Transition Trees – Steps to construct
In the last section we discussed the basic principles behind a Transition Tree. What they can be used for and how they can help you achieve desired outcomes. In this section we will discuss the steps necessary to construct the TT. There are five (5) steps to construct and if followed in sequence should yield positive results in accomplishing the desired out comes to achieve the final objective.
Step 1 - Define the situation for which you are preparing the Transition Tree.
Not all situations can benefit from the construction and use of a TT. Before you invest the time and effort to build the tree make sure it is something you really want to do. In order to benefit the most from a TT you must choose a subject that is important to you and one in which it is helpful or necessary to map out a course of action. The TT will also provide a useful tool to define how the actions can lead to the successful accomplishment of the objective.
By clearly stating the starting point you allow yourself the freedom to examine what it is you really want instead of settling for what you think is possible. Write your situation in two sentences. First, describe the need, and second define the subject of the TT you are going to create.
Step 2 - Determine your objective(s).
A very clear verbalization of where you ultimately want your analysis to end up provides an effective means to evaluate the effectiveness of your actions. It is possible, when building a TT, to have more than one objective listed at the top. However, a TT with more than one objective is also harder to construct. It requires more focused attention on the Desired Outcomes for each objective. It is also possible that each objective could have similar or closely related Desired Outcomes. If the objectives are different it could add confusion to your tree and make it difficult to explain to someone else. A word of caution is to be careful when selecting more than one objective. At times, it might also make sense to construct two tree rather than just one.
When you are building a TT from a PRT, write down an Intermediate Objective (IO) from the PRT that appears particularly difficult to accomplish. It is possible to choose more than one IO from a PRT. However, it is more practical to develop a TT for each IO, rather then trying to combine them.
Ask yourself what the purpose of the plan is.
When the subject is a future event, the purpose is something that you want. When the subject is a past event, the purpose is the actual effects of the past. Sometimes a Transition Tree can have multiple purposes.
State the purpose as a specific objective(s) in the present tense.
Most of the time you will be writing a TT for attainment of a future objective. By verbalizing the objective in the present tense, you will be psychologically more invested in making it happen – it doesn't sound so unrealistic or difficult to make happen. This minor shift in perspective also helps you later in the process when you are checking the sufficiency of the logic. State the objective as clearly as you can.
Using the Transition Tree as a delegation tool
There are many companies who proclaim "empowerment" yet, there are few who have truly figured out how to make it happen. Delegation can be one way of enabling empowerment as long as the person delegating doesn't override the decisions/actions of the delegates. The TT enables the one delegating to assign tasks and ensure that the delegates meet the objective with certain freedoms. The tree provides a succinct means of communicating clearly the “why” (the objectives/needs) along with the “what” (the task) so that the delegates understand more clearly the dynamics of the situation and are able to make decisions about actions based on whether or not the objective will be achieved – without needing the constant support of the person delegating.
Hint - Look at the big picture.
Ask yourself how the objectives relate to the desired results of the organization. Will achievement of the objective help move the organization toward its goal? If it doesn't, you should probably reconsider what you have chosen as your objective and/or reconsider whether this is a good investment of your time.
Step 3 - Determine the actions are necessary to achieve your objective(s).
Using cause and effect analysis, the future is always much more predictable than when using correlation techniques. You just need to determine what actions you need to take. In Step 3 you need to build the cause-effect structure that links the effects of your actions to the objective(s) you have selected.
When you think about the actions you need to consider what things need to be done to make the objective happen. These actions define the grassroots level of things to be completed. These are the things that you can go do “right now”. There is no planning below the action level. This is the place it starts.
You are seeking to logically bridge the gap between the current situation and the objective. The bridge will be provided through your use of cause and effect that provides the link between actions, their effects, and the objective.
Write the objective from Step 2 at the top of a piece of paper.
Write a connection that describes a step toward accomplishing the objective.
The basic elements you are trying to connect include an action, and an entity that describes the need for the action, and the desired outcome of the action.
Action - The action should be something that you believe is one of the first things required to reach the objective. State the action as a complete sentence. This will give you a starting point for constructing the tree. It may or may not be the first action at the bottom of the page when the tree is completed.
