but it also refers to the different motivations an organisation may have to implement the approach of DFS.

Resolve frustration

Frustrations — the feeling of being upset as a result of something you can’t change or achieve — are very common in both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes the source of frustration lies within you, at other times it is caused by others. Frustrations are deeply personal. But frustrations are also deeply revealing — what does frustration make you do?

Expert individuals and organisations perceive the interconnectedness of their environment. It is what allows them to identify and to resolve frustrations — be it their own or those of others. For many organisations it is their mission to resolve frustrations — be it for their clients, or simply to right a wrong. It may also be organisational frustration that needs to be resolved — for not being able to identify, utilise and retain expertise, or for not succeeding in communicating it.

Either way, the desire to resolve frustration is a powerful drive. As it is linked to expertise, it is also a de facto requirement to successfully implement DFS. To achieve the goals you believe in. The desire to resolve frustration is what lead to the creation of DFS in the first place.

Utilise expertise

We are all experts in something. We all have skills, talents, creativity and experience we love to express while achieving goals we care about. Combined with sociality — achieving goals we care about together —  it is what brings us joy.

Many of us find joy in their work. Many others don’t, or only to an extent. Most organisations hire us because they need to fill a certain position. But in hiring us they hire not merely what the organisation is in need of. They hire all of our skills, all of our talents, creativity and motivations. But then we often find that large amount of resources are spent on directing and controlling our work. That our ideas can be overruled, discarded or ignored without substantiation. Which causes frustration.

Organisations have to meet many challenges themselves. They have to operate and to compete in an ever more complex and dynamic environment. They are constantly exposed to new risks and have to adapt and change. Both minimising risk and making this change happen requires expertise, creativity and resources.

The challenges which employees and organisations face are related. In fact, they are one and the same. Frustrations can be resolved, risks minimised and change realised — through the utilisation of the organisation’s collective expertise. The approach of DFS in a nutshell: make expertise matter.

Free up resources

If organisations utilise our expertise, they reduce two risks. The risk of trying to do something which cannot be achieved (pursuing an unattainable desired outcome), and the risk the desired outcome will be achieved, but against many more resources than necessary.

If organisations create the conditions to utilise the collective expertise of their employees there is no need for layers of management directing and inspecting what everyone is doing. In these organisations “assurance” takes the place of “control”, freeing up large amounts of resources.

If organisations utilise our expertise they improve the employee condition, which includes joy, health, motivation and loyalty. A healthier workforce which is both motivated and more loyal to the organisation automatically frees up still more resources.

Freeing up resources is often a goal or even a necessity in and of itself — to do the same or more for less. Freeing up resources can also be a requirement to be able to make change happen. Through making expertise matter the approach of DFS frees up resources.

Making change happen

Change can be many things. It can be the creation of something entirely new, it can be an ongoing adaptation to the dynamics of a marketplace or society, it can be the righting of a wrong, it can be simply a different way of doing the same thing.

Change can be driven by a desire to resolve frustrations, it can be simply a necessity, and it can be both. Whatever the change is, there will be many challenges. Change involves risk, and resources and — in the absence of belief in the change — also the overcoming of resistance.

DFS minimises risk and frees up the resources that making change requires. The approach of DFS helps those who want to resolve frustrations and those who want to make change happen — to make it happen.

Introducing the approach of Decision Free Solutions

What is “Decision Free Solutions”?

Decision Free Solutions (DFS) is the systematic and generic answer to minimise the risk a particular desired outcome will not be achieved.

By applying the approach of DFS in any particular field where a desired outcome is to be achieved — in e.g. procurement, in sales, in birthing, in project management, in management, in recruitment, in how to run an organisation — a method results which will do so against minimal risk by optimally utilising available expertise.

DFS makes use of the observation of a range of an individual’s or organisation’s characteristics to identify expertise and to predict future behaviour.

Decision Free Solutions is an approach to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in. DFS’ motto: Resolve frustration, Utilise expertise, Free up resources, Make change happen.

In DFS “expertise” is the ability of an expert or expert organisation to minimise risk in achieving a particular desired outcome. A “decision” is a special type of choice: a choice not fully substantiated to contribute to achieving this desired outcome.

The two challenges DFS sets out to overcome are 1) the absence of a common language when experts and non-experts are to communicate, and 2) the prevalent belief that decision making is either someone’s prerogative or presents some kind of closure — without explicitly acknowledging that with every decision made the risk the goal will not be achieved increases.

DFS enables the communication between experts and non-experts through the consistent and appropriate application of the five principles of TONNNO (“transparency”, “objectivity”, “no details”, “no requirements” and “no relationship”) in the four steps of DICE (defining the desired outcome, identifying expertise, clarifying how the desired outcome will be achieved (the plan), and executing the plan).

In DFS decisions are replaced with substantiated choices through the utilisation of expertise. When decisions cannot be avoided DFS ensures they are made by the best available expert. Crucially, DFS identifies each decision as a risk to be considered for further risk management.

In DFS all choices which lack substantiation has to how they will contribute to a desired outcome are decisions. This includes the choices made in contracts, checklists, schedules and protocols. Implementing DFS results in a shift from “control” to “assurance”, as well as a critical and continuous evaluation of rules, guidelines and requirements.

DFS’ philosophy is based on two pillars. The first pillar is the concept of causality: if you perceive all the conditions (causes) of an event you can predict its outcome (effect). A high degree of perceptiveness is a prerequisite to become an expert. The greater someone’s or some organisation’s perceptiveness, the greater this person’s or organisation’s ability to predict future outcomes and thus to minimise risk. This is what defines expertise.

