#BeyondTheMean

Top Tools for System Analysis



Welcome to #BeyondTheMean! Check out this post to see what this blog is all about.


The backbone of any continuous improvement journey is system analysis. All the planning in the world will not lead to improvement without a careful evaluation of your systems. As a continuous improvement leader in your school, you must take time to examine the current state of your systems before you begin to plan your improvement journey. Here are some great tools to help you as you ponder the various structures within your systems.


The Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram is an analysis tool that helps you understand the cause and effect structure that is supporting a persistent problem of practice. The fishbone diagram is a single-use analytic tool that is best deployed by your improvement team during your continuous improvement planning processes. You can find a template for this diagram, as well as the other tools outlined in this series, in my free eBook “Tools that Drive Continuous Improvement.”


Using the fishbone diagram is simple. First, you identify the problem of practice you want to focus on. Then, you consider the six key components of a problem: methods, machines, people, materials, measurements, and environments. Within each of the six elements you will consider the barriers to successful implementation. Through this process, you will begin to see various trends and patterns that you can design your improvement process around.



The Plus Delta

The plus/delta is a simple, yet powerful tool to quickly and unemotionally solicit feedback from stakeholders. The concept is simple. At the end of an event, meeting, training, or forum, ask participants to give you “pluses” (things they liked) and “deltas” (things that they think you should change). This process is deceptively simple. In the end, you will have two lists that your continuous improvement team can review. The items on your plus list are good to go and you should take steps to ensure that those items continue to be featured in the future. The items on your delta list become your continuous improvement priorities. Focus on how you can bring positive change to your event by improving the areas identified by your crowd.


SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is a time tested analysis tool that helps you gain a deeper understanding of your organizations positioning. It forces you to consider the impact of positive and negative factors from both within and outside your organization. SWOT stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats”. Strengths and weaknesses are internal facing while opportunities and threats consider external factors.


SWOT analysis works best with a team. Here’s how I like to do it. I give everyone four colors of sticky notes. I assign each color to one of the four SWOT elements. I like to give my improvement team some time to reflect on how they view the current state of the organization and I ask them to record one item at a time on their sticky notes. We post them on the wall and take some time reviewing and discussing each sticky note as a team. In the end, we usually come to a strong consensus about the state of the organization.


Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis, sometimes called the five-whys strategy, is a process designed to help you understand the true cause of a problem of practice. If you don’t understand the real problem, you cannot begin to devise a real solution!



This one is super simple. You begin by posing your problem as a “why” question. With your improvement team, answer that question. Then, turn the answer to your question into another “why” question. This goes on and on (at least five times) until you get to the real root of your issue. Here is an example.

  1. Why doesn’t anybody ever show up to our family night events? Because families don’t want to come to the school.

  2. Why don’t families want to come to the school? Because it can be difficult to get away from other responsibilities.

  3. Why is it difficult to get away from other responsibilities? Because families lack appropriate childcare for their children.

  4. Why do families lack appropriate childcare for their children? Because it is too expensive for families in our communities.

  5. Why is it too expensive for families in our community to afford childcare? Because our community is historically underserved and there are no childcare options available within a short commute.

Possible solution: We find a way to offer childcare at school during school-sponsored events.

See how easy?


Muda, Mura, Muri

Muda, mura, muri comes to us from the Toyota Production System and is a method designed to help us understand wastefulness in our systems. When we don’t look for waste, we can lose a lot of time and resources on unnecessary functions.

This is another one that is deceptively easy. With your improvement team, spend time considering each of the three elements below:

  1. Muda: Processes that do not add value

  2. Mura: Unevenness in service delivery

  3. Muri – Tasks that create undue burden

Once your improvement team has made their lists, its time to turn your attention to eliminating the waste. Streamline your processes, refine your service delivery, and eliminate unnecessary and burdensome tasks from your workday.


Here’s a helpful hint: your management team probably doesn’t see the waste in processes, tasks, and service delivery. In fact, more often than not they created the waste. Make sure you build these lists with a team of on-the-ground stakeholders and include them in the solution building process.


When you’re ready to dive into system analysis, make sure you visit The Repository. This is a section on my webpage that houses free data analysis tools, tutorial videos, eBooks, including “Tools that Drive Continuous Improvement” which expands upon the topics discussed in this short posts.


Good luck on your journey friends!