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The Goal Tree Basics

The Goal Tree Basics

By Bob Sproull

The Goal Tree Basics

In past posts I have explained that when using any of TOC’s TP’s, there are two distinctly different types of logic at play, sufficiency and necessity.  Sufficiency logic tools use a series of if-then statements that connect cause and effect relationships between undesirable effects.  Necessity logic uses the syntax, in order to have x, I must have y or multiple y’s.  The Goal Tree falls into the category of necessity based logic and is used to lay out strategies for successful improvement.

Bill Dettmer [1] explained in a white paper he wrote that, “The Intermediate Objective (IO) Map dates back to at least 1995 when it was casually mentioned during a Management Skills Workshop conducted by Oded Cohen at the A.Y. Goldratt Institute, but it was not part of that workshop, nor did it ever find its way into common usage as part of the Logical Thinking Process (LTP).   It was described as a kind of Prerequisite Tree without any obstacles.” 

Dettmer continued, “I never thought much about it for the next seven years, until in late 2002, when I began grappling with the use of the Logical Thinking Processes (LTP) for developing and deploying strategy.”  At that time, Dettmer had been teaching the LTP to a wide variety of clients for more than six years, and had been dismayed by the number of students who had substantial difficulty constructing Current Reality Trees and Conflict Resolution Diagrams (CRD) of sufficient quality. According to Dettmer, they always seemed to take a very long time to build a CRT, and their CRD’s were not always what he would characterize as “robust.”  He claimed they lacked reference to a “should-be” view of the system—what ought to be happening.  It occurred to Dettmer that the IO Map he’d seen in 1995 could be modified and applied to improve the initial quality of CRTs. As time went on, Dettmer began to realize that the IO Map could serve a similar purpose with CRD’s.  In 2007 Dettmer published a book, The Logical Thinking Process: A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving that introduced the world to this wonderful tool.

Dettmer tells us that one of the first things we need to do is determine the system boundaries that we are trying to improve as well as our span of control and sphere of influence.  Our span of control means that we have unilateral change authority while our sphere of influence means that at best, we can only influence change decisions.  Dettmer explains that if we don’t define our boundaries of the system, we risk “wandering in the wilderness for forty years.”


The Goal Tree Structure

The hierarchical structure of the IO Map/Goal Tree consists of a single Goal and several entities referred to as Critical Success Factors (CSFs).  CSF’s must be in place and functioning if we are to achieve our stated goal.  The final piece of the Goal Tree are entities referred to as Necessary Conditions (NCs) which must be completed to realize each of the CSF’s.  The Goal and CSF’s are worded as though they were already in place while the NC’s are stated more as activities that must be completed.

The figure below is a graphic representation of a Goal Tree with each structural level identified.  The Goal sits at the top with three to five Critical Success Factors directly beneath it.  The CSF’s are those factors which must be in place if the Goal is to be realized.  The CSF’s are those critical entities that must be in place if the Goal is to be achieved.  For example, if your Goal was to create a fire, then the three CSF’s which must be in place are (1) a combustible fuel source, (2) a spark to ignite the combustible fuel source and (3) air with a sufficient level of oxygen.  If you were to remove any of these CSF’s, there would not be a fire.

The Goal Tree Structure 

The Goal

Steven Covey [3] suggests that we should, “Begin with the end in mind,” or where we want to be when we’ve completed our improvement efforts which is the purpose of the Goal.  A Goal is an end to which a system’s collective efforts are directed.  It’s actually a sort of destination which implies a journey from where we are to where we want to be.  Dettmer also makes it very clear that the system’s owner is who determines what the goal of the system should be.  If your company is privately owned, maybe the owner is a single individual.  If there’s a board of directors, they have a chairman of the board who is ultimately responsible for establishing the goal.  Regardless of whether the owner is a single person or a collective group, the system's owner(s) ultimately establishes the goal of the system.


Critical Success Factors and Necessary Conditions

There are certain high-level requirements which must be solidly in place and if these requirements aren’t achieved, then we simply will never realize our goal.  These requirements are referred to as Critical Success Factors (CSFs).  Dettmer recommends no more than three to five CSF’s.  Each of the CSF’s have some number of Necessary Conditions (NCs) that are considered prerequisites to each of the CSF’s being achieved.  Dettmer recommends no more than two to three levels of NC’s, but in my experience, I have seen as many as five levels working well.  While to Goal and the CSF’s are written as terminal outcomes that are already in place, the NC’s are worded more as detailed actions that must be completed to accomplish each of the CSF’s.


The relationship among the Goal, CSF’s and the supporting NC’s in this cascading structure of requirements represents what must be happening if we are to reach our ultimate destination.  For ease of understanding, when I am in the process of constructing my Goal Trees, the connecting arrows are facing downward to demonstrate the natural flow of ideas.  But when my structure is completed, I reverse the direction of the arrows to reveal the flow of results. In keeping with the thought of learning a tool and making it my own, I have found this works well, even though this is completely opposite of Dettmer’s recommendations for construction of a Goal Tree.


Next time

In my next posting we will begin construction of a Goal Tree and begin to demonstrate why it is perhaps one of the best tools ever developed for achieving excellence in your company. As always, if you have any questions or comments about any of my posts, leave me a message and I will respond. 

Until next time.


Bob Sproull



[1] Dettmer, H. William. The Intermediate Objectives Map – White Paper, Goal Systems International, 2007

[2] Dettmer, H. William. The Logical Thinking Process: A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press, 2007

[3] Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. NY: Simon and Schuster


Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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