Goal Tree Chronicles – Why You should NOT use a model

A Goal Tree is a logical structure linking the Goal of the organization to all subordinate Necessary Conditions (NCs) to achieve the Goal. The top most NCs are called Critical Success Factor (CSFs) in order to highlight their importance: they are the last things to achieve in order to achieve the Goal.

These CSFs should remain few, three to five (rule of thumb), as it is not reasonable to have a Goal depending on too many CSFs. If they are too many, chances are some of them are overrated NCs and should return some level deeper into the Tree .

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Yet saying three to five and with Eli Goldratt’s first (universal?) definition of the Goal, many will think about having maximum Throughput (T), minimum Operating Expenses (OE) and minimum Investment (I) as CSFs.

Indeed, they may very likely be found somewhere in the Tree, but are they always CSFs?

Some consultants and/or Theory of Constraints practitioners suggest having a generic skeleton of a Goal Tree ready, with T, OE and I at the top and then fill the underlying NCs with the organization’s related requirements.

I do understand the idea, but do not endorse it.

Why You should NOT use a model

A generic Goal Tree could be a consultant’s tool, not an owner’s nor CEO’s.

A Goal stated in a Goal Tree should not vary much nor frequently over time. Neither should the CSFs and NCs. Bill Dettmer states that a properly built Goal Tree remains valid as long as market conditions do not change significantly and in most businesses, the disruptions do not happen very frequently.

An owner or his/her deputies may build one strategic Goal Tree in a decade. So what is it to the CEO or owner to invest a couple of hours going through the top of the Goal Tree without any preset in regards of the life span of the Goal Tree?

Somebody’s else strategic intent

Besides, starting with a so-called generic tree is starting with somebody else’s tree, thus giving up what makes the organization specific. Does an owner or CEO only want to go for a me-too strategy? If yes, buying a how-to book on Goal Tree building or reading my posts on this blog may suffice to copy-paste what others thought out.

I believe going through the whole process, from Goal Statement to the definition of CSFs and first layers of NCs is a very useful exercise for an owner, a CEO or anybody in charge of achieving the organization’s Goal.

Much have been written about the importance of a properly stated and verbalized Goal. Giving some time to do it and review it with a facilitator and scrutinizer is often a very useful exercise and a good investment.

So is the understanding of the links from Goal to underneath Necessary Conditions. Owners and CEOs or their deputies do not have to build the whole tree, but give high level input. From my point of view, CSFs and first layer of NCs define much of the organization’s soul, culture and how this will go on in future.

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Schragenheim’s concise history of constraints

The definition of a constraint in Theory of Constraints (TOC) has varied as the corpus grew and matured. Still today it is confusing for newbies to sort out what is meant with “constraint”, depending how they got their basics in TOC.

Thanks to Eli Schragenheim, one of TOC’s founding fathers, and the related post on his blog, the reader can understand how and why the definition varied over time.

I strongly recommend to read Eli’s post: A concise history of constraints

What keeps TOC confidential? (and me angry)

It is one of the frustrations for Theory of Constraints (TOC) enthusiasts: why is their beloved business philosophy so barely known?

No other, neither Lean nor Six Sigma had such a visible high-flying banner like “The Goal”, the (probably) first business novel*, sold over 6 million copies so far. If readers have been so many and as it is reported so thrilled by the content, how come only very few people know anything about TOC?

*The Goal is a business novel written by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goal_(novel)

In this video interview, Nicolas Hennion shares his views, answering Philip Marris’ questions.

The first question about the name “Theory of Constraints” was also discussed with Bill Dettmer, another TOC expert with a pragmatic point of view.

I totally share Nicolas’ frustration about TOC Body of Knowledge being overprotected and monetized.

In my case, I stopped my learning journey in the mid-1990 when Internet was still young and not that populated with available free material as nowadays, Amazon did not exist and buying books from foreign countries (remember I am a Frenchman) was expensive and complicated. I resumed studying TOC and the Thinking Processes developed in between in around 2010, buying carefully chosen second-hand books, still shockingly expensive.

I estimate I’ve lost 10 years in my TOC learning journey, being disappointed about the difficulties and costs to get to the educational material. I turned to Lean instead, and did well.

When the TOC old guard wonders why TOC is still confidential, they should rewind Nicolas’ interview and try to understand the way the younger generations operate; networking, sharing, hacking open source style.

Food for thoughts…

Related: Theory of Constraints is something great, except for its name


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You are probably wrong when identifying your bottleneck

Things moved on since Eli Goldratt’s revealed Theory of Constraints through his business novel and bestseller “the Goal”. Most of today’s processes are more complex than 30 years ago: supply chains are stretched over the globe, new products are launched more frequently and batches are changed more often, among others. Thus identifying the bottleneck or capacity constraint is more difficult and must also be redone more often.

In this video, Philip Marris shares some “lessons from the road”, real case lessons learned from more than 30 cases in the last 10 years. Surprisingly, if companies were rather good identifying their bottleneck, it turned out that now, in 80% of cases companies are wrong about where their capacity constraint is.

Main learnings are:

  • companies are often confusing where the constraint should be with where it really is
  • ERP data is not a reliable way to identify constraints
  • companies tend to have an outdated / obsolete analysis of the situation
  • new quality requirements often create new capacity constraints
  • (bad) cost cutting decisions create new bad constraints

As a conclusion, he points out that being wrong about where a company’s constraints are is good news since it implies that there are significant opportunities remaining to improve performance drastically and rapidly.

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6 questions to frame your brilliant development idea

I was fortunate to interview Eli Schragenheim, well-known expert of Theory of Constraints, during his visit in our offices in Paris, October 2015. This interview is about the 6 questions to challenge, question, test or frame any new development of technology, product or service.

