Bending the Current Reality Tree

The Current Reality Tree (CRT) is one of the Theory of Constraints (ToC) Thinking Processes (TP) tools. A CRT is built on Undesirable Effects (UDEs) linked by logical cause-effect-cause relationship called “sufficiency”. Sufficiency logic relationship is in the form of “if A is true then B is true”, or “if A exists, then B exists”.

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A CRT describes the reality, lists the issues that hinders the system / organization to have better throughput.

Building a CRT in the orthodoxical way follows strict rules and good practices. Among the good practices is the one that recommends the CRT has to be built with all stakeholders and then checked for “legitimate reservation”.

I used the CRT in an unorthodox way once during an assignment, thus this post title “bending the Current Reality Tree”.

It was during a quite strange and difficult assignment in which we couldn’t get the organisation chart nor key figures but had to find out the causes of all troubles and recommend solutions nevertheless. The CEO was against the consultants, but the COO could made him agree to let us make a pre-diagnosis.

Puzzled about how to go on, I had an intuition during the managers’ interviews: write down all UDEs they would mention and try to build a CRT afterwards.

The interviews were one manager a time and we had no opportunity to have a CRT building workshop with all of them.

I collected 347 UDEs of all kind and started to sort them out in relevant categories. This sorting led to 23 categories holding all the UDEs.

Then, instead of trying to combine all the UDEs in a single tree, I built trees according to how UDEs formed links between themselves and ended up with 6 trees on following topics:

  1. Management
  2. Information Technologies
  3. Marketing
  4. R&D
  5. Overall performance
  6. Misc.

These trees helped me and my team to structure the results of the interviews and analysis. CRTs are great tools to describe the current situation as they “tell the story”.

We used the posters with the trees to debrief top management. These posters were no artwork, not very nice made: the paper sheet was the paperboard’s or brown paper and each UDE was a strip of paper printed out from my Excel file I used to order the UDEs. Nevertheless, their value was in the content, not the design.

The posters were pinned on the wall and the audience could freely walk around to read the content. People were glad to see their verbatim captured and taken into account, in an anonymous way, ordered and displayed in a logical arrangement they could understand and agree.

Summing-up

The deviations vs. CRT building:

  • no preparatory boundaries check e.g. what is in the scope, what influence a manager have on the UDEs..
  • building the tree alone after UDEs’ collecting, not in group with stakeholders, thus the trees reflected only the consultant’s point of view and understanding
  • no validity check via Categories of Legitimate Reservation
  • no cross reading except with my colleagues
  • did not use round corner boxes

What was complying to the CRT building methodology:

  • UDE clarity check. I sometimes rephrased the original stance to disambiguate or for the sake of clarity. Clarity was also checked with my colleagues
  • Sufficiency logic check, UDEs were only linked if the sufficiency condition was met

This somewhat unorthodox use of the CRT helped us to better understand the causes of the overall situation and to feed it back to the company’s management. Our audience had no problem with the deviation as they did not know about CRTs anyway.

The assignment did not get further than this pre-diagnosis. Our trees were left at client’s, up to managers to reuse them. If the assignment would have continued and led to an improvement project, it is probable that the trees would have been used as CRTs to work out Future Reality Trees, this time in a more conventional way; in workgroups.

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