All about current reality trees (and why they should be a crucial part of your problem-solving process)

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Topics:

  • Strategic planning

You’re a project manager assigned to launch four new products by the end of Q3. Two products launched smoothly, and two didn’t. You think you have a general idea of what happened, but you’ve got to get to the root of the issues before the deadline hits. 

Enter: The current reality tree (CRT). A current reality tree is a tool commonly associated with the Theory of Constraints (TOC), a management philosophy introduced by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. The purpose of a reality tree is to visually represent the cause-and-effect relationships within a complex system, mainly to understand the factors contributing to a specific problem or undesirable situation. 

So, for instance, maybe you initially thought the reason for an unsuccessful launch was a software issue, but the root causes were a lack of developer bandwidth and design team burnout. 

Benefits of current reality trees

There are several reasons why current reality trees can help you in your position.

Provides a visual representation of systems

Obviously, we’re big fans of this one. The CRT provides a visual representation of the current state of a system, making it easier for individuals and teams to understand the complex interactions and dynamics at play. It helps to see the big picture because your brain can only hold so much information simultaneously. It’s much easier to see where undesirable effects (UDEs) come from when linked to their causes.

Helps identify the core conflict 

Building a CRT involves identifying the system's core conflict or conflicting objectives. This is crucial because resolving the core conflict often significantly improves the system's performance. To put it easier, a team is only as good as its agreed-upon objective. If certain facets of your team don’t agree on the outcome they’re working towards, fixing each undesirable effect won’t solve the main issue.

Focuses problem-solving

CRT guides problem-solving efforts by highlighting the key areas that need attention. This prevents organizations from wasting resources on non-critical issues and ensures that efforts are concentrated on the most impactful solutions. This leads to more quickly fixing problems and having a greater chance of meeting goals. 

Promotes systems thinking

The CRT encourages a systems thinking approach, emphasizing that changes in one part of the system can have ripple effects throughout. It helps break down silos within organizations and promotes a holistic understanding of how different elements interact. For instance, you may find software that fixes your task management issue, but implementing that software could mean days of lost productivity.

Supports continuous improvement

The CRT is not a one-time exercise. It supports the principle of continuous improvement by providing a framework for ongoing analysis and refinement of the system. The CRT can be revisited and updated as new challenges arise to address evolving circumstances.

Boosts communication and collaboration

The CRT serves as a communication tool, allowing teams to share a common understanding of current affairs. This facilitates collaboration among team members and stakeholders.

3 best practices for creating a reality tree

Keep these tips in mind as you make a CRT.

Concentrate on a core issue

Start by clearly defining the problem or challenge you are addressing. Be specific about the symptoms and consequences of the issue. Once the problem is defined, identify the core conflict or conflicting objectives that contribute to the problem. This ensures that your reality tree is focused on the most critical aspects of the system. Don’t try to fix multiple core issues at once. 

Read it from the ground up

Reading from the ground up allows you to build a logical flow of cause-and-effect relationships. Starting with specific events or conditions at the bottom helps create a clear and structured representation of the system's dynamics and enhances understanding. Stakeholders can follow the logical progression of events and better grasp the system's complexities.

Build a chain

Building a chain ensures a logical flow of cause-and-effect relationships. Each element in the chain leads to the next, creating a clear and understandable representation of how events connect within the system. It helps focus on one relationship at a time, making the overall understanding more manageable.

What is the difference between a current reality tree and a future reality tree? 

Both the current reality tree (CRT) and future reality tree (FRT) are used in a structured approach to problem-solving and strategic planning, but CRT deals with the system you have now, and FRT deals with the system you’re likely to have or the system you want to have. CRT is factual while FRT is conceptual. 

Here are some more differences between the two:

Current reality tree (CRT):

Purpose

The primary purpose of a CRT is to analyze and visually represent the cause-and-effect relationships within the current state of a system. It helps identify the root causes of problems or constraints hindering the system's performance.

Focus

CRT focuses on understanding the system's existing dynamics, constraints, and challenges. It provides a snapshot of the current situation, allowing stakeholders to identify critical issues that must be addressed.

Content

The content of a CRT includes elements representing specific current events, conditions, and factors contributing to the identified problem. It is a diagnostic tool that helps uncover the underlying causes of undesirable outcomes.

Outcome

The outcome of a CRT is an improved understanding of the current reality, leading to targeted solutions and actions to overcome constraints and improve system performance. Using a CRT gives you the confidence to make and take actionable steps forward.

Future reality tree (FRT):

Purpose

The primary purpose of an FRT is to envision and design a desired future state for the system. It is used in the planning phase to develop a roadmap for implementing changes and improvements based on the insights gained from the CRT.

Focus

FRT focuses on creating a positive and desirable vision for the future. It helps identify and prioritize necessary changes, innovations, or improvements to eliminate or mitigate the identified constraints and challenges.

Content

The content of an FRT includes elements representing the future state, proposed solutions, and anticipated positive outcomes. It is a tool for strategic planning and decision-making to guide the implementation of changes in the system.

Outcome

The outcome of an FRT is a well-defined plan for achieving the desired future state. It provides a roadmap for the systematic implementation of changes, ensuring that the identified constraints are effectively addressed and system performance is enhanced.

 

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About Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidspark.com.

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