System Thinking

What is a System?

  • "What is a system? A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system. The aim of the system must be clear to everyone in the system. The aim must include plans for the future. The aim is a value judgment. (We are of course talking here about a man-made system.)"
Deming, W. Edwards. 1993. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, second edition

What does a System look like?


Case Study: Attendance

  • In seeking to improve attendance at your school you might first consider your school as a system. Attendance can be viewed as a process and an output of your school system, and an analysis of the system using the following headings and questions will be helpful, especially in steps 1 and 9 in the PDSA Cycle.
    • Values
    What are our shared beliefs about what is desirable and worthy in life?
    • Mission
    What is our shared understanding of intentions, purpose and aim of our school
    • Vision
    How would we describe our ideal school system (desired future)?
    • Clients
    Who benefits from school now and in the future?
    • Outputs
    What are the products and services we deliver to meet students’ and families’ needs?
    • Suppliers
    Who are the people who contribute goods and services to the school system to assist us to improve attendance processes?
    • Relationships
    What are the important interactions between people in the school system, in
    relation to attendance?
    • Inputs
    What are the products/services we receive from suppliers to assist the school system
    to support attendance?
    • Processes
    What are the series of actions that come together in sequence to transform inputs to
    outputs (eg attendance processes)?
    • Process measures
    What indicators will we use to measure the effectiveness of attendance processes in the school system (eg attendance rates, follow-up of absences)?
    • Results measures
    How will we know if we are successful (ie attendance benchmarks)?
Source:Attendance Improvement Package Department of Education and Children's Services, South Austalian Government, 2003. p. 4.7

What does a School System look like?


What does it look like in a classroom?


PDSA Cycle



The plan–do–study–act cycle (Figure 1) is a four-step model for carrying out change. Just as a circle has no end, the PDSA cycle should be repeated again and again for continuous improvement.
Figure 1: Plan-do-study-act cycle

When to Use Plan-Do-Study-Act

  • As a model for continuous improvement.
  • When starting a new improvement project.
  • When developing a new or improved design of a process, product or service.
  • When defining a repetitive work process.
  • When planning data collection and analysis in order to verify and prioritize problems or root causes.
  • When implementing any change.

Plan-Do-Study-Act Procedure

  1. Plan: Recognize an opportunity and plan a change.
  2. Do: Test the change. Carry out a small-scale study.
  3. Study: Review the test, analyze the results and identify what you’ve learned.
  4. Act: Take action based on what you learned in the study step: If the change did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again.

Excerpted from Nancy R. Tague’s The Quality Toolbox, Second Edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2004, pages 390-392.

4 Parts of the Cycle


Parts of the Improvement Process


The 9 Processes and their Questions




1. PLANpdsabasic.png
2. DOpdsabasic.png
1. Select the Opportunity for Improvement.
•What is the opportunity for improvement
we are considering?
•Why was this chosen?

2. Select the Team
•Who should be involved in the improvement?

3. Study the Current Situation

•What is the current process flow ?

•Who are we serving by making this improvement?

•What do they want?

4. Analyse the Cause

•What are the possible causes of variation

and poor performance?

•5. Develop a Theory for Improvement

•What are the potential actions we could take?

•How do other people manage this situation?

•What is the proposed solution &/or process flow?

•What is our action plan?

6. Implement the Improvement

•To what extent are we following the plan?

•Are we capturing data as we go?

4. ACT
8. Standardise the Improvement
What documentation is required to capture the memory?
Process flowcharts?
Supporting documents?
Who needs to be mentored, trained & coached?

9. Establish Future Plan
What should we be improving next?
7. Study the Results
What does the data from our trial implementation tell us?