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Taking Advantage of Resistance to Change (and the TOC Thinking Processes) to Improve Improvements (Part 6)

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Addressing Layer 5 – Lack of a clear path around obstacles to the solution

— The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and Transition Tree (TT)

Prerequisite Tree (PRT)

OK. We now have an agreed upon solution defined in terms of a vision and the strategy that should achieve it without succumbing to negative side effects (the complete Future Reality Tree, augmented by the added injections to trim Negative Branches), but we also have a whole pile of stuff blocking us from implementing this part or that part of the strategy. Indeed, for some of the things we've identified as injections in the FRT, we may have only a sketchy idea of how to make them happen.

The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) is an excellent group process that takes advantage of people's natural propensity and ability to point out why something can't get done. The first step in building a PRT (after clearly stating the team's ambitious objective) is to collect all the obstacles that the group can come up with. Then, each individual who raised an obstacle identifies an “intermediate objective” (IO) that would overcome it or make it moot. (After all, the person who comes up with an obstacle probably has the most intuition about what it would take to address it.) These IOs are not actions, but rather states, that, if they existed, would deal with the obstacle. Think of them as milestones in an implementation plan as opposed to the actions or tasks that get us to the milestones.

Once all the Intermediate Objectives are identified, the obstacles are used to sequence the IOs into a network that becomes the plan to achieve the objective. This is a straightforward process of going down the list of IOs and assessing whether any of the other identified obstacles stand in the way of making them happen. Once sequenced, team effort can then be focused appropriately, since the network points the group to start on those IOs that don't depend on others, and only when they are done, they know they can move on to the next because they've overcome an obstacle that was blocking them.

If the question is how to eat an elephant, the answer is “one bite at a time.” The PRT is a painless way of identifying which “bites of the elephant” we'll gnaw on first in our attempt to consume the whole thing. As a group effort, this process benefits (as does the solicitation of NBRs as reasons we shouldn't take a particular path of action) from the diverse and divergent views of the group's members. The more obstacles that are raised, the more complete the implementation plan of how to make the change happen will be, resulting in fewer surprises along the way.

The last Thinking Process tool – the Transition Tree (TT) – further supports the need to describe how to make the change happen. Sometimes getting from one Intermediate Objective in a Prerequisite Tree to another requires a finer level of detail in terms of defined actions and results. The Transition Tree is a communication and empowerment tool, allowing one to follow a path of action with clear understanding of what to expect along the way and why to expect it.

It is a simple repetitive sufficiency logic construct that puts the actions/tasks in context with the objectives. Once again, based on simple, “if…, then…” links, the Transition Tree includes the need for action, the action, the rationale for the action (why we expect the action to provide the desired result), that desired, expected result (which may be an intermediate objective – an IO), and then reason for the next need in a graphical format.

Transition Tree (TT)

The transition tree includes all the information you need to build a detailed action plan, assess its ability to deliver results, and includes those results to allow development of alternative actions – a real “results-oriented” task list that encourages “empowerment” to offer new solutions. It sure beats a simple “Do this, then do that, then...” list of tasks that we usually get for instructions.

The combination of the Prerequisite Tree, providing the overarching shape of an implementation plan, and the Transition Tree, detailing actions and expected results necessary to achieve that plan provide a clear path over, under, around, or through the obstacles that are seen to be blocking the change.


This article was originally presented at and included in the proceedings of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) Solutions Conference (Dallas, May, 2001) by Francis S. "Frank" Patrick of Focused Performance. It is broken down here into sections for ease of reading on-line. For off-line reading and sharing, it can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format at resistancetext.pdf. The associated presentation handout can also be downloaded at resistanceslides.pdf.

Part 1 -- Abstract, Introduction, and Underlying Concepts of the TOC Thinking Processes

Part 2 -- Layer 1 -- Lack of agreement on the problem
-- The Core Conflict Cloud (CCC) and the Current Reality Tree (CRT)

Part 3 -- Layer 2 -- Lack of direction for a solution
-- Evaporating the Core Conflict Cloud

Part 4 -- Layer 3 -- Lack of agreement that the solution will truly address the problem
-- The Future Reality Tree (FRT)

Part 5 -- Layer 4 -- Concern that the solution will lead to new undesirable side effects
-- The Negative Branch Reservation (NBR)

Part 6 -- Layer 5 -- Lack of a clear path around obstacles to the solution
-- The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and Transition Tree (TT)

Part 7 -- Layer 6 -- Lack of follow-through even after agreement to proceed with the solution
-- Unverbalized fear or concerns

Part 8 --Summary -- Layers of Resistance and Thinking Process tools to deal with them
-- What to change?
-- To what to change to?
-- How to make the change happen?


Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. - Henry Ford

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