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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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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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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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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Can CCPM reinforce Parkinson’s law?

In this post I share a post-mortem analysis of a situation we’ve encountered while helping a company to improve its performance. This company was specialized in custom-made machine engineering and asked for help to improve its On-Time Deliveries performance. We proposed to install Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), an obvious choice given the circumstances.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is supposed to supersede Critical Path Method (CPM) with its capability to deliver projects on time, something CPM has consistently failed to do for more than sixty years now.

Among the obstacles to on-time project termination is the Parkinson’s law. This law – not to be confused with the disease of the same name – states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”,

The Critical Chain Project Management approach recognizes this specific behavior consisting of refining the work, add unrequired features or perform additional tests instead of handing the task over to the next person in charge when finishing a project task ahead of time.

The main reasons for this behavior refered to as “Parkinson’s law” are that someone finishing earlier will:

  • fear to see the allocated time to achieve the task reduced by management the next time
  • fear to appear unable to give a trustworthy estimation of the time necessary to complete a task
  • enjoy the extra time when finishing earlier instead of being late and under pressure
  • enjoy to seemingly deliver just-in time and as predicted something that is ready and waiting for a while

Critical Chain Project Management being aware of the Parkinson’s law, its proponents educate the project members about the consequences of this behavior and put the relay race principles as well as common project buffer in place.

The relay race principles state that when a task on the Critical Chain is nearing its completion, a signal is sent to the next resource that will take over. This resource is then using this early warning to make sure to be ready on the high priority task that soon will be handed over. This is like the relay runner starting to run when the baton is approaching in order to be at top speed when it’s handed over.

The common buffer is a shared protection of the finishing date made of the sum of roughly the half of all individual protection margins. Please see Introduction to Critical Chain Project Management for more details about CCPM protective buffer.

So far so good. Now here is a developers team that was working in constant hassle, with chaotic and permanent priority changes and countless interruptions. Multitasking was so bad that some of the members could not work on a given task more than 3 minutes in average before the next interruption occurred.

Thanks to CCPM, multitasking was banned, interruptions prevented and focusing on one single project at a time became the new rule. The team members soon acknowledged the positive change and the comfort of getting rid of all the hassle and the multitasking.

Yet top management was not happy because the development team did not deliver more by finishing projects earlier, and taking a closer look concluded that CCPM reenforced Parkinson’s law. Indeed, the team members took it easy and did not really rush to the next priority job once their current task on the critical chain was completed.

What went wrong?

Well, nothing went really wrong, simply putting the system under control and stopping the constant chaos let the true problem show up: the team was not managed.

As long as everyone could influence the work on the projects, mainly sales managers and general manager worrying about the delivery date, someone was giving orders. Under such a pressure the developers managed to push the projects to their completion, even they finished late. As things were progressing, even in a total uncoordinated way, there was a general feeling that the process was delivering.

Once the CCPM rules were agreed and installed, sales managers and the general manager refrained to interfere with development team and developers had their list of priorities to work on. What they did not have was a manager taking care about work intensity (another word for productivity), cadence, challenging for continuous improvement. In one word: a manager.

Without the management’s constant challenge and care, the developers simply laid back, feeling legit to do so after all the years of stress and bad working conditions.

Insufficient cause

Reflecting on this story I realized that the top management was assuming that CCPM principles of stopping multitasking and keep focusing on the critical chain priorities was enough to squeeze out the unnecessary individual margins and consequently speed up the development process. This in turn would allow to increase throughput with the same resources.

In the Logical Thinking Process (LTP) lingo, this is an insufficient cause, meaning that by itself it will not be sufficient to cause the expected effect; increasing throughput.

What we consultants, and probably the general manager, considered a given was that this team was managed. As well this was clearly a Necessary Condition, we felt it was “oxygen”, another LTP term for conditions that are supposed so obvious that it is not necessary to express them, just as oxygen is necessary for humans to breath.


The CCPM principles worked well. The chaos was tamed and the developments could finish within the estimated time, now based on so-called focused durations.

The Throughput did increase, but not dramatically. There a three reasons for this:

  1. First reason is that the increase of throughput allowed new projects to start earlier, but given the average length of a project (10-12weeks), the speeding up was not very noticeable.
  2. Second, CCPM was applied on the work packages without challenging the work package contents nor engaging continuous improvement at once. The local management chose to collect data about buffer consumption first, in order to understand where and what to improve. Given the projects durations, this is a slow process.
  3. Third, there was no incentive to improve due to the lack of team management. This later becoming blatant once all other disturbing factors have been neutralized.

So CCPM did not enforce Parkinson’s law. CCPM did what it is supposed to: set the scene for efficient focused work and deliver the projects on promised dates.

CCPM is no cure for everything and no substitute for failing management.

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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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