Why the Goal Tree is more and more relevant

Command and control management style, based on standardized work and centralized decision-making, becomes increasingly irrelevant as more and more business environments become highly variable and the number and pace of decisions to make soar.

What is required is autonomy and accountability as well as alignment on a well understood Goal. The Goal Tree is an elegant solution for understanding what is to be done as well as the underlying rationale, for communicating it and assessing the progress.

This post assumes readers are familiar with the Goal Tree, if not they may get into it through my articles on this subject.

The limits of command and control management

In a hierarchical organization there are mainly two practical limits to command and control management :

  1. The number of people who can be reasonably be supervised,
  2. The speed of decision-making when information has to travel up and down the management structure.

The more standardized and stable the work, the easier it is to supervise a larger number of people with tight control.

As soon as work can barely be standardized to the details and/or is highly variable, supervision has to give up tightness of control.

When reactivity is required, decision-making has to come closer to the interface where decisions are to be made, otherwise the process would respond way too slowly waiting for the information to travel back and forth.

That’s why tight command and control can still be found in mass manufacturing but would not work (at least the same way) for customer service or front office. There, more than just plain execution of tasks in standardized processes are awaited. Employee engagement is necessary to satisfy the customers, especially when some situations require to “walk the extra mile”.

There is a third limit to command and control management which is social acceptance. In developed countries with highly educated employees there is a strong expectation for empowerment and autonomy. People want to find a good balance between their own satisfaction and the effort they put to create value for their organization.

With lesser (mass) manufacturing and more services and knowledge work, which implies lesser standard work in the classic sense and more need for quick and numerous decision-making, command-and-control management is increasingly inappropriate.

Autonomy and accountability

Granting more autonomy is mandatory to cope with both the actual business challenges and social aspirations. Yet autonomy without guidance and a minimum of control may well lead to something totally different from the expected outcome, or even to chaos.

As control in the former way of command-and-control is no more appropriate, the best way is delegate the responsibility to the doers and let them take accountability. Formal control is then lighter, people are empowered but have to take the responsibility as well as the autonomy.

Accountability for results is the essential counterweight to autonomy. But instead of having constant control, someone frequently “looking over the shoulder”, there are periodic milestones checks, short meetings, KPIs and dashboards to monitor the performance and progress towards the objectives.

Sense of purpose

Autonomy, accountability, empowerment are not enough by themselves to engage employees. They have to understand the purpose of their work and endorse it. They have to understand the link between what is to be done and the higher objectives.

Having a lot of freedom of action but not understanding clearly “what for” will not bring satisfaction as it lacks the sense of purpose. In this breaks down for the intermediate objectives to be met and the string of actions: what for?

The Goal Tree for guidance

The Goal Tree is the tool that shows the Goal to be achieved as well as the whole rationale linking the Necessary Conditions (intermediate objectives that must be satisfied) to the achievement of the Goal.

As such it is a roadmap and a great communication tool. It is easy to read and understand, can be left on its own for people to read or can be presented.

The Goal Tree provides guidance. The links between Necessary Conditions and their goals, which are Necessary Conditions to other goals higher in the Tree, are all based on necessity logic. This reads “in order to have A, we must have/need B”. It is easy to understand, to follow and to convince oneself about the logical soundness of the whole.

In the daily autonomous work, when in doubt about an action to take or decision to make, it is convenient to turn to the Goal Tree and check if the action of decision is aligned with the Goal to achieve or is it contributing to achieve some Necessary Condition ? If the answers are positive, go for it, otherwise don’t waste time and resources on something not contributing.

A Goal Tree is scalable

But what is also great with the Goal Tree is that is scalable. A Goal Tree is most probably a Tree made of nested Goal Trees. One Necessary Condition to the global Tree is someone’s or some department’s Goal. Therefore the underlying Necessary Conditions constitute a lower ranking Goal Tree, and so forth.

Goal Tree

Goal Trees are likely to go viral as their “beauty” and easy of use convince more stakeholders to start their own one to get clarity on their purpose and set of actions to undertake.

