What is a Goal Tree?

About the AuthorA Goal Tree, sometimes still referred to as Intermediate Objective Map or IO Map, is primarily a tool for rational analysis of all prerequisites i.e. Necessary Conditions to achieve a Goal, and their dependencies.

The Goal Tree is a central tool of the Logical Thinking Process, and an addition to the original logic tools called “Thinking Processes” from the Theory of Constraints.

The very top of the tree holds the Goal, the purpose or the vision. A unique box holds the concise “mission statement”, or the “why” this system exists. On the next level, three to maximum five Critical Success Factors (CSF) are top objectives that are mandatory to achieve in order to achieve the Goal.

Critical Success Factors can be understood as the ultimate milestones before achieving the Goal, and the Goal is the unique finish line.

Under each Critical Success Factor a variable number of Necessary Conditions (NCs) are found. As for the Goal with Critical Success Factors, Necessary Conditions are prerequisites that must be fulfilled in order to achieve the Critical Success Factors. Necessary Conditions may then flourish down into the details. Each Necessary Condition is an intermediate objective to achieve in order to enable achieving the objective above, and so on.

>In a hurry? Quick video introduction to the Goal Tree

A Goal Tree is built on “necessity logic”, linking the prerequisites up to the Goal. The Necessity-based relationship reads “in order to have/achieve…(upper objective) we must have/achieve…(lower condition)”.

Experience soon tells that Critical Success Factors (CSF) must be limited to five maximum (recommended). One good reason for this is for top management to keep overview with a concise and limited dashboard made of a limied set of really (emphasize really) Critical Factors. If achieving the Goal is dependant upon a large number of CSFs, the goal might not be well stated and the venture likely to fail.

The second reason is that it’s easy to mismatch a Necessary Condition with a CSF. Therefore, keeping the number of CSF very limited forces the tree builders to check carefully every box.

Further explanations about building a Goal Tree can be found in William Dettmer’s publications.

Once built, the Goal Tree has a triple function:

  1. A Logical Future State Map: as the Goal can only be achieved when all Necessary Conditions are fulfilled, and these obviously aren’t met by the time the Tree is built, the Goal Tree is a glimpse of the future state.
  2. A benchmark and an actual situation Map: a Goal Tree is a benchmark against which to assess the system’s current condition. When gaps between actual and future state are marked on the Tree, the Goal Tree turns into a snapshot of the current situation.
  3. A Road Map: With gaps identified and a clear view of what to achieve in order to achieve the Goal, in what order, the Goal Tree becomes a road map.

Let’s explore the above points 2 and 3 somewhat more in detail. While depicting the Future State is the prime usage of the Goal Tree, depicting on the same Tree the actual situation is a personal interpretation, probably shared with many of those exposed to the Goal Tree.

Once the Tree completed, it is meaningful to color each box with the 3 Green / Amber / Red colors, according the completion and mastery of the box content.

Example: if one Necessary Condition states “we must keep our Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) over 80%” and the actual performance is only 65% at best, the box should be colored Red. If OEE is in the 75-80% range, the box may turn Amber. Once steadily over 80%, it turns Green.

How green is your Goal Tree? How far are you from achieving your goal?

This color code is immediately understandable and makes the Goal Tree fit for visual management.

The “rule of colors” states that an upper box takes the color of the worst case of Necessary Conditions underneath. If one NC is Amber, the upper level is Amber, if one NC is Red, the upper level turns Red.

The color code makes the Goal Tree a road map as Amber and Red boxes are to be turned Green in order to achieve the Goal. This is a way to focus the efforts and limited resources to the spots to improve mandatorily, consistently with Theory of Constraints precepts.

Over time, the colors on the Goal Tree should be changed according to improvements and issues solving. The Goal Tree starts with autumnal colors and goes green over time.

One practical hint: keep the original colored Goal Tree as it is as a reference and use a copy to display the change in color.  In this way, displaying the original and actual trees next to each others, the changes are made visible.

The Goal Trees used in such a matter find their places in the Obeya or Operations Room.

>Read also Goal Tree as vehicle for change management

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6 thoughts on “What is a Goal Tree?

  1. Hello. First I want to congratulate you for another excellent article.
    Just a curiosity: with the color system you mentioned in the text above, if a higher-level entity inherits the color from the worst of it’s lower level, then the NC1.2 (from the image) should not be green instead of amber?


  2. Pingback: 3 Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself - FinerMinds

  3. Pingback: 3 Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself – crazyhippo

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