Goal Tree: Why must top management define the Critical Success Factors?

Top managers discovering the Goal Tree frequently ask what input they must give and how “deep” they should commit themselves, where is the point of handover to lower ranking managers?

In this article I remind some basics about the Goal Tree as well as the necessity for top management to define the Critical Success Factors.

Some Goal Tree basics

It is the owner’s prerogative to define the Goal of the organization they purposely created. The organization’s top management takes over by delegation and has to lead it toward the achievement of this Goal.

Yet many ways may lead to the Goal but all of them are not desirable and some of them are not consistent with the organization’s values, adrift from the core business or core competences. Therefore, in my opinion top management must define/recall the organization’s’ Goal as well as the few Critical Success Factors, which make the very top of the Goal Tree.

A quick reminder about Critical Success Factors

Critical Success Factors are the few very important objectives that have to be achieved just before achieving the goal.

The Goal Tree is built upon  necessity logic. To read more about necessity logic click here.

Critical Success Factors should be expressed in measurable units in order to serve as the high level objectives and KPIs altogether.

These targets must be set in accordance with the Goal and as long as these targets are not achieved, the Goal cannot be achieved.

Critical Success Factors are therefore top management’s dashboard, the few KPIs to watch in order to see if the organization is getting closer to its Goal or drifting away from it.

Direction, values and culture

Critical Success Factors are also giving direction because for achieving them it is necessary to roll out specific actions and ensure specific Necessary Conditions are sustainably fulfilled.

Setting the Critical Success Factors will constrain the lower structure of the Goal Tree, which is a network of nested Necessary Conditions. Thus giving clear directions on what to work on in order to achieve the Critical Success Factors and ultimately the Goal.

Conversely, not setting the Critical Success Factors would let all options open including those hurting the core values or taking the organization away from its core competences and what makes a corporate culture.

Furthermore, letting lower rankings set the Critical Success Factors would be equivalent to let the tool choose its work.

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Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

This is probably the greatest frustration for Logical Thinking Process (LTP) fans: why don’t more people get interested in? Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

Please understand “sell” with the quotation marks, I mean promote, advertise, grow the community, attract participants to seminars and courses altogether.

This post is a reflection of mine and an invitation to other LTP savvy and practitioners to share (please use comments) their analysis and thoughts.

The first reason is the weird sounding proposal to learn how to think. I got this reply of course.

Most people are convinced they are able to thinking in a logical way and don’t see the point learning anything about it. Those knowledgeable about the Logical Thinking Process changed their minds acknowledging they believed they were thinking logically until they went through the humbling experience of the LTP.

Make a clear statement that is both rationally sound and without any ambiguity is one example of the “thinking qualities” so many believe to master naturally but don’t.

Guiding an audience through a chain of causes-and-effects with rock-solid logic and in a crystal clear way is another “gift” commonly thought innate.

From what I’ve seen, everybody going through a Logical Thinking Process training course gets a lesson, regardless of how brilliant a speaker the person already was.

The second reason is maybe the jargon. Theory of Constraints (ToC) is full of jargon, metaphors and poetic names that do not help getting into it without a true motivation.

Other business philosophies and methodologies have their own lingo. Lean for instance “requires” to accept Japanese words without being a serious obstacle for its spreading.

The difference I see between Lean’s Japanese words and ToC jargon is that Japanese words are accepted because most people understand them through their translation / transliteration only. To them, those words have no other meanings that can be misleading.

In the Logical Thinking Process, “Evaporating Cloud” most people (with sufficient command in English of course) try to understand the literal sense in the context but can’t.

The Evaporating Cloud makes sense once the metaphor is decoded. It would have been so much easier to call it a Conflict Resolution Diagram (a proposed and sometimes used alternate name), which it really is, first hand.

Explanation about the sticking to the Evaporating Cloud can be read in Lisa Scheinkopf’s book “Thinking for a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use

Besides poetry and metaphors, acronyms are just as numerous. Take “POOGI” that stands for Process Of OnGoing Improvement in ToC’s lingo. The already popular “Continuous Improvement” was obviously not good enough and led to craft a weird-sounding new acronym, requiring more explanations and learning.

