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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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 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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Redefining “problem” (with Goal in mind)

In problem solving or continuous improvement workshops a problem is usually defined as a gap between the actual situation and the desired situation, and thus a problem causes an unsatisfactory situation or an UnDesirable Effect (UDE).

This definition, while true, is somewhat too vague to be useful when working on solving problems and continuous improvement.

Indeed, in a business environment* many things can be qualified “undesirable situation” or “undesirable effect”, from bad tasting coffee to important production equipment breakdown, from laser printer toner stockout to quality control rejecting an important production batch.

In most business environments improvement opportunities are literally infinite.

*business environment can be very vague as well, I suggest every reader to transpose this article into his/her environment.

From these few examples it becomes obvious that the too broad definition of problems need some refinement. The limited time and resources of an organization should not be wasted on every so-called problems, but instead solely focused on the critical ones.

Failing to do so bears the risk of spending time and burning up resources to solve “problems” without any system-wide noticeable positive effect. That’s what happens to so many Lean initiatives or continuous improvement programs, draining significant resources for frustrating results.

So, how to select the problems worth coping with?

In a business environment the organization exists to achieve a Goal, itself subordinated to the achievement of several objectives. When something hinders the organization to achieve its objectives, hence its Goal, the hinderance is worth attracting (all) focus for problem solving.

In “The Logical Thinking Process, a  Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving”, Bill Dettmer defines a UDE as “something that really exists; something that is negative compared with the system’s goal, Critical Success Factors or Necessary Conditions.” This definition is linked to The Goal Tree and if this one is properly built, the understanding of what an UDE is will be straightforward and unquestioned.

Now with the organization’s Goal in mind, a “problem” can be understood as an UnDesirable Effect (UDE) being an obstacle for the organization to achieve its objectives, its Goal. Anything felt undesirable but not directly threatening the achievement of the objectives or Goal is an annoyance at best.

Does it mean anything NOT threatening the objectives and Goal is not worth considering?

While priority must clearly be given to issues and UDEs hindering the organization to achieve its Goal, some “annoyances” should be taken care of as well. Things making job or life easier for employees for instance may not directly contribute to corporate objective achievement but can help improve morale, ergonomics, safety and the feeling of being important enough to the organization to deserve some attention.

Well, how to select these “problems” worth considering?

This is where methodologies handover to management, “science” handover to “art” and plain rationality to humanity. It’s up to managers to sense what is to be done, why and to what extend.

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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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Goal Tree Chronicles – Refrain from depicting the current reality

It is silly obvious but didn’t occur to me until I faced it: building a Goal Tree is NOT mapping the current processes, a Goal Tree is NOT made to depict the current reality.

It happened while I tried to promote the Goal Tree as a tool to reengineer a process. Nothing very complicated but a challenge to get the attendants to think out of the box and redefine a much better performing process.

Not being familiar with the actual process to be improved, I clung to the methodology: wrote the Goal on top of a large paper sheet and invited the attendants to build the Tree using the necessity logic.

So we went. I asked “in order to … we must….” and the participants gave answer after answer.

The Tree that was growing was logically sound, but at some point we realized the group wasn’t building an improved process but mapping the actual one!

While I was somewhat embarrassed for letting myself trapped, I picked some useful takeaways:

Be very specific when verbalizing the Goal.

When it comes to reengineer an existing process, the facilitator can help verbalizing the (limited) Goal. This should be done with great care in order to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings as well as for leading the participants to think properly about the possible new process.

Refrain from depicting the current reality

This warning goes to both the facilitator and the participants. A Goal Tree is a means to list all the Necessary Conditions that must be fulfilled in a sequential order so that the Goal can be achieved.

The underlying assumption is that the current process fails to achieve the Goal and therefore a new approach has to be found. Mapping the current process is not likely to bring the group very far and chance are that minor changes (e.g. incremental improvement) on the current process will not suffice to achieve the Goal.

Building a Goal Tree is not a brainstorming which is way too open, but a necessity-logic driven investigation about what is strictly necessary to achieve, in order to achieve the Goal.

Going through the exercise of building the Tree from scratch should open new perspectives and filter out the resource consuming but not contributing nice-to-haves.

A perfectly logical tree is not enough

A logically sound Goal Tree is not necessary a good/appropriate tree. Just as it happened with the group who inspired this post, if the group builds a Goal Tree which is a mapping of the current reality, it may be logically flawless but still remain ineffective.

