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Problem Solving in Manufacturing: The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 3

Problem Solving in Manufacturing: The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 3

By Bob Sproull

Review of The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 2

In Part 2, I continued my presentation of the utility of the systems thinking tool known as the current reality tree (CRT) and explained its basic structure. Visually, it is depicted in the following figure:

I explained that the CRT is used primarily to analyze, scrutinize, and document current reality as it exists at a single point in time. This systems-thinking tool is an assemblage of entity statements linked together using sufficiency-based logic.


The conflict resolution diagram

In this post, I will discuss the second systems-thinking tool, which is known as the conflict resolution diagram (CRD). As previously stated, much of what is presented in this series is taken from the book, Epiphanized: A Novel on Unifying Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Six Sigma, Second Edition by Bob Sproull and Bruce Nelson.


The conflict resolution diagram is sometimes referred to as the conflict diagram or evaporating cloud. It is a powerful thinking tool for resolving conflicts. How many times have you been in a situation in which someone wanted something and you wanted something different?


In such a predicament, what the other person wants is different than what you want, so how can you possibly come to an agreement if you both want something so different as to be diametrically opposed? For instance, let’s say someone wants to lay off employees and you do not.


Where negotiation methods fall short, the CRD succeeds

For years, people have used negotiation methods to resolve con­flicts, but even the strongest negotiators can reach a mutual stalemate. The problem in a negotiation is that both sides are required to give up something in order to achieve an end result. If you compromise and give up parts of what you want, and the other party makes equal concessions, then both parties may be dissatisfied. Therein lies the problem with a negotiated compromise—neither side ends up getting what they really want.


What if there was a reliable method both parties could agree to use, that would result in each getting precisely what they want? Neither party would be required to compromise on their desired requirements. Would such a method be worth employing? Enter the CRD. This is, by far, the most effective tool available to clearly define a conflict and to surface the underlying assumptions that cause the conflict to exist in the first place. When both sides get what they want, the conflict no longer exists.


The CRD uses necessity-based logic

The necessity-based logic of the CRD begins with this statement: “In order to have (Entity A), I must have (Entity B).” The CRD is constructed with three distinct and highly rational components:

  1. Objective: What is it that both sides want?
  2. Requirements: Why do you want what you want?
  3. Prerequisites: What is it that you really want?

The objective becomes the common ground between both parties. However, both parties may have different non-compatible thoughts about the objective, or non-compatible intended routes to achieve it.


The requirements are the necessary conditions that each side thinks they must have in order to meet the objective.


The prerequisites are the assumed necessary conditions necessary to achieve the stated requirements. Normally, the prerequisite entity statements from each party are in conflict with one another. One prerequisite entity may state one thing, and the other prerequisite entity states the opposite. For example, one prerequisite may say, “Change the way we do business,” and the other may say, “Don’t change the way we do business.” The battleground is now set and you have established the conflict.


The figure below displays one way to construct the CRD:


With the CRD structure in place and the conflict precisely represented, you can now surface the assumptions or the “because” statements for the arrows. Ultimately, this will enable you to resolve the conflict.


Coming in the next post

In my next post, we will continue our discussion on the systems thinking tools with the future reality tree (FRT).   


Until next time,

Bob Sproull


Epiphanized: A Novel on Unifying Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Six Sigma, Second Edition by Bob Sproull and Bruce Nelson, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015

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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