Definition, Identification, Clarification and Execution

The Four Steps of DICE that will Change the World

Jorn Verweij
22 Dec 18

An original article by Decision Free Solutions.

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

Note to the reader: This article is a chapter of the manuscript with the work title “Achieve aims with minimal resources by avoiding decision making — in Organisations, (Project) Management, Sales and Procurement (Everybody can manage risk, only few can minimise it)”. The article refers to other chapters, but can be read on its own. Other chapters are “On Decision Making”, “On experts and expert organisations”, “How to predict future behaviour of individuals and organisations” and “The five principles of TONNNO that will avoid decision making.


From the universal to the particular

How to renovate your bathroom?

The four steps of DICE — Definition, Identification, Clarification, Execution — are generic. They are used in each and every Decision Free method. Be it in organisations, in management, in politics or in birthing. DICE is a key element of the approach of Decision Free Solutions and essential to utilise available expertise. By making expertise matter resources will be freed. These resources can be used to instigate meaningful change, including saving the world.

In an attempt to demonstrate that the four steps of DICE are a simple and everyday concept (as opposed to yet another acronym from yet another theory to try (yet again) to resolve the same old problems) this chapter begins with a story. The story of you — with no practical skills whatsoever — needing to have your bathroom renovated.    

What to do when your bathroom needs complete renovation? You have a limited budget, a practical deadline, little to no knowledge on building matters and a choice between contractors to make. How to minimise the risk the bathroom does not meet your (rather ill-defined) expectations and will not be ready in time?

Describe your conditions, define your bathroom  

The Event model states that the event conditions (budget, available time, current state of the bathroom and house, required functionality, how long you think you will be living in the house, expertise of contractor hired, etc.) and the relevant universal rules (renovation work in an old house is likely to result in extra work, the most likely cause of any delay is the customer (you), a contractor who takes time for a thorough inspection is likely to deliver quality work, etc.) determine the outcome. To minimise risk the right expert must be identified, and the expert must be allowed to fully utilise his/her expertise.

In order to identify the building contractor who is “right for the job” the job needs to be defined first (step one: Definition). This is your task. As a minimum it shall be clear what budget you have in mind, what the deadline is, what functionality should be provided, what style you are thinking of, what priorities you have, how much access you will provide. What you must avoid is defining a list of detailed requirements. These restrict the utilisation of the expert’s expertise and or may ensure the desired outcome can no longer be achieved within the boundaries of time and budget.

Identify the expert contractor: look for transparency, observe behaviour

Having defined, to the best of your ability, the event conditions from your side, the time has come to identify the contractor who shows himself to be the expert to renovate your bathroom (step two: Identification). The proposals that arrive in the mail without having inspected the bathroom you discard out of hand, no matter how low the price. Contractors who have no interest in the event conditions and who do not want to learn more about the desired outcome will not minimise risk for you.

From the contractors who do visit your bathroom you select the one who spends time to inspect the status of the cement of wall and floor, who looks at both the heating system and the electric installation, who quickly checks whether the walls are straight and perpendicular to each other, who explains the risk of debris falling between the beams on the ceiling of the kitchen below and that using a dark grout with light tiles will be considerably more expensive as it takes more time to ensure the grout lines will be straight. This same contractor also tells you that it will be cheaper if you order the bathroom furniture directly via his supplier, which will minimise the risk it will arrive too late.

Let the contractor clarify the work to you before hiring

Having identified the expert-contractor you ask him how he intends to achieve the desired outcome (what his plan looks like), and how he will mitigate any external risks (step three: Clarification). He explains the list of activities, the interdependencies, the possible surprises (only to be discovered once removing existing tiles and floor) and what they could add in terms of cost and time. He provides an overview of the fixed costs, the flexible cost, where and how you can save cost, where and why you mustn’t, and by what time you must have made a choice in bathroom furniture. Finally he explains how you will be informed of progress, and of any extra work that might show up, and how this will be handled between the two of you.

