In business, and in life, there can be times when it feels as though you are walking a tightrope. Every step is hazardous. It’s a scary prospect and it takes great skill to keep your footing. While speaking to an entrepreneur recently we were reminded of the anecdote of a Rabbi who was confident that lessons could be learned from everyone, including a tightrope walker. And so he asked one, what is the most dangerous part of walking a tightrope? The answer was “When you have to turn, because it’s the only moment when you take your eyes off where you are headed and that’s when you really risk falling.”
In other words, when you focus on the goal your footing is sure. How can we make sure we always keep our eyes on the destination?
Deploying the strategy: the tools
In previous posts, we have looked at building the Core Conflict (from the Theory of Constraints) of an organization that allows us to verbalize what is preventing the organization from achieving more towards its goal. Once we have identified the core constraint, or cognitive constraint, we are able to derive the solutions (injections) to move the organization forward towards its stated goal. These injections are then tested for sufficiency by building a Future Reality Tree. Now we need to deploy the strategy that leads to that stated goal.
The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and the Transition Tree ( TRT) have been designed to gather and deploy all the knowledge needed to achieve the solutions (injections) identified in the Future Reality Tree (FRT). The Prerequisite Tree and the Transition Tree are the backbone of an actionable plan. They pursue the goal of providing guidance and a logical pattern as well as detailing all the steps that have to be taken in order to achieve the stated objective. Let’s see how they work.
Leveraging the unknown
When we face the ordeal of achieving an ambitious target we are often daunted by what lies ahead; all we see are the obstacles in front of us. We perceive these obstacles as undefined, scary entities that hinder our ability to achieve our goal. When we are in front of an ‘injection’ (or any other arduous task) the first reaction is: “Oh my goodness, how am I going to do this?” This is understandable but it is not rational. First of all, why are we faced with this feat? Because either we have chosen to be, or because it is part of an evolution, personal and/or organizational, we have decided to be part of. Very rarely do we get ourselves in front of a task we have no possibility of tackling. Indeed, at the onset, we might not have clear ideas on how to deal with the ordeal. This is good, let’s leverage it.
Whereas the basic raw materials to build a core conflict are Undesirable Effects (UDEs), the starting ingredients for a Prerequisite Tree are the obstacles we envisage in our journey to the goal: let’s list them. The writing of this list is going to be both liberating and informative: it gives us full clarity on what we perceive as an impediment and with it we’ll develop a pacifying sense of control over the impediments.
When the list is complete we will have split “a big and undefined problem” into a set of much smaller ones. How do we attack them? We make a list of the obstacles on the left side of the page, from top to bottom; then on the same line on the right side of the page we can list a corresponding Intermediate Objective. An Intermediate Objective can be either a logical statement describing what would enable us to overcome that obstacle or, better, how we intend to do it. For instance, if the obstacle is “I have insufficient funds” the Intermediate Objective could either be “I have provided for sufficient funds” or, better, the solution, i.e. “I have negotiated sufficient financing with the bank”.
How to cause the change – obstacles along the road to change
In order to build the Prerequisite Tree, we start by listing all the obstacles we see preventing us from implementing the injection.
Now that we have the solution, i.e. the Intermediate Objectives (I.O.s), to the individual obstacles (very often one I.O. addresses several obstacles) we can forget about the obstacles and concentrate on the Intermediate Objectives. The next step is to provide a basic sequence to these I.O.s. This is for two reasons: first, we need to ascertain “what is prerequisite to what”; second, we need to know how many things we could theoretically run in parallel. (In reality, resources will dictate the pace).
In our next post we will look at the tool that allows us to break down the Intermediate Objectives into actionable, logically tested steps.
By creating a clear and actionable roadmap towards our goal using the Prerequisite Tree and Transition Trees, we have a solid and tangible support that helps us always focus on the goal and where we are going. That’s what can keep us sure footed on any “tightrope”.
Sign up to our blog here and shift your thinking towards broader, systemic possibilities for yourself and your organization.
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York. Angela’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.