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Blog post 08 Apr 2021

Successful Project Manager VII: Mastering the Thinking Process

Successful Project Manager VII: Mastering the Thinking Process

In this series, we are taking a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the project manager. Today, we will review some of the methods of the thinking process. The thinking process can be defined as a conscious improvement of a business system is a complex problem or situation. It is based on a theory developed by Eliyahu Goldratt called the theory of constraints. The theory of constraints is a philosophy based on the claim that any management system has to overcome constraints to reach its goals. The constraints can be in the form of people and their lack of skills and competencies, and certain behavioural patterns. Among other types of constraints are policies and the insufficient use of the key equipment. Identifying these constraints and their subsequent elimination is the only way to move forward with the project.

What thinking processes can do for you?

The knowledge of thinking processes is important for the successful identification of the existing constraints. This is done through two channels: visualization and verbalization. Thanks to these channels, it is much easier to recognize the three important steps:

  • What needs to be changed
  • What we need to change to
  • How we will go about the desired change

Which types of thinking process can help a project manager in a project?

Current Reality Tree

Current Reality Tree enables the project manager to map out problems that the project is encountering while providing the possibility to see how these problems are interconnected. Thus, the Current Reality Tree illustrates the causes and effects within the project, which helps to find the very base or root of the existing problem. If the base of the problem causes more than one difficulty, then its elimination can solve more than one problem simultaneously.

The following chart is the most common one used in the Current Reality Tree thinking process:

The Current Reality Tree consists of three fields. The first one is the undesirable effects (UDEs), which represent the perceived symptoms. There are root causes on the other side of the diagram. Between the undesirable effects and the root causes are the intermediate effects. The first step in identifying the root causes is to spell out the undesirable effects and work the way towards the root causes, asking what needs to happen for the effect to be created. Decoding the root causes is the way to find what needs to be changed for improving the project.

Evaporating Cloud

Another one of the thinking processes that a project manager may find helpful is the Evaporating Cloud. It is also known as a conflict resolution diagram. It is used in cases when a project encounters problems with no obvious solution. The purpose of the Evaporating Cloud is to find a win-win solution for opposing parties. The following diagram illustrates the gist of this thinking process:

The Evaporating Cloud maps out the logic behind the given conflict and examines the assumptions that are behind the logic. Its five boxes include objectives, requirements and prerequisites. The conflict, as shown in the diagram, is between the two prerequisites of the opposing parties. The way forward is to surface the assumptions behind the logical connections. Once these assumptions are identified, those that support the conflict are singled out. Only then a win-win solution can be found.

Core Conflict Cloud

Core Conflict Cloud combines the diagram of Evaporating Cloud with the analysis used by Current Reality Tree. Core Conflict Cloud is used in project teams and organization that encounter serious problems and fail to move forward with the project by addressing the conflict and identifying the core problem. The Core Conflict Cloud uses the following diagram:

This diagram helps elucidate the assumptions that lead to the conflict and provides a concise and organized picture of the core conflict that needs to be dealt with. The assumptions connect the goal with the needs and provide a way to see the logic behind the conflict.

The Negative Branch Reservation

This thinking process tool is invaluable in any decision making that happens within a team. Unlike the previous models that deal with an already existing problem, the Negative Branch Reservation is employed at the very beginning of implementing new ideas. Its advantage is in developing logic that counts in a negative outcome. A negative outcome is a result of actions or events that happen when not expected. Such actions and events are called negative branches. By applying this tool, steps can be taken early to avoid the negative branches and the negative outcome altogether.

The Negative Branch Reservation uses a modified Future Reality Tree (FRT). Like the Current Reality Tree, the FRT uses a diagram listing the effect, yet it is used in anticipation, not describing the current reality. The Negative Branch Reservation further modifies the FRT diagram, as shown below:

This diagram lists both desirable and undesirable effects. While the undesirable effects need to be avoided, the important aspect here is the injection. An injection is an action taken to avoid the negative branch result in an undesirable effect. This step is called reserving the negative branches. Once reserved, the negative branches are replaced, and the undesirable effect cannot be produced.

A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge 6th Edition