Ironically, I “infected” half a pharmaceutical plant with Goal Trees simply starting to use it for carefully planning a small local project. As the people to whom it was presented liked the Tree and immediately caught its potential, they started asking me to support them building their own or even gave it a try without telling anyone until it was ready to be presented.

Why the Goal Tree is more and more relevant

The Goal Tree enables the organization to grant more autonomy to the stakeholders while providing guidance and monitoring. It satisfies or supports most of the requirements for being responsive to customers, quick in new developments, clear about the objectives and so on.

It is a very good supporting tool for any business in which command-and-control management style is irrelevant, and those are expanding. I do believe the Goal Tree is more and more relevant.

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Problem solving: what was the last change?

This post could be a sequel of “Yeah, problem solving” in which I used Peter Senge’s quote: “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions”.

Quite often people we consultants meet are puzzled by a problem they can’t understand:

  • a reliable process or machine suddenly seems out of control,
  • steady performance dropped unexpectedly and with no apparent reason,
  • sudden quality issues with trusted supplies,
  • etc.

Our experience lead us to investigate the last change made, precisely because of the “wisdom” of Peter Senge’s quote: chances are that a modification (fixing a problem) led to unexpected Undesirable Effects and causing new a problem to appear.

Of course, the modification to look for is seldom the worried person’s ones, which he/she would most probably remember and perceive the possible cause-to-effect relationship.

No, the modification more likely happened outside the span of control and without the knowledge of the impacted people.

A modification leading to a problem in a lengthy process can happen far away (both in process steps and location) from the point the problem appears, letting the people perplexed about this reliable process now out of control.

Purchasing and procurement choices are unfortunately often the unintentional culprits, buying a slightly different grade of material, changing a supplier or accepting a low quality batch with the best intentions: cut costs or ensure timely deliveries.

When facing a puzzling problem the investigation should follow “the last modification path”.

This isn’t always easy though. The Undesirable Effects brought up by the change may be minimized or even neutralized for a while, long enough for everybody to forget about the nature of the change, when it happened and its consequences then.

That’s precisely why some industries with strong safety and regulatory constraints like aeronautics or pharmaceutical have to be cautious about any modification (needs approval after thorough risk assessment) and capture every information about virtually anything (dates, manufacturing conditions, persons in charge, certificates…), in case an investigation must find the root causes of a deviation (or worse), long time after the triggering action occurred.

When the problem cannot longer be neutralized by the former forgotten fix, it looks like a new problem.

Searching for the last change is often a good guess, yet not always leading to the root cause. Keep in mind that some modification correlate nicely with the apparition of the problem, but correlation isn’t causation.

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Yeah, problem solving

Most people love to solve problems and feel the satisfaction of getting rid of some nasty tricky problem. It’s an outdated but still lasting belief that management is about problem solving. Problem solving turned in some cases into the managers’ and engineers’ holly mission and in some minds, the more problems the manager/engineer solves, the better manager/engineer he/she is. This kind of problem solving can be addictive, hence the Arsonist Fireman Syndrome.

On the other hand, thanks to Lean Management, enlightened managers understand it is crucial to refrain from solving problems and develop their subordinates’ ability to solve problems themselves instead.

Note that all the above is about problem solving, not problem avoidance or problem prevention. And if today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions, as stated in Peter Senge’s “The 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline”, in a world requiring increasingly fast decisions (read solutions), we’ll never run out of new problems to solve.

So what’s wrong with problem solving?

There are at least 2 major issues with actual problem solving practices.

1. Quick fixes

Solutions to problems are most often quick fixes made of the first “best” idea that popped up. Problem solving is not very often a robust and standardized process, systematically rolled out. In fact formal problem solving processes seldom exist even if everybody is claiming solving problems.

If known, simple structured approaches like PDCA are disregarded and ignored, pretending the situation requires quick reaction and not “unnecessary paperwork!”

Often, the problem seem to be fixed, giving credit to the firefighters and reinforcing their belief in their “way” of handling.

It is not really surprising that the same problem keeps showing up as the fixes did not eradicate the problem’s root cause, and the problem itself was never really studied, hence understood.