Need for action - There is something in the current situation you are intuitively aware of that has made you feel the need to take the action. After you verbalize the need, you have the opportunity to check if your assumptions about reality are valid (i.e., apply the Entity Existence reservation). This also provides an anchor by which others can judge the need for the action.
Desired outcome - What do you need to have to achieve the objective? Usually people fill this in after they have verbalized the action, so the question becomes: What do you need to gain from the action so that you are closer to achieving the objective? This step is difficult for many because we all know that there are many possible effects that may result from an action. What we are trying to do through the Transition Tree is have some control over the possible effects by causing just one to occur. Clearly state what it is that you want the action to accomplish?
Solidify the causality.
This step requires you to carefully check your logic using the Categories of Legitimate Reservation and fill in any holes you can find. Add actions, as needed to ensure the desirable outcomes. This is the step at which you must be very precise about what you have written. An analysis on paper may look good to you but reality is what counts.
Continue building upwards until you have reached your objective (stated in Step 1).
At this point you probably have some “blank” space between a Desired Outcome and your objective. Starting from the Desired Outcome (Step 3) ask yourself what needs to be done next that will bring you closer to the objective? If you are an action-oriented person, it will probably be easier for you to construct the tree from the action perspective. If you think more in terms of goals, it will probably be easier for you to continue building from the Desirable Outcome perspective. Regardless of the trigger source, you will need to continue to verbalize actions, needs, desirable outcomes, that help solidify causality.
Hint: Sometimes you will choose as an action - something you don't know how to do, or something that someone else is required to do. These are not your actions, but "desired outcomes" which still require some action on your part to achieve. Change such desired outcomes to round boxes and beneath them add the action you need to take to achieve it.
Some people might experience difficulty continuing to build the tree. If such is the case then use the following template to help fill in the missing links. This template can be especially helpful to review when you are seeking to modify the structure for those who will read it as it forces the writer to verbalize some steps in the evolution of the tree that they may have taken for granted.
Step 4 - Look for any undesirable side effects.
For most people, it is very easy to convince themselves that their plan will work. However, many plans have been known to fail, especially when some element of your plans does not produce the desired effect and in fact produces an Undesirable Side Effect. Undesirable effects can sometimes happen quickly and have instantly devastating effects on your planning. Doing this step will guide you through the process to identify the potential pitfalls of the plan and help define the necessary actions then to resolve them.
Ensure there are no undesirable side effects.
For most people, it is very easy to convince themselves that their plan will work. However, many plans have been known to fail, especially when some element of your plans does not produce the desired effect and in fact produces an Undesirable Side Effect. Undesirable effects can sometimes happen quickly and have instantly devastating effects on your planning. The steps of Key Action – 4 will guide you through the process to identify the potential pitfalls of the plan and help define actions then to resolve them.
Examine possible negative effects of your actions.
Start at the action appearing at the bottom of the page and ask yourself "If (action) and everything else remained as it is today, then ..." This will surface potential effects of the action, some of which are minor others of which might be major. If you find something major proceed to the next section. If you don't anything, examine the next action that appears in the tree keeping in mind that you have created a partially new reality. This will slightly impact the question you will ask to surface additional effects: "If (action) and (new reality) and everything else remained as it is today, then...."
Add actions that will eliminate undesired effects.
Focus your effort on removing the major undesirable effects you have surfaced. Figure out what action that can be taken to eliminate it. Incorporate this action, into the tree. The only way to eliminate an unwanted effect is to take action – just saying that it will not happen will not make it so. Don't forget to check if your new action causes other major negative effects.
You are finished with this process once you are satisfied that you know the potential side effects and you have resolved all major issues that could jeopardize it.
Hint: Here are some questions to ask that may help surface additional negative branches:
• What is the impact of this on T, I, and OE?
• What is the impact of this on other parts of the organization?
Step 5 - Take action.
Reality doesn't change with thoughts and plans, but rather with your actions. Step 5 is a gentle reminder that in order for the objective(s) to be realized, actions must be taken in reality.
There you have it. I hope these writings have been somewhat sufficient to give you a better understanding of the TOC Thinking Processes and the ability to apply some of what you have learned to problem solving.
Bruce H. Nelson
Note from Bob Sproull: I want to personally and publicly thank Bruce for his incredible knowledge of TOC and the Thinking Processes. I am forever indebted to him for his friendship first and for his willingness to share his knowledge with the world. Thank you Bruce!