Reader question: Goal Tree vs. Current Reality Tree

Here is a reader’s question: I have difficulty seeing the difference between the Goal Tree and the  Current Reality Tree (CRT). With these two trees we assess the process. What are the main differences between the two?

The Goal Tree and Current Reality Tree (CRT) have nothing in common. They are not even meant to care about processes but about the system as a whole. Neither the Goal Tree nor the CRT are process maps.

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A Goal Tree lists all Necessary Conditions to achieve a Goal, which is not yet achieved, so it is about the future.

The CRT describes why the Goal is not yet achieved in the current state. It starts with identified Undesirable Effects (undesirable for the system as a whole) and drills down to the few critical root causes.

A Goal Tree is built from top-to-bottom with necessity logic while the Current Reality Tree (CRT) is built from top-to-bottom using sufficiency logic. This building top-to-bottom is maybe the sole commonality between the two.

The name Current Reality Tree is somewhat misleading because the CRT is limited to the description of the negative outcomes. It does not describe all the Current Reality. This is saving a lot of unnecessary analysis as well as a warning to not mess with what is currently producing Desired Effects!

What could have caused some confusion to my reader is the fact that a Goal Tree is a benchmark against which to measure the gaps in current reality.

When doing this I use a 3-color code to indicate each Necessary Conditions status. I assess the current condition of the system with the Goal Tree as benchmark. The first autumnal-colored tree should be kept as is as a snapshot of the situation at the beginning. Distinct trees are used later to monitor the progress of ‘greening’ the tree, i.e. closing the gaps to achieve the Goal.

I hope this helps to understand the differences between a Goal Tree and a Current Reality Tree.

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Scrutinizing and improving a Current Reality Tree (video tutorial)

In this video, I scrutinize and suggest improvements on a Current Reality Tree (CRT) found on the Internet. A logically sound CRT is key to convince audience about the robustness of the analysis and the reality of the causes to the trouble. If there is room for doubt or the logical has flaws, chances are that the audience will not buy-in, especially those having some “skin in the game”…


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Beware of the Logical Thinking Process apparent simplicity

It happens often with methods and tools that look simple: people giving it a try think they master the subject when in reality they more or less failed with their trial. It is not different with the Logical Thinking Process.

The Current Reality Tree is maybe one of the logic trees the most attractive to rookies. The classic Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes as well as Bill Dettmer’s Logical Thinking Process propose a structured and step-by-step approach to go from gathering “undesirable effects” or UDEs to revealing the root causes via a Current Reality Tree (CRT).

Even so the two approaches have slight differences, they follow the same construction and analysis pattern and both the stress the need to build the CRT with the mandatory logical soundness. Therefore there are rules to follow as well as a check process called the Categories of Legitimate Reservations (CLR).

Alas, what most people recall is that the Current Reality Tree is built by connecting UDEs with cause-and-effect sufficiency logic relations using a simple if…then… verbalization. Then, look at the bottom of the tree and somewhere there lies the mother cause of all evil. Kill this root cause and the whole tree of negative consequences will collapse. Tada, job done.

The apparent simplicity of building a CRT and some overconfidence, mixed with the laziness to go through thorough checking ends up with disappointing trees which are not logically robust.

Besides the risk of failing to find the right causes to problems and consequently proposing inappropriate solutions, the analysts may be taken by surprise by someone listening to their brilliant demonstration and pointing out flaws of logic. Embarrassing.

This can be devastating, because even if the analysis is ultimately leading to the real core problems, the doubts raised during a flawed presentation may end up in disbelief or rejection of the conclusions.

As Bill Dettmer warns in his personal style at the end of his 6-day intensive Logical Thinking Process Training Course, “You are now armed and dangerous”. In essence he gave the participants potent weapons, but their lack of practice may lead them to shoot themselves in the leg.

Well, considering my own scars, I can only agree.


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What advice to people wanting to experience the Logical Thinking Process Training Course?

Paris June 28th, 2017. The 6-day Logical Thinking Process Training Course with Bill Dettmer is just over. We asked the participants not in a hurry to rush to an airport or train station if they would share their thoughts about the course in front of a camcorder?

Cédric, Sverre and Leo were so kind. Bill asked them about their favorite takeaways and advices for people willing to take the course.

As a veteran with 5 attendances (being part of the organizing party) I delivered my testimony long ago, however, I reflected on what I would say now.

My favorite part of the course changed over the sessions, which is understandable with all that repeat. Now my favorite part is working hands-on on trees, cross presenting them and have them scrutinized. That’s the closest we can get in a room session while working on somebody’s real-world case.

This brings me to my advice: come prepared (read the pre-course reading material) and have a real-world problem to work on. The best is a problem with which the participant has enough inside knowledge and enough influence – if not power – to make change happen.

What happens during the course?

This last June 2017 session was in my opinion a good one because the cases were mostly about founding a new business, spinning-off from actual one, or trying to reinvigorate an existing fading one.

With entrepreneur spirit and most of the options open, the Goal Tree was piece of cake. Well it seemed to be piece of cake. Once in front of a large empty sheet of brown paper and a demanding mentor in the back, the candidate entrepreneurs had to turn their brilliant idea in a compelling and robust Goal Tree.

The Current Reality Tree (CRT) brought most of them back into their unsatisfactory actual state, but at least with clear understanding of what causes the Undesirable Effects (UDEs). Conflicting objectives or decisions were uncovered and creativity called in to dissolve the conflicts.

Logical Thinking Process / Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes aware readers recognize the Evaporating Cloud (EC) to do that.

On the group went, injecting solutions into their current reality in order to turn the UDEs into Desirable Effects (DEs). This was done thanks to the Future Reality Tree (FRT), a kind of logical (and virtual) proof of concept to test the solutions.

Bill instructed the group to look for possible Negative Branches that may grow out of a seemingly brilliant idea and end up in a new and unexpected UDE. When such a branch is spotted, the trainee can be happy to have tested the solution on paper before messing up in real world! Luckily there are ways to trim such unwanted negative branches and it’s part of the training.

The final exercise is to list the possible obstacles to implementation and overcome them with a Prerequisite Tree.

Five trees per attendant gives a lot to review and scrutinize! And just as many learning opportunities!

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Goal Tree Chronicles: can I have more than one goal?

I started publishing on the Internet in 1998 with the available means at that time. My undertaking had several purposes and expected benefits, but it was all intuition and nothing thoroughly planned.

Years after, knowing the Goal Tree and being fan of the Logical Thinking Process, reflecting about my author debut, I wondered if a Goal Tree can have more than one goal.

Choosing the easiest way I asked my mentor and friend Bill Dettmer instead of giving it a personal thought.

His response, wise as usual, was: “Multi-tasking doesn’t work. It dilutes focus and effort (../..) If you have what appear to be multiple goals, what you more likely have are Critical Success Factors to a higher, as-yet-undefined single goal. If you find such a situation, pose the question, “What higher level SINGLE outcome are all these multiples there to achieve?” That inevitably gets people thinking of one goal.”

I found myself a bit stupid. Would I have invested some minutes, I could have come to this obvious conclusion myself.

Yet I got a bonus. Bill continued his explanation with a Tour de France (our famous bicycle race) metaphor: “I liken the goal to the finish line of a race. There are never multiple finish lines.”

Full stop.

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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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