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How can Theory of Constraints help startups – Purpose, Goal and how to achieve it

I believe most entrepreneurs started with a brilliant idea, a new product, a smart solution, new services… and the underlying desire to write a story on their own, not for a boss.

The startupers then start up as the brilliant new offer needs funding and some structure to bring it to the world.

But how many entrepreneurs started with a higher Vision, a Purpose beyond their product, smart solution or new service?

Once the initial project gets some uplift and before the scarce resources are wasted on inadequate investments, a short pause to think about Purpose and Goal is recommended.

Entrepreneurs, what is the Purpose of your undertaking? What is your Goal?

Make money now and in the future” are probably chanting those who got their basics about Theory of Constraints, first edition.

I don’t think that making money is the main driver for startupers, because if it was, a majority would go for more secure ways to achieve their goal and startuping wouldn’t be that popular.

There must be others drivers, each personal to the entrepreneur. Whatever the Purpose is, it is a Goal that requires some Necessary Conditions to be fulfilled in order to achieve it.

And precisely here Theory of Constraints can help, providing guidance and a structuring process with the Goal Tree!

I described extensively Goal Trees already on this blog, but in short the Goal Tree is a logical network of nested Necessary Conditions, describing what is absolutely necessary to achieve prior to achieve the Goal.

Taking some time to verbalize the Purpose or Goal of the undertaking and listing the first Necessary Conditions will give guidance about what is required and what to focus on. With this high level description of requirements, the entrepreneur can wisely allocated limited resources to what is contributing to achieving the Goal and avoid wasting them on nice-to-haves or totally off-topic things.

The Goal Tree stands out among other tools and methods with its merciless necessary-logic base: whatever does not answer the “in order to achieve… we must…” in a robust and logically sound manner is to be discarded.

Besides its robustness, building the first, most strategic layers of a Goal Tree requires only about a couple of hours, provided the Purpose / Goal is clear…

Once the Tree is built and scrutinized, amended and declared satisfactory, it serves as a guiding map and a benchmark.

Over time, the entrepreneur should check how many of the Necessary Conditions have been fulfilled (turned Green) and what is still to be achieved to get closer to their Goal.

>Related: Goal-Setting Theory and Goal Trees

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Goal-Setting Theory and Goal Trees

Goal-Setting Theory states that goal-Setting, when done properly, is motivating. A Goal Tree complies to the requirements of a motivating goal-setting, here is why.

Goal-Setting Theory

According to Theory, Goal-Setting (and the underlying objectives) helps to focus onto the Goal and keep focused. Set Goals tend to increase effort in order to achieve them. Once Goals are set, they reinforce persistence as one does not want to admit failure. Goals make us creative or make us learn when necessary skills are not mastered.

Yet good Goal-Setting requires:

  • Specificity, which means clarity of purpose, precisely specified objectives, etc.
  • Challenge or Difficulty, which make achievement a victory and more satisfactory. Goals impossible to achieve are not motivating, though.
  • Acceptance and commitment. Goals forced onto someone may not motivate much.
  • Feedback and appraisal. This is necessary for “calibration” and benchmarking.

The following video made available by Alanis Business Academy tells you a bit more about Goal-Setting Theory.

Goal Tree and Goal-Setting Theory

A Goal Tree sets a Goal, that’s why this logical tree has been created for. It was because many efforts got lost by not knowing what the Goal was that Bill Dettmer derived the Thinking Processes (TP) Intermediate Objective Map (IO Map) into a more suitable tool he called the Goal Tree.

The Goal is set on top of the Tree where it is very visible and symbolically well placed so that everybody know on what to focus. The Goal statement should make sense and be understood by everyone. The Goal is the reason why the organization exists, so being member of the organization obviously requires accepting the Goal and committing to achieve it.

The array of underlying objectives, called Necessary Conditions (NCs), should be verbalized in a clear and specific way. This is verified when building the Tree and checking it with the Categories of Legitimate Reservations (CLR), which also ensure the overall logical robustness of the Tree.

Many of these Necessary Conditions are not fulfilled when the Tree is built (otherwise the Goal would be achieved..!) and fulfilling them is the challenged required by Goal-Setting Theory. A decent share of these NCs will be difficult enough to keep contributors motivated.

In the same way, some necessary skills may not be mastered, thus giving opportunity to learn or find by-passes.

The periodic reviews of the Tree status give opportunities for feedback and benchmarking, as well as appraisal or eyebrows frowning.


