Understanding systems

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The outcomes teams achieve are a result of how their system functions. Understanding your system is therefore essential to any improvement journey.

The Quality Improvement Journey

Why understanding your system is important

If teams want different outcomes they need to understand how their system is currently working. They can use this knowledge to help them identify the right improvements to make changes where they are needed. 

Watch the animation below for an overview of Understanding Systems.

The Quality Improvement Journey
Topics in Understanding the System

What is a system?

  • System definition
  • System types: simple, complicated, complex
  • Why it is important to understand your system; including
    • System understanding overview
    • Tools to help you understand your system

Understanding people's experience of a service

  • What do we mean by experience?
  • Understanding experience

System Flow

  • What is system flow?
  • Understanding system flow

Human Factors and ergonomics

  • What is Human Factors and ergonomics?
  • When and how to use it
Tools to help you understand your system

Stakeholder Analysis - used to identify, prioritise and understand your stakeholders.

Process Mapping – used to outline the sequential steps in a process.

Cause and Effect Analysisused to explore and record likely causes of problems

Forcefield analysishelps teams identify, discuss and assess the forces for and against a proposed change.

User experience (including surveys) method to gather information from the perspective of a person who interacts with and/or receives something from a service (content under development)

Pareto charts helps teams identify and focus on areas of improvement with the biggest impact.


Content Updated August 2021

Further reading on understanding your system

QI Zone Understanding Your System eLearning Module

The Improvement Guide, 2009, Langley et al