He also explains that to minimise the risk of not being ready in time he is to start with demolishing the old bathroom as soon as possible. Preferably next week. Which happens to be when you go on holiday. So not only do you give him the work, but also — without any misgivings — the key to your house. He explained the what and why in an easy to understand way and you approve of it all. He can now get to work, without having to detail what he will be doing in what order. He only has to inform you of any deviations to the plan that may arise, and what he will do about them (step four: Execution).

Don’t control the contractor, but let the contractor assure you

The concrete floor was more difficult to remove than he had anticipated, which he does not qualify as extra work. After removing the floor he finds a serious problem with one of the supporting beams, which is extra work. He makes a proposal to repair it and you accept. Replacing the piping there is a small water leakage, which becomes visible on the ceiling of the kitchen. He repaints it.

At no time do you interfere with his work. About once week the contractor tells you how it is going. When you have a question, you ask. When something isn’t immediately clear, you ask again. Then you find you no longer ask questions and that you don’t have a single worry either.

When all the work is done you have stayed within budget and within the deadline. Only the bath is still to come, as you had ordered it online yourself. To save some money. It was shipped from China and took longer to arrive than indicated.

The logic of DICE

The four steps of DICE are Definition, Identification, Clarification and Execution. Whenever risk is to be minimised in achieving a desired outcome these four steps are to be followed, and the five principles of TONNNO to be applied.

Definition — In the Definition step the desired outcome is to be defined. Also, to the greatest possible extent, the event conditions and the relevant universal rules shall be identified. The Definition step forms the basis for the identification of the expert.

Identification — Based on the description of the desired outcome and the provided event conditions and universal rules, the expert who is able to achieve the desired outcome is to be identified. This identification is usually done through a combination of the expert’s past performances and ability to substantiate the relevance of his/her expertise in achieving the outcome. Observation of particular characteristics can also be used, or provide additional reassurance/confirmation.

Clarification — The identified expert makes a plan, from beginning to end, and clarifies this plan to the point that it is transparent also to the non-expert that the desired outcome will be achieved. Only when the plan is made sufficiently transparent will the expert receive the go-ahead to execute the plan.

Execution — The expert executes the plan, and periodically informs the non-expert from any deviations to the plan, how these may have an effect on the desired outcome, and how these effects will be mitigated.

In all of these steps the principles of TONNNO are to be observed as to avoid any decision making in the process, as will be explained in each of the next four sections.


What needs to be defined

Unless you are an expert bicycle repair man fixing your own bike, you are in need of others to achieve a desired outcome. This means that certain things need to be defined to allow for e.g. the identification of the right expert.

The following needs to be achieved in the Definition step to ensure that a desired outcome is achieved against minimal risk:

  1. Unambiguous definition of the desired outcome (understood the same by all involved).
  2. A complete-as-possible overview of the event conditions.
  3. A complete-as-possible understanding of the universal rules impacting on the event conditions

If the attempt at “defining” is half-hearted, not only will it be so much harder to identify the right expert, the right expert is also so much more likely to not be interested in helping you. Experts have limited resources too. They will use them wisely and shun those who are unable to express what they are in need of, or are unable or unwilling to provide the context for it.

Who needs to define it

Logic has it that the “expert-in-something” defines “something”. An organisation set up to achieve a desired outcome is also the expert in defining what this desired outcome is supposed to look like. The expert in achieving this desired outcome is to identify the event conditions and be fully aware of the universal rules impacting on these conditions.

In practice the roles are not so clear cut. An organisation may be able to define the desired outcome, but to define it in such a way that it is understood the same by everybody (including those whose expertise is needed to achieve it and who may not be part of the organisation), may still be a challenge. Often the organisation makes implicit assumptions. It generally takes questioning from others to define the desired outcome in a fully transparent, unambiguous way.

When you need somebody’s help to achieve something this does not mean you don’t make vital contributions in achieving it yourself. An organisation may be in need of external expertise to achieve some particular outcome, it still provides plenty of expertise itself that must be taken into account. Almost invariably the organisation knows best in what way the desired outcome is going to be used by, or be of use to, the organisation. The organisation’s expertise itself is part of the event conditions.

An expert may have a good idea of which conditions will have an effect on achieving a desired outcome, it often still is the organisation who is to provide the relevant information. The organisation may also provide the expert with some particular event conditions which the outside expert cannot possibly know otherwise (e.g. outcome of a lawsuit, a possible buyout, pending personnel changes, etc.).