Going through the requirements of the Goal-Setting Theory, the Goal Tree is not only compliant, but allow the whole (often strategic) intent to be stated in a clear logical way. Reading a Goal Tree is reading the storybook.

If Goal-Setting Theory needed a tool, the Goal Tree is the one.

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Goal Tree is a Lean tool

This post title may sound provocative to all readers knowing the Goal Tree origins lay with Theory of Constraints and to hardliners of each philosophy wanting to keep their toolbox clean of “imported” tools, yet it won’t change the fact that a Goal Tree is a Lean tool.

Goal Tree

Goal Tree

1. Goal Tree as its name tells is totally goal-focused

Starting with the Goal statement is totally in line with Jeffrey Liker’s first principle the 14 principles of The Toyota Way: “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

The Goal Tree sets a benchmark for the long-term in order to achieve the organization’s Goal or purpose. The Goal is by definition far away, otherwise it would rather be called an intermediate objective on the way to achieving the “real” Goal.

Once the Goal is stated, the Goal Tree describes all Necessary Conditions to achieving it, thus an explicit invitation to take all necessary management decisions. As the focus is on the Goal, the short-term goals are nothing else than Necessary Conditions or Intermediate Objectives and never a diversion to fetch a short-term opportunity.

2. Goal Tree’s necessity based logic filters out all nice-to-haves

A Goal Tree is built on a cascade of Necessary Conditions which are allowed into the Tree only if they comply to the necessity logic. The test is binary: if the condition responds positively to the condition “in order to have…[objective], we must have…[condition]”, than it passes the test. If the suggested idea does not respond to the test, it does not fit into the Tree.

This means that a robust Goal Tree is lean as it is built only on strictly Necessary Conditions and the required or available resources will therefore be used only for really necessary things!

Conversely, everything that would consume any resource without being strictly necessary (muda) is discarded, keeping the Tree lean.

3. Goal Tree trumps Hoshin Kanri

In my opinion, Goal Tree “trumps” Hoshin Kanri when it comes to list all the necessary breakthroughs to achieve mid to long-term objectives.

The reason is the same as above: the necessity logic that guides the analysis of what is required vs. what we have, hence the gaps that must be filled with breakthroughs.

Hoshin Kanri is too open and to pervious to nice-to-haves as it intrinsically lacks the filter to keep them out: the necessity logic.

Yet to be fair, Hoshin Kanri does better than Goal Tree in later steps, when the breakthroughs must be broken down into short-term objectives with proper KPIs and resources allocation. While Hoshin Kanri does it all within the same X matrix, the Goal Tree needs other logical trees or action plans to do it.

Hoshin Kanri X matrix

Hoshin Kanri X matrix

This is why I like to combine both: start the analysis of what gaps to fill with the Goal Tree and then feed findings into a Hoshin Kanri.

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Why 5S fail? Nobody is interested in housekeeping

This post is part of the series “why 5S fail”.

Nobody is interested in housekeeping.

This is particularly true in heavier industries with more male workforce, “housekeeping” is incompatible with (macho) pride and way beneath their dignity.

Lego_018aThey may not hesitate to manually lift heavy weights and handle greasy dirty parts, but would be reluctant to mop up spilled lubricant or dry-wipe a machine casing.

In most machist workshops they complain about being turned into “maids”.

Therefore announcing decluttering and cleaning up is never the best way to start, even in environments with lesser testosterone levels.

What is far most appealing is the call to join a challenge, for which 5S are a necessary condition but not telling it.

My way would be to find such a challenge and while searching how to achieve the goal, gently lead the participants to express themselves the need for order, cleanliness and suitable work environment.

When facilitating 5S deployment, I put myself in a learning posture and ask lots of questions, in a smart way. People usually love to share their knowledge, especially because on shop floor it is not that common that somebody pays attention to their work and experience.

A bit of flattering “you are the subject matter experts, you know best” is usually welcome and sweetens their day, which is also true and is what I really think.

Of course my questioning is not that candid but a way to surface the required basic conditions to achieve our goal.

Once these basic conditions listed, I manage to go through the 5S rollout quickly in order to start the next level of tasks, usually more appealing, like problem solving or technical improvements.

Of course, I do not hesitate to iterate back to sorting, arranging, cleaning and redefining the standards if the 5S maturity is not at desired level.

I simply explain why it is common to iterate and if my audience don’t know about, I’ll explain the Deming wheel (PDCA cycle) and its wedge.

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