The Current Reality Tree (CRT) is one of the Thinking Processes logical tools. As the name tells, it depicts the current reality* in a series of dependent logical cause-and-effect relationships, starting from Undesirable Effects down to one or a few critical root causes.
A root cause may also be called “core problem” or “core driver” in the original concept.
*Current Reality is somewhat misleading as it is focused onto the negative outcomes and what prevents achieving the Goal. This shortcut is a pragmatic choice made for the sake of solving the problem and improve the situation, not to fully map the as-is situation. In other words, we don’t care about what actually works. Besides, the Current Reality depicted in a CRT is a snapshot at a given moment.
Undesirable Effects (UDEs) are often called “problems” that people perceive, suffer from or have to cope with, but UDEs are most often only symptoms of deeper laying problems. The CRT is a tool that helps to surface and address the critical root cause(s).
As for many elaborated problem solving methods and tools, building a CRT is not required for every problem. It was specifically designed to solve complex, multi-factor and system-wide problems.
Reading a CRT
It takes some experience to build a robust Current Reality Tree, which should not be done by a single person for the sake of robustness, and the best is to get used to read them first.
A CRT is conceptually supposed to have more or less a V shape with the topmost and numerous UDEs on the top, other UDEs that are causes from topmost UDEs and their own causes, and so on down to the few critical root causes, usually located (near or) on the base of the CRT.
While convenient for explaining the theory, the actual shape of a CRT is seldom looking like a nice V!
Once a tree is completed, it can be read either top-down or bottom-up. The construction is always top-down, from symptoms to causes to critical root causes.
A CRT is made of entities which are round-cornered boxes holding a brief description of a fact in present tense. Entities are either causes or consequences and most of them are both.
Entities which are linked have an arrow between them. The base of the arrow reads “if…” and the tip reads “then…”.
When reading a CRT top-down, the succession of linked entities reads “entity B exists (tip of arrow points to it) because of entity A (arrow starts from it)”.
When two or more arrows point to an entity, the entities at the base of the arrows are possible causes. The different arrows are logical “inclusive OR” relationships.
When the arrows are encircled by an ellipse, it means logical “AND” relationship: all the causes must exist simultaneously for the effect to exist.
Theory of Constraints is about focusing and leveraging, so does the CRT. The purpose of a CRT is to search for the root cause and while eliminating it, the whole tree of dependent UDEs disappears.
The investment of analyzing the situation with a CRT is really worth it, compared to the useless and wasted efforts trying to solve all the UDEs. Concentrating efforts on the sole critical root causes is much more efficient.
Here is one half fictitious example of a CRT inspired by a company I’ve worked with.
There is no obvious V shape and one barely recognizable node where the unique cause of all evil resides, a core problem. It is entity 180 stating “Our offering is only commodity” that is common to the 3 branches of the tree. Offering only “commodity” is probably a critical root cause. Indeed, in this case, all UDEs can be linked to the fact that over time, this company let its leadership slip away and now is facing tough competition only with commonplace products.
Red arrows are so-called Negative Reinforcing Loops. They negatively amplify, reinforce, an effect.
As margins plummet, means for new developments are scarce and the fear of competition leads the company to follow the leader, reinforcing its commonplace products offers.
Besides, having no clear company strategy, managers define themselves objectives without any alignment, which leads to many wastes in operations (Negative Reinforcing loop).
If the company manages to get out of commonplace products and regain leadership, all the UDEs should disappear.
Please consider this post only as a brief introduction to Current Reality Tree. It takes some know-how and experience to be able to build a sound and robust CRT.
- Scrutinizing and improving a Current Reality Tree (video tutorial)
- Thermodynamics of Eternity or Current Reality Tree in Hell, a video with Bill Dettmer
- Dettmer, H. W., (2007) The Logical Thinking Process, A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving”. ASQC Quality Press
- Scheinkopf, L., (1999) Thinking for a change: putting the TOC thinking processes to use. St Lucie Press/APICS
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