2. No risk assessment / risk mitigation

If formal and structured processes to tackle problems are seldom, the solutions’ risk assessment is even more seldom. And if the rush to quick fixes leaves no time for properly analyzing the possible problem root causes, no need to mention non-existing attempts to figure out the possible risks these quick fixes bring with them.

Chances are that the ill-prepared and hastily put in place solutions generate unexpected Undesirable Effects. What may fix one problem may well cause one or several others to appear.

That’s how quick and dirty troubleshooting usually come at the expense of later longer efforts to cope with a situation that possibly grew worse, and how Peter Senge’s quote: “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” makes the most sense.

What solutions?

  • Choose yourself a structured problem solving approach, there are several available. Try it and if proven suitable for your purpose make it your standard way of approaching a problem.
  • Make sure the implemented solutions will really kill the problem by measuring on a long time horizon if the trouble has disappeared for good. The Quality Operating System is perfect for that.
  • Explore the Logical Thinking Process, the sole complex problem solving methodology I know which includes a systematic “Negative Branch” check to avoid or mitigate Undesirable Effects as by-products of the implemented solution.

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Cobots: more cooperation than collaboration

Cobot is the contraction of “collaborative” and “robot”, name and concept of a new kind of robots able to work literally hand-in-hand with humans without a safety fence between them.

fraunhoferCobots are hype and the word tends to become generic for any kind of robot working in close proximity of humans. A study from the German FRAUNHOFER – INSTITUT für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO (2016) about first experiences with lightweight robots in manual assembly* distinguishes cooperation from collaboration.

*“Leichtbauroboter in der manuellen Montage – einfach einfach anfangen. Erste Erfahrungen von Anwenderunternehmen

This post is in great part my translation of the original study, with my personal comments.

>Lisez-moi en français

The study summarized different combinaisons in the use of robots near and with human operators, leading the authors to propose 5 classes:

  1. Robotic cell in which a robot operates on its own, fenced-off from humans by a safety fence. In such a case there is no human-robot collaboration.
  2. Coexistence of robot and human, a case in which both are close to each other but without a safety fence, yet have no common workspace. The robot has its own dedicated space distinct from the human one.
  3. Synchronized work: an organization in which human and robot share a common workspace but only one being active at a time. The work sequence is like a choreography between human and robot.
  4. Cooperation: the two “partners” work on their own tasks and can share a common space but not on the same product nor same part.
  5. Collaboration: an organization with common and simultaneous work on the same product or part. Typically the robot handles, presents and holds a part while the operator works on it.

Based on this classification, the studies reveals that collaboration is still seldom. Workers and robots work side by side on their own dedicated tasks, letting me conclude that for the time being, “cobots” are more cooperative than collaborative.

Motivation for investing in this kind of more expensive robots is mainly productivity improvement and secondary objectives are improvement of ergonomics (avoid heavy lifting for example) and testing innovative technologies.

The choice of this kind of solutions requires also new planning and management tools as well as consulting. New standards and regulations are in preparation that must be managed by companies themselves, not the system provider. All this carries additional costs.

Companies with no or only limited experience with these kinds of robots remain hesitant, therefore the authors of the study recommend to implement step wise, starting simple and going from human-robot coexistence to collaboration.

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Why would I learn to think (logically)?

Most people are convinced of their ability to think logically and don’t see the point of getting a specific training like the Logical Thinking Process  training course.

Indeed, in some extend most of the people have an innate basic logical thinking way, otherwise our world would be pretty weird.

Yet it is also true that many people are unable to structure properly their thoughts and express their ideas with clarity and in a straightforward brilliant logical way. Even so it makes sense in their mind, what they try to share doesn’t always make sense to others.

How many times did you listen to someone and ask (yourself) “so what?” once the speech is over.

The importance of clarity

The first important thing to achieve is to express ideas with clarity. Clarity means that the idea, purpose, objective or goal is expressed in an unambiguous way, letting no room for misunderstanding or interpretation.

Clarity is always important. As an employee to be correctly understood by managers and colleagues and as a leader to be correctly understood by the team members or subordinates.

