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Problem Solving with the TOC Thinking Processes - Consensus, Construction, Communication and Collaboration

One of the major strengths of the body of knowledge that makes up the Theory of Constraints is a set of tools and techniques for a logic-based analysis known collectively as the TOC Thinking Processes. While they can be used in a stand-alone manner for a variety of situations, they come together to provide an integrated problem-solving methodology -- one that answers the questions regarding what to change (Consensus and Focus), to what to change to (Construction of a Complete Solution), and how to cause the change to happen (Communication and Collaboration). The TOC Thinking Process tools are briefly described below and associated with these phases of problem solving.

For a more detailed exploration of the TOC Thinking Processes, click here.

Consensus and Focus

Current Reality Tree - The CRT is a logical structure describing today's situation. Its purpose is to describe the cause-effect relationships between undesirable symptoms that we would like to eliminate and the core conflict that produces and perpetuates them.

Construction of a Complete Solution

Evaporating Cloud - Also known as a conflict cloud or a conflict resolution diagram, this is a logical tool whose purpose is to identify the elements of a conflict or dilemma t facilitate the development of non-compromise, win-win solutions. The process relies on surfacing underlying assumptions which, though initially accepted as valid, may not be so. The invalidation and or replacement of these assumptions "evaporates" the conflict. Although useful on its own, this technique is also integrated into a Current Reality Tree, because seemingly insurmountable problems identified in the CRT are often due to an underlying conflict or dilemma -- like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. When used in this way, the Evaporating Cloud results in a breakthrough idea which can be tested for its utility and fleshed out into a complete solution.

Future Reality Tree - The FRT is an effect-cause-effect logic structure designed to show how proposed changes would affect reality; specifically how and why we expect the proposal to produce a favorable outcome. It is a paper-based logical simulator to test a proposed change for its ability to produce desired effects, as well as to test a change's propensity to produce new, undesirable effects. These undesirable effects, out on the limbs of negative branches of the tree, may then be explored to determine what additional changes/preparations may be necessary to avoid them.

Communication and Collaboration

Negative Branch Reservations - Sometimes undesirable effects are foreseen as possible outcomes of a proposal and are often identified by someone other than the proposal's originator. The NBR allows a logical expression of such reservations so that they can be addressed by completing the original proposal with additional actions, trimming these "negative branches" from the desired Future Reality Tree.

Prerequisite Tree - What better way is there to develop an implementation plan than to first unleash the team's intuition on "why it can't be done;" listing obstacles blocking the desired outcome. A PRT is a logical structure describing all of the obstacles to achieving an objective, as well as the responses needed to overcome them, and the sequence in which they must be addressed. It identifies the minimum necessary conditions to achieving a specified objective.

Transition Tree - When specific detailed actions are required, the TRT -- a cause-effect tree -- is used to describe the step-by-step process from initiation to completion of a course of action or change. It shows how specific actions combine with existing reality to achieve new expected effects, and why we expect those actions to achieve the particular outcomes that are required.

As important as the trees and clouds themselves, and supporting the construction and validation of the logic used in them, are the Categories of Legitimate Reservation - a set of tests used to verify the cause-effect logic that is at the center of the Thinking Process. These are used in scrutinizing and refining the logical trees described above. They help keep any critique at an objective level that fosters consensus and discourages confrontation.

As mentioned, these tools can be used either individually or as an integrated problem-solving methodology, depending on how blocked you are in your attempt to solve your problems. The big advantages in using them are that they lead you to focus on a core problem/conflict that solves a number of issues (they are efficient), they have a built-in buy-in aspect to them as they lead the team through an appropriate path and develop needed information for buy-in, and they are very flexible in their application.

We have no money. Now we must think. - George Washington (at Valley Forge)

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