The second pillar is that certain behavioural characteristics (of both individuals and organisations) are logically linked and related to the ability to perceive. If you are able to clearly observe some related characteristics, then other characteristics — which may be impossible to observe — can be readily presumed. Depending on the clarity and the consistency of the behavioural observations made, the level of perceptiveness can be determined with a certain degree of likelihood. Expertise, or absence thereof, is something that can be observed.

DFS is a generic and systematic approach. It is systematic in that it is an approach based on four steps (DICE), the application of five principles (TONNNO), and the role of the Decision Free Leader (DFL) responsible for ensuring the steps and principles are adhered to.

It is generic in that DFS can be applied in any field where expertise is to be identified and or utilised to achieve a desired outcome. Applying the approach of DFS to a specific field results in a method which inherits the steps and principles of DFS. Applying DFS e.g. in the field of management results in the method of DF Management, in procurement in the method of DF Procurement, in birthing in the method of DF Birthing, etc. etc.

Finally, DFS is an entirely logical approach, requiring no assumptions, no leap of faith, no degree in semantics, no submission to contracts, no special training — and it is entirely for free.

As all organisations make use of people with different expertise to achieve desired outcomes, the approach of DFS will here be introduced in the context of organisations. However, as the approach of DFS is truly generic, it is not restricted to use in or by organisations.

Why should DFS matter to your organisation?

All organisations want to achieve a desired outcome. Most organisations want to do so against minimal risk and thus minimal use of resources.

Applying the approach of DFS in the fields of procurement, sales, management, project management, recruitment, and how to run an organisation itself results in a series of methods which allow organisations to systematically and maximally utilise all available expertise in achieving the desired outcomes in each of these fields.

The generic approach of DFS — as explained in this article — is essential in a resource-critical, competitive, dynamic and rapidly changing environment, as only the maximal utilisation of expertise will minimise risk and minimise the need for increasingly scarce resources.

DFS is essential as only a culture-of-making-expertise-matter will both attract and retain the expertise organisations need to realise their mission and make change happen.

DFS is essential as in time-critical or new environments the simple observation of a range of characteristics allows for an assessment of available expertise, and thus the prediction of future behaviour. This enables the organisation to make informed choices on how to spend resources, what to focus on, which strategy to implement, etc. — and do so ahead of time.

How does DFS differ from existing approaches?

To optimally utilise available expertise is not a new goal. There are a number of existing approaches that share that goal. Among them are the “self-management” principle of Teal organisations (e.g. Holacracy [2]), Lean [3], Vested (in supply chains, [4]) and the Best Value Approach (in procurement, [5]).

DFS — like Lean, but unlike the other mentioned approaches — is a system approach. It doesn’t prescribe a way of working, but rather provides guidelines as to how to implement it in any field, in any environment, achieving any desired outcome. So “DFS” is not a “management” approach, and not a “procurement” approach, but it can be applied to management and procurement to create methods which will optimally utilise expertise to achieve desired outcomes in management and procurement.

Having made that important distinction, DFS is different from these and other existing approaches, philosophies and methods in that:

  • It identifies decisions as not fully substantiated choices which increase risk
  • It identifies all choices that do not take the (current) desired outcome into consideration as decisions potentially increasing risk — including contracts, checklists, schedules and protocols.
  • It overcomes the downsides of “hierarchical decision making” (increased risk, cost and frustration) without discarding hierarchy and the benefits hierarchy can provide.
  • It methodically identifies expert individuals and organisations who are able to minimise risk.
  • It uses observations of behavioural characteristics to support the identification of expertise — and thus to predict behaviour
  • It identifies the alignment of employee expertise as a key organisational challenge — and provides a solution.
  • It is an entirely logical and internally consistent approach: from the foundation of its philosophy, the clarifying definition of crucial terms (risk, expert, decision), to the four steps and five principles of the approach itself.
  • It is both systematic and generic: it can be applied in every aspect and in every field that has the organisation’s interest.
  • Through its methods, it can be introduced gradually, reversibly and without having to shed established tools and procedures and organically formed ways of operating. (e.g. by starting with a project, or in a single department)

What type of organisations will benefit from DFS?

In essence, every organisation would benefit from DFS. However, not all organisation will be able to implement it.

The Who of DFS — those organisations who may implement it — are organisations who care about making change happen.

The element of care is essential, as only organisations who are driven to resolve frustrations and or make change happen through realising their mission, will be able to attract and retain expertise. Without it the approach of Decision Free Solutions, its methods, cannot be successfully implemented.

The Who are those organisations or organisational units (e.g. departments):

  • Who are driven by an intrinsic motivation, passion, belief.
  • Who perceive their environment, identify what can be done better and want to make it happen.
  • Who realise that fully utilising expertise is always in the best interest of both client and  organisation

The organisations that will benefit from DFS are:

  • Organisations who are in (constant) need of freeing up (organisational) resources to keep a competitive edge or to introduce change
  • Organisations with superior solutions who need to find a way to communicate their expertise to the customers (“sales”)
  • Organisations who need to identify and utilise expert assistance to help them achieve their mission (“procurement”)
  • Organisations who have to continuously, swiftly and efficiently adjust to a rapidly changing environment (“management”)
  • Organisations who have to maximise the use of their employees’ talents and availability  (“project management”)
  • Organisations who want to resolve frustrations for others and who need to be efficient and must have a clear understanding of how best to serve the needs of their clients (such as social enterprises, healthcare providers and NGO’s)
  • Organisations motivated to make a difference and who need to get the most out their expertise and resources (e.g. related to environmental protection, safety, survival, access, rights).

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