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Problem Solving in Manufacturing: The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 5

Problem Solving in Manufacturing: The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 5

By Bob Sproull

Review of The Systems Thinking Tools, Part 4

In Part 4 of this series, I presented the next systems thinking tool called the future reality tree (FRT). I presented its basic structure which is depicted in the following figure:


I explained that with the FRT you can logically test the merits, virtues, and outcome of an idea (injection) before you implement it. Doing so can help you discover undesirable, and sometimes unforeseen, effects before you proceed with implementation of the idea.

In this post, I will complete this series on the systems thinking tools by exploring the prerequisite tree (PRT) and the transition tree (TT). As previously noted, 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 prerequisite tree (PRT)

The prerequisite tree (PRT) is a sufficiency-based logic tool that uses the syntax: “In order to have (Entity A), I must have (Entity B).” Once you have tested your idea (injection) using the FRT and you decide your idea is worth moving forward with, then the PRT becomes the tool of choice to surface any potential obstacles to the implementation of your idea.

Ask yourself, “Why can’t I do this injection right now?” What are the possible negative aspects, considerations, or obstacles that stand between you and completing your idea? You might even try presenting your idea to others. They will likely offer suggestions such as, “It’s a great idea, but (possible negative consideration).” As soon as they say “but,” they will offer their opinion as to why the idea won’t work. They have, in fact, surfaced an obstacle that they can envision or that they already know about and you don’t. It is these types of obstacles you want to surface and overcome. The purpose behind the PRT is to surface and overcome as many obstacles as you can so that your idea will be implemented as smoothly as possible.

The figure below demonstrates the basic structure of a PRT:


The transition tree (TT)

The fifth and final systems thinking tool is the transition tree (TT). The TT is constructed using sufficiency-based logic. Because the TT is the last thinking tool in the set, it has a rather low usage rate because most people using the tools have already figured out what to do before needing a TT. These tools are usually implemented in the sequence I have covered them in this series. However, the transition tree can provide excellent guidance for going deeper and more fractal in your thinking. The TT is designed at a level that requires descriptions of actions to be taken and needs to be filled. The basis of the TT is sufficiency and it is read with the sufficiency logic, “if… then” syntax statements.

The figure below shows the basic structure of the TT:

The transition tree is comprised of an objective, actions, and needs. The objective can be defined as something you need to achieve. It can also be defined as the difficult intermediate objective from the PRT, or any other objective you might have when you are not exactly sure what to do to complete it. The TT provides the benefit of planning at a detailed level.

With the objective in mind, consider what specific needs you are trying to fill and what action you can immediately take to help fulfill those needs. When you review the completed transition tree from the bottom to the top, the intrinsic order of needs, actions, and desired outcomes are clearly defined. If you start at the bottom and complete the required action to fulfill the defined need, you will achieve your desired effect. Continue the process up the tree and take the next action to satisfy the next need until the objective is accomplished.

If you encounter a specific intermediate objective in your PRT that seems particularly difficult to achieve, and you are just not sure how to make it happen, the transition tree is an excellent tool to define the necessary actions to accomplish the intermediate objective.


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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