Using the Current Reality Tree

2 01 2010

One of the most useful tools I have in my “arsenal” is the Current Reality Tree. My favorite technique learned in my classes has been the 5 Y’s. I find it useful not only in business but also in my personal life. For those reading who are not familiar with the term it is basically asking at least 5 “why’s” for every problem you have until you get to the root cause of the problem, so for example if you’re car was not running the scheme would go something like:

Issue: My car won’t start

Why? Fuel is not getting to engine

Why? There is water in the fuel line

Why? The car is in the swimming pool

Why? The emergency brake malfunctioned

Root Cause and Solution: emergency brake needs to be repaired

It is a basic and simple technique but one that digs deeper and deeper until it hits the core of the issue. A way to illustrate this process is using a Current Reality Tree, which is a system tool that helps discover underlying issues, or root causes, that are sustaining the current system or practice which effects efforts to reach your desired future or process.

In starting, the basic question is always “Why is there a difference between the desired future and the current reality?” so to begin with, the action team needs to agree on a couple of points; the desired future, and what the current situation is. This can cause issues with team members, especially if one of the issues is something they are responsible for, so determining a good, open-minded, cross-sectional team is paramount to the success of the venture.

There are 10 steps in creating a CRT as described in most literature on the subject.

Step 1:

Identifying the action team is the first step. The team must be diverse and should have intuitive knowledge about the current situation and methodology and can recognize and understand the deeper patterns and interactions in the system.

Step 2:

Identify the problem being asked. The problem must be:





Have no existing solution

Provides a learning opportunity

In addition, the action team must have authority for solutions AND action. This is usually the stumbling block. Identifying the problems and potential solutions means nothing, and is a waste of staff time and effort, if there is no buy in from senior management.

Step 3:

Identify the KEY QUESTION. The ALWAYS begins with a WHY.

Step 4:

Create a list of Undesirable Effects (UDE’s). They are called UDE’s because they are negative/bad (Undesirable) and because the effects are usually caused by something else.

Refer to the Current Situation and make a list of “reasons/answers” to the key question. This is where open-mindedness comes into play. You must allow staff to identify issues with themselves and each other to garner clear points.

  1. This will involve the practices, values, and resources identified in the household (work group), community (business), and government levels.
  2. These will more than likely be negative and related to the gap between vision and reality.

Step 5:

Connect UDE’s in a logical order of “cause” and “effect”. Each UDE should be considered as both a statement and a pointer to a deeper question. The task of the action team is to make these connections until a root cause is identified.

  1. Write each UDE on a sticky note or index card.
  2. Identify the relationships
  3. Decide if one UDE may be the cause of another
  4. Arrange vertically so that the root cause is on the bottom

Step 6:

Identify intervening steps that may be a part of the original pair. Ask yourself if the UDE is a true cause of the effect or are there steps between that are missing. This missing steps could be UDE’s already identified, a new UDE which needs to be added, or a UDE that is out of sequence.

Step 7:

Repeat this process with all UDE’s from the original group. Connect all possible UDE’s together and look for multiple causes of a single UDE.

Step 8:

Review and trace the cause and effect chain deeper within each branch until an end point is reached. This would be the root cause. At each UDE the question is “why does this exist?

The answer is the next lowest UDE.

Step 9:

Prune the CRT, making sure all UDE’s have been used and delete (or prune) from the tree any that are not required to connect all of them. Also look for unrelated UDE’s, or “facts of life”.

Step 10:

Identify root causes and the core problem by locating all of the potential root causes (i.e. arrows going out of but none coming in). Any root cause that accounts for 70% or more of the UDE’s is considered the Core Problem.




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