The same applies to the universal rules. There may be certain organisational automatisms an outside expert cannot not identify. For example, a department’s personnel may tend to resist change because of earlier experiences, a particular board member will try to own a proposal and is thus likely to make changes to it, a supervisory board is particularly risk-averse and generally takes a very long time convincing. All this information may be of great importance to an outside expert but is to be shared by someone from within the organisation itself.

Whenever somebody needs somebody else’s expertise to achieve a desired outcome against minimal risk, then:

  • Somebody is to define the desired outcome and, to the best of his/her ability, the relevant event conditions and universal rules.
  • Somebody else is to make sure the desired outcome is fully understood and take the provided event conditions and universal rules on board (on top of what somebody else’s expertise has already identified as typical relevant event conditions and universal rules)

Defining the desired outcome

To correctly define the desired outcome is, logically, the most important step. The definition of the desired outcome is what is used to identify the expert (whose expertise is best aligned with achieving it). The desired outcome is also what the identified expert works towards to achieve. If the desired outcome can be understood in several ways, than the wrong expert may be identified, or the identified expert may end up contributing to or achieving the wrong thing.

The following is to be paid attention to in defining a desired outcome:

  • A desired outcome is seldomly a singular and independent activity, but generally something that will contribute to or is to be aligned with other, higher level outcomes. The question to be answered is here is “Why do we want to achieve the desired outcome?” For example, an organisation may need to purchase a solution to achieve a particular outcome, but this outcome itself is to contribute to achieving the organisation’s mission, which may be in turn defined in the context of an organisation’s vision. This context is generally essential when defining a desired outcome. Answering the “why” question may contribute significantly to achieving it as it may evoke both inspiration and dedication.
  • The desired outcome is something the organisation wants to see achieved. Often the organisation itself plays an important role in achieving it. In these cases the desired outcome shall not to be narrowed down to a description of what the organisation lacks and is looking for. In other words, the desired outcome is not, technically, what an expert will achieve for the organisation, but something an expert will contribute to and achieve with the organisation. Often the expert (with its expertise and its solution) facilitates, or makes it possible for the organisation to achieve it. This is the situation as assumed throughout this textbook: whenever an expert is “to achieve the desired outcome” it may either do this “independently” or, more typically, by contributing expertise and a solution with which the organisation will be able to achieve it.   
  • Every desired outcome has an “owner”. This owner is accountable for achieving the desired outcome. Every desired outcome also has someone who is responsible for its definition. Although this must not necessarily be the case, it is here assumed that the owner is responsible for both.  
  • The definition of the desired outcome is to observe the TONNNO principles to avoid subsequent decision making. In particular, a desired outcome is to be transparent, to be objective (it should be clear when it is achieved), and should not include requirements.
  • To transparently and objectively define a desired outcome is something that usually requires the reflection and feedback of others, most prominently the (potential) experts who are to aid in achieving it.

Defining and identifying the event conditions

The event conditions are those conditions the universul rules impact upon and which determine the outcome of the event. When an organisation has defined a desired outcome, it should also define, to the best of its ability, the event conditions. Among which are the organisation’s available resources and the organisation’s expertise.

The owner of the desired outcome, of its own accord and in response to an expert’s questions, is to share its knowledge on all the possible event conditions. Relevant may be an ongoing reorganisation, expected changes in legal requirements, another project which may compete for resources, etc. etc. In the end it is the expert’s responsibility to learn as much as possible about as many relevant event conditions as possible.

Identifying the relevant universal rules

Universal rules cannot be controlled or influenced. Universal rules are generally the domain of the expert (the result of the expert’s experience and ability to perceive). Based on the universal rules the expert will be able to judge whether the event conditions allow for the desired outcome to be achieved (and or what resources need to be provided for to be able to achieve it). As mentioned before, the organisation is to share those universal rules which apply to the organisation (for as far as the expert does not already have access to it). The organisation’s universal rules include the way the organisation tends to behave in certain situations which may be of relevance in achieving the outcome.

Read the rest of the article in the PDF file.

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