These 6 questions are:

  1. What value does it bring?
  2. What current limitation does it eliminate or reduce?
  3. What do people do now, without your development?
  4. What should users do in order to draw full value of your development?
  5. What features must be included?
  6. How do you integrate?

The 6 questions originated with the book “Necessary but not sufficient”, co-authored by Eli Goldratt, Eli Schragenheim and Carol Ptak, published in 2000. The 6 questions are still really actual as startups are hype.

During this interview, I made a link with the Lean Startup movement, the Minimum Viable Product concept.

Eli Schragenheim posted a series of articles based on these s 6 questions on his own blog.

Read more about how Theory of Constraints can help Startups

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Eli Schragenheim on How can Theory of Constraints help Startups?

Startups are hype. I started asking myself how long known methodologies or management philosophies like Lean or Theory of Constraints can possibly help starting companies?

When Eli Schragenheim visited our offices in Paris, France, in October 2015, I fetched the opportunity to ask him this question: How can Theory of Constraints help Startups?

In this video, Eli shares his views.

Recorded in Paris, France, October 2015 in the offices of Marris Consulting.

>More of this series

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The origins of Logical Thinking Process

The Logical Thinking Process is the name of a book from Bill Dettmer as well as the name of a complex problem solving process inspired by Goldratt’s Thinking Processes. Over time, while teaching the original Thinking Processes, Bill realized it can also  be used for strategy deployment, not only complex problem solving. In this video interview, Bill Dettmer tells Philip Marris about the origins of the whole.

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Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris discuss various aspects of the Theory of Constraints

I was fortunate to propose parts of this discussion to Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris, in November 2014 in Paris, and to record as they discussed.

Among the topics: how the name “Theory of Constraints” generates rejection in the business community. The term “constraints management” is preferred by Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris. Philip points out problem is however overstated in the ToC community since approaches such as “Lean” and “Six Sigma” also have labelling issues.

Bill then answers the question “is the Thinking Process part of ToC?” He explains that in his point of view they are both ideas originated by Eliyahu Goldratt but that they can be viewed as separate entities.

Later in the talk, they discuss internal constraints, external constraints and policy constraints, external constraints versus constraints in Sales and Marketing. “Policy Constraints” or policy root causes are described as omnipresent.

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Theory of Constraints is something great, except for its name

Theory of Constraints (ToC) is among the three philosophies / approaches / methodologies with Lean and Six Sigma leading to tremendous success, but the only one with two frightening words out of the three of its name!

When facing tough challenge or stuck in a crisis, the last thing anyone would look for is a theory. Instead, people with urgent need for improvement would seek something practical, action-focused and yielding short-term.

Too bad, maybe the only thing that could help in such a case is named “Theory”.

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The same people firefighting with their daily problems feel having more than their share of constraints and again, maybe the only thing that could help them holds “constraints” in its name.

I don’t know what led Eli Goldratt, father of ToC name it that name, but I am quite sure it is an obstacle (a kind of constraint!) to the diffusion and adoption of his teachings.

Fame, despite the name

The problem is that Theory of Constraints is now relatively famous, at least among all those having read ‘the Goal’ and grew a corpus which make a change of name unthinkable.

The same happened with ‘5S’, made of five Japanese words few westerners remember. They keep irritating, but it’s a bad idea to rename them if you want to remain understandable by others.

Same with ‘Lean’, first thought to be a clever way to summarize frugality in operations, but this name got mean meaning over time, with a meaning closer to anorexia thanks to poorly and ill-led implementations. Yet it is too late to change the name.

Newcomers, don’t get frightened by the name!

Newcomers give it a try! Don’t get frightened by the name, Theory of Constraints (ToC) is something great, except for its name, we’ll agree.

Think about much more frightening (and unpronounceable) names of drugs you take and the cure they provide. ToC is like such a remedy, not very good sounding but effective and with only positive side effects!

More on this subject: Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris discuss the point

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Introduction to ToC Thinking Processes

Thinking Processes in a nutshell


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Theory of Constraints (ToC) found its original application in industrial production and soon spread to any activity including a physical flow, e.g. administrative work. In this context it is relatively easy to understand physical flows and the existence of bottlenecks hindering the flow.

Yet all constraints are not bottlenecks, i.e. physical constraints. Policies, beliefs and decisions can also constrain an organization, limit the throughput.

To surface the root cause(s) of the problems constraining the throughput, Eli Goldratt “founding father” of Theory of Constraints, proposed a set of logical tools and a way for analyzing the situation and handling non-physical constraints: the Thinking Processes.

Thinking Processes are “logical” in the sense they use either sufficient cause or necessary condition relationship:

  • Sufficient cause : if A exists then B exists
  • Necessary condition: in order for B to exist, A must exist

To learn more about causality logic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necessity_and_sufficiency

Furthermore, the TP tools are backed up by rules to check validity, clarity, robustness, etc.

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Thinking Processes tools

The Thinking Processes tools are:

TP are not difficult to understand once you’ve got familiar with the metaphoric jargon.

Thinking Processes, as a subset of ToC, remains consistent with ToC’s basic questions about  improvement:

  • What to change?
  • What to change to?
  • How to cause the change?
Each question is backed up by one or two TP Tool
Question TP tool
What to change? Current Reality Tree (CRT)
What to change to? Conflict Resolution Diagram (CRD)
Future Reality Tree (FRT)
How to cause the change? Prerequisite Tree (PRT)
Transition Tree (TT)

The whole process has five sequential steps:

Each tool can be used for itself and some may be used more frequently than others.

Logical Thinking Process – Introduction by William Dettmer

Proceed to next post: Current Reality Tree

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