logo copy3






Project Tree

Posted by Jutta from Visionautik Akademie


Group size

1 – 500

Subgroup size


More infos to group size

if you work with a large group split up into subgroups of max. 7 persons to maximize productivity

Is participant experience relevant?

Some workshop experience of the participants is desirable

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed


Material Description

-Printouts of the tree template (one printout per project and a few extra in case the project topic changes during the process or new topics occur)

-Lots of post-its. There are lovely post-its in the shape of leaves, it is particularly nice to use those for the action post-its. For the other sections we recommend brown longish post-its or, if you cannot find those, yellow or orange ones.

Create materials quick and dirty

5 min

Create materials with love and care

60 min

Available material for free




60 minutes – whole day

Experience level of the facilitator

routine as participant OR professional facilitator

Number of facilitators



Level of activation


Hidden curriculum

-It is allowed to think on different levels at the same time: it breaks up old style linear thinking of the style “first I have to get my values and vision clear, then I can turn it into an strategy with objectives, then I make an action plan and then I do it.”
-The project tree helps to illuminate why you do what you do at all levels and fosters reflection.

Woo-Woo Level – How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist “No feelings here, folks.” to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

5 Grounding the Idea

Method Category:

Strategy / Planning
Understanding complexity


The project tree is a method to structure an innovation project, get a good overview and clarify it on all levels. Visualized in the analogy of a tree, the questions “why” and “how” navigate you through the different levels of your project, from very basic assumptions to nitty-gritty action steps. It is a good tool to move smoothly from dreaming into planning.


Vision tree, structured forest, digestive system



Developing a vision or starting a new project is often very exciting and uplifting, but one can easily get overwhelmed by the many aspects that are wobbly and unclear, not defined and not yet decided. There are so many ideas and questions around the vision and, oh gosh, they are all interrelated with each other -- you try to answer one question and see you cannot properly answer it before having tackled several others. The head starts to pound, the discussions go wild and after a while the joy and enthusiasm with which you started this project is covered with a thick layer of confusion and exhaustion.

The project tree is a good tool to offer innovators security and structure in this delicate moment of transition from a blurry yet glittering vision to a tangible project without losing its shine.

The project tree is a visualisation aid that:
-helps you orientate in complexity,
-provides a way to clear your mind of unsolved questions and floating ideas,
-and allows your thoughts to jump between very fundamental questions of meaning and purpose in one moment and nitty-gritty details about a specific action in the next without losing track.


Based on a common principle we cannot trace back the source, further developed as a method by Visionautik Akademie


PREPARATION (excluding materials)

Print out the project tree on A1 paper.
If your group works on individual projects, provide one tree template to each participant and make sure everyone has enough space to work on them.
If you work on a common project with a group, pin the tree template to a moderation wall.
If you work on a big and complex project, you might want to draw a bigger tree on bigger paper to have enough space for lots of post-its.

1 Define a focus topic

Ask your group to first give the project or vision they are developing a prototype name and write it on the tree trunk. It can still change at any time but is important to give the project tree a focus.

2 Collect ideas and questions ~ 10 minutes

Let them then connect with their vision and write all ideas, questions and aspects they can think of about their focus topic on post-its - one idea per post-it. They can be all sorts of ideas ranging from very philosophical overall intentions to very practical action steps. They should write down all ideas and all questions they can think of. Once those thoughts are on paper and they have the confidence that none of those ideas and questions will get lost, the mind can become clear and fast and present again.

A good time for that step is 10 minutes, but anyway you will notice when your group’s writing dries up. If you stop that phase you can reassure them that they will have enough opportunity to continue adding post-its - it is part of the next steps anyway.

3 Match the ideas with the 5 levels of the tree

Explain to them the five levels of the project tree. There are:
(1) basic assumptions,
(2) values as roots,
(3) the vision/project topic at the trunk,
(4) objectives in the branches, and
(5) actions in the leaves.

Ask them to stick their post-its into the section they think the idea is about. Sometimes it is not so clear where an idea belongs. Then they should just stick it where they find it fits best. There’s no need for analytical precision in this exercise.

4 Climb up and down the tree

Explain now how they can play around with the tree, exploring each idea by climbing up and down the tree: If they ask the question “why” they move downwards towards the ground, if they ask the question “how” they climb up level by level heading to the sky until they end in the action leaves. If they start for example in the trunk (vision/project), they can ask the question “why?” (why do I want it this way?) and thereby move down towards the roots (values). If they ask “why?” again, they go one level deeper towards the soil (basic assumptions). The other direction towards the sky works with the question how. They can go back all the way up level by level by asking “how?”. How do I want to express this basic assumption? In this value. How do I want this value to manifest? With this vision/project. How do I want to achieve this vision? With these objectives? How do I want to reach these objectives? With these action steps.
Find an example from their world of reference and make the process clear with the help of that example.
Encourage your group to play around with their ideas in this way - adding new post-its whenever something new occurs, modifying or taking away post-its when they realize by thinking it over that they are not in line with what they want. They can use the tree as well for knowing exactly why they want what they want and why they do what they do as for finding ideas about how this could be done.
Then either leave your participants time to work on the task by themselves or facilitate the common group work around climbing the tree together.
Note: Usually people have a preference for dwelling in a certain area of the tree: Some of them love to think about concrete steps most of the time and others prefer to think about the very fundamental and philosophical questions. You can make that explicit and facilitate a balance. The tree helps to visualize imbalances (e.g. lots of roots and almost no leaves or the other way round) and the jumping up and down the levels helps to lure participants out of their comfort zone and into blindspot areas of the project.


The harvest is done automatically during the exercise.
If you work with a group of participants who work on different projects it is nice to make a walk through the forest and present the trees to the others.
We recommend to leave the trees hanging around while the group works on their project. Then they can modify and add stuff whenever the project develops further.



If your group is from a very rationalist background and you estimate that the analogy of a tree might be too sensual or not serious enough for them, you can also use big A3 sheets of paper (in different colours to make the distinction easier), one A3 sheet for each level, label it and hang them in the order on a pin board.

Trainers for this method can be hired here:

Visionautik Akademie www.visionautik.de

Leave a Reply