Even some ToC and/or Logical Thinking Process aficionados don’t like all the jargon, it is now the language of the ToC community and its mastery the price to pay for any new comer.

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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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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.


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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Samples from LTP training with Bill Dettmer (Day 1)

Paris, June 2016. Bill Dettmer delivers his 6-day Logical Thinking Process training course in our offices. I am attending on the host’s and partner’s side, going through the whole course for the second time (I got my certificate the previous year) as a backup facilitator-if-needed, a master of ceremony, reporter and videographer.

While Bill is sharing his knowledge and experience, I videotape with his consent in order to promote the course and show you samples of what happens during the 6 days.

The following video shows samples of the morning of the first day, once introductions have been made, backgrounds, expectations and motivations of attendants shared.

I am sorry for the poor image quality due to low light, but this is a tradeoff between sharing the experience with the viewers and bothering the course attendants who paid for their seat.

The first morning is spent on some basic theory about the logical relationships, the structure of the different logical trees and how to build them. It paves the way for the afternoon’s exercise in which each participant builds his/her own Goal Tree, then, in turns, presents it to others and have it scrutinized by the others, under Bill’s supervision and coaching.

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Where I could have used a Goal Tree but didn’t know about the tool then

During the June 2016 Logical Thinking Process alumni reunion, Bill Dettmer asked the participants to share their “War Stories”, i.e. experience with the Logical Thinking Process (LTP) and LTP tools.
I came up with several short stories. In this excerpt, I recall I could have used a Goal Tree but didn’t know the tool at that time.

The story I tell is the one that inspired my post Goal tree chronicles – The pharma plant.

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Bill Dettmer and David Poveda share views about planning

David Poveda is a Colombia-based consultant, Owner and  Director of FLOWING Consultoria. David is well-known for his successful implementations of Theory of Constraints (ToC) and Lean-based solutions, and his expertise about Demand Driven MRP (DDMRP).

Just before the Logical Thinking Process training in Paris, in June 2016, he paid a visit to Marris Consulting and met Bill Dettmer. Both agreed to share thought about various subjects and in front of recording camcorder.

In this 10 minute video, David shares his views about planning techniques and somewhat surprisingly links ToC’s Thinking Processes to planning, especially Bill Dettmer’s Goal Tree .

According to David, the Thinking Processes should be called “the real planning processes“, because they are a complete planning and execution methodology. Bill is somewhat taken by surprise and explains the origins of his Logical Thinking Process (LTP) being in complex problem solving, but realizing with David’s inputs that changing what is done requires competent planning.

David goes on and explains that a Goal Tree is a planning tool for smaller projects as well, and many of David’s clients agree about not knowing how to plan. Therefore the LTP should be taught more widely.

Limits of Logical Thinking Process

In this excerpt of day one from the 6-day Logical Thinking Process training course, Bill Dettmer explains that the very front end, the two first tools (Goal Tree and Current Reality Tree) are deterministic, based on facts. The other steps and tools are about future, which can only be based on probabilities.

At the end of this short video, Bill gives his definition of the Logical Thinking Process.

Logical Thinking Process training June 2016 opening speech

Paris, June 2016, day 1 of the Logical Thinking Process training course hosted by Marris Consulting, Philip Marris welcomes the participants with a speech.

Philip’s speech is a mix of teasing and testimony as well as an analysis of the growing relevance of Theory of Constraints (ToC). Philip also explains how the Logical Thinking Process tools help focusing, the core idea of ToC. Finally he shares his thoughts about why the participants are in the room that day: it takes a peculiar mindset to go the Logical Thinking Process way, people do not attend this course by chance.

After more than 16 minutes, Bill Dettmer finally can welcome the participants too.

I was fortunate to attend on the host side to facilitate the 6-day course, also taking care about video and photos of the venue. If you want to see how the 6 days unfolded in fastforward (2 mn), >click here<

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