The TOC Thinking Processes have never stopped evolving.
In their first "life" even some of their names were different; we talked about "negative trees" (current reality) and "positive trees" (future reality).
And the challenging tak of working out how to teach the Thinking Processes was itself the source of a great many improvements and refinements; often arrived at in the middle of the night, as some of the early class participants will attest - they were woken at 3 AM and herded back into the classroom, usually to test out some breakthrough.
These Planning Processes are extremely flexible, as you'd expect from tools used in the boardroom and the shop floor ... yet taught in Kindergarten!
There are variations on the tools themselves, and variations on how you can use them.
The Traditional Full Analysis
When the Thinking Processes were first in their almost-as-today format they were primarily used to conduct what was called a "full analysis."
This is where a group of managers who had been (or who were being) trained in the Theory of Constraints first defined the problems they wanted to solve, in the form of the symptoms. Then they would use the Current Reality Tree to define the underlying causalities of the suite of symptoms, and arrive at the area of a core problem ... perhaps after a day or two's analysis.
They would then turn to the Evaporating Cloud to more clearly define the Core Problem in the shape of a core conflict, surface the assumptions under the conflict, and find a direction for a solution. Typically an hour or two.
The Future Reality Tree would then be the tool de jour ... to start by defining the improved performance characteristics needed (top of a large sheet of paper), defining the direction of the solution (bottom of the sheet), then developing the entire cause-effect connections between the starting point for the solution and the specific outcomes being targeted.
Once the solution seemed solid, potential negative side effects would then be predicted, and solutions sought and embedded in the FRT. Perhaps a day or two, again.
The Prerequisite Tree would then be used to surface all the major obstacles to the solution, and to come up with ways over or through or around those obstacles. A day would be reasonable for this.
Finally, a Transition Tree would be developed to correspond with any aspects of the PRT where the specific actions needed to overcome the obstacles weren't entirely clear. Could be hours or again, a day or two.
The result is valuable; a full path with action plan of how to achieve the reversal of the performance problems plaguing the business (or how to achieve some aggressive performance targets; or, both).
But this is the type of use this Theory of Constraints Tool might see only once a year, if that.
The variations provide a way of using this flexible toolkit even for day-to-day issues.
For example, the traditional approach to identifying the core problem has been replaced by a technique where the quick analysis of just 3 symptoms is enough to lead to a speculative core problem, using the Evaporating Cloud technique; then the Current Reality Tree is used to validate the core problem as the de facto core problem contributing to a host of symptoms.
And, The Evaporating Cloud itself can be used as a technique supporting the resolution of conflicts, even up to a full chronic conflict. It can also be used to understand a negotiating position, and offer a win/win solution; to surface policy constraints, and to surface misunderstandings; to help with "empowerment" of people in subordinate positions, etc.