Imagine the consequences of an ill-stated objective. Stakeholders may misunderstand it and do something unexpected but aligned onto the objective they understood. Such kind of situation can be costly in terms of motivation – the stakeholders are feeling bad about their misunderstanding, resenting their leader for his/her poor objective statement and disappointed for all the energy they put into some action, for nothing – and in terms of resources and time wasted.

Ambiguous or ill-stated objectives are also welcome for some people to smartly escape some chores or refrain to commit to something they don’t agree, don’t want or don’t like. Room for interpretation is also room for later arguing. Something not desirable when some objectives are non negotiable.

Conversely, the inability to clearly explain what has been achieved, why and how it contributes to achieving some objective may make a team member look as a poor performer even so his/her contribution was significant.

It is frustrating to be a brilliant contributor to some project but unable to explain why and how. It is also frustrating to be unable to “sell” a brilliant idea to colleagues, the boss or customers.

Sound logic

The robustness of a cause-and-effect analysis or demonstration is also important in order to convince readers or listeners about the soundness of the ideas expressed.

According to the principles of adult learning, sense and purpose must be fully understood for adults to commit to something. If the rationale of some project or actions asked is not demonstrated in a clear and sound (robust) way, it will invite opponents to fight against it, making use of all “holes”.

Some undertaking presented in a fluffy way with many unanswered questions remaining open is scary. Opponents will have it easy to reinforce the doubts and fears of the audience by pointing out the inconsistencies and “holes” in the reasoning.

Lack of confidence is very likely to turn away customers, stakeholders or decision makers from the best of proposal. Instinctive risk aversion is probably more common than innate logical thinking.

Using “long arrows”

Many people with good logical thinking abilities will mentally cut corners and use “long arrows” in their demonstration. A long arrow is a metaphor for skipping several cause-and-effect steps linking an effect to a cause or the other way round.

While the link exists, it does not appear clearly. The audience cannot understand the rational link between an effect and a cause and may lose trust or interest about the presentation, get stuck because of this logical “hole”, doubt about the reality and validity of the ideas expressed, and so on.

Long arrow example

I have to make a presentation in building n°10, 15 minutes walking from here. It rains. I need an umbrella. I must borrow one.

“Could I borrow your umbrella because I must present my report?” I ask a colleague.

My colleague may ask herself what the link is between presenting a report and her umbrella. She will probably lend me the umbrella anyway, still not understanding what for. I did not feel necessary to explain the whole sequence of cause-and-effect, perfectly clear and logical in my head but strange when expressed that way.

Now imagine asking for commitment to something very important and serious that does not make sense because of long arrows.

Mastering logical thinking is also about avoiding long arrows and being able to detect them. I guess someone trapped with long arrows would be grateful for the help by someone seeing the shortcut and helping to reformulate the idea in a more robust and clearer way.

Mitigate the risk of “negative branches”

Negative branch is another metaphor used in the Logical Thinking Process, were logical relationships are depicting in logical trees. A negative branch is an undesirable effect or chain of cause-and-effect that “grows” from an action or decision taken.

Negative branches are often growing unexpectedly because the action was decided or decision taken without checking the possibility for things to go in an unexpected and undesirable direction.

Some fixes for a problem can result in other problems to arise, sometimes worse than the initial problem that was to be fixed.

Awareness and practice of the Logical Thinking Process hones the ability to “foresee” or at least to prevent negative branches and craft better solutions.

Conclusion

Basic logical thinking is a given and it may appear strange to promote “learning to think logically”. But it is as with many other things supposed to be “common” but aren’t. Common sense for instance is not so common.

Therefore there is a lot of room to improve one’s logical thinking skills.

Once introduced to the Logical Thinking Process, there are daily opportunities to hone one’s scrutinizing abilities. Newspaper, tv news, blog posts, speeches… are not always constructed with sound logic. Fallacious reasoning is easier to debunk, as well as surfacing false assumptions or “insufficient causes” on which some thinking are built upon. Negative outcome can be sensed and hopefully prevented.

Mastering Logical Thinking helps for better analyzing situations, understanding real causes of problem, crafting better solutions and expressing oneself much better.

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