Driver Diagram: Advantages and disadvantages

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 18 January 2023 at 09:53

by Suzie Creighton


In its ‘Quality Improvement Essentials Toolkit’ the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) describes driver diagrams as ‘a roadmap for achieving the overall project aim.’ Driver diagrams can be used to plan improvement project activities and represent a key element of QI projects. While there are many advantages to using driver diagrams, there are some limitations that you should be aware of. So, let’s take a look at them.



Advantages of driver diagrams

There are so many benefits of using driver diagrams within your QI project. Let’s have a look at some of the key advantages and benefits:



Foster group thinking and encourages collaborative working

By helping you see different ways of thinking and looking at the problem from different angles, driver diagrams encourage people to look at all factors in a collaborative way. If you encourage teamwork when you are creating your drive diagram, you can engage with key stakeholders and build in their opinion which will help you create a balanced diagram.



Maintain a project's logic and focus

By focussing on the relationship between aims and change ideas, driver diagrams help you to get to the heart of the issue and see clearly what you could do. If you use SMART aims you can ensure your change ideas clearly link through.



Break down and simplify overwhelming problems

Driver diagrams help you to work though complex problems and support you in methodically working through logical processes. By creating primary drivers, secondary drivers and then change ideas you can map out and simplify your project.


You can also use your driver diagram to ‘work backwards’ through a problem by using change ideas to develop change theory and work out complex problems. You can help people think through complex problems by asking questions about how changes will affect the way the system is working.


This supports the theory that ‘Improvement can be complex and multifaceted and often we need to look at a problem from different perspectives before one of many different solutions can be found.’ You can read more about driver diagrams and how they work and the benefits they have on our blog.



Show the causal relationships between drivers, thereby generating relevant measures and change ideas

‘Perhaps the biggest strength of driver diagrams is that they are simple, linear, and demonstrate the causal relations between different factors clearly.’ They can help you and your team to understand the system and create more accurate predictions within your project. Primary drivers indicate the ‘process measures that you need to consider (how you ensure that the project/change is being implemented as planned), while secondary drivers indicate outcome measures (how you measure success/improvement).’



Share successes and communicate your QI project's thinking with stakeholders

Driver diagrams enable QI teams to communicate complicated projects and their rationale in one simple and easy to read visual diagram. They can aid planning while demonstrating benefits that can make people want to know more. This in turn helps people to engage with a change idea. It’s easier if driver diagrams are created in the early planning stages of your QI project, as this means you can get your team on board to help you engage and visualise your planning.


As driver diagrams visually set your project out for you, it is easier to share and demonstrate success. They enable teams to celebrate and recognise improvements as you are working through your project.



Represent a complex strategy visually

Driver diagrams are widely used in QI as they are able to represent complex ideas in a visual manner. NHS Education for Scotland describe the benefits here:


Driver diagrams:


  • ‘They are also able to articulate what parts of a system need to change in which way, ensuring everyone working on improving their system has a shared sense of why
  • Help teams work collaboratively and focus on changes that will impact most on their system, while avoiding spending time and resources on changes that will have little effect
  • Help identify outcome and process measures for improvement work so that teams can tell whether their efforts are leading to improvement’


You might want to look in more detail at our blog on driver diagrams.



Easy to create and to use – if you have the right tools!

Although they might sound complex and daunting, if you have the right tools, driver diagrams can be relatively easy to put together and to follow through with a structured approach. Using a solution like Life QI enables you to create driver diagrams and all their associated elements quickly and easily.



Disadvantages of driver diagrams

We’ve looked at all the benefits and advantages of using driver diagrams and seen how they can be a really useful tool within QI programmes. However, there can be limitations associated with driver diagram. These should be considered before deciding if this is the right approach for you and your team.



Lack of a strong team

From our article, we’ve seen how driver diagrams really benefit from team input – with areas such as brainstorming being so useful to create primary and secondary drivers. The teamwork element could be problem in creating your driver diagram if you don’t have that kind of support you might find this difficult. You will need a strong team to do this. However, if you are using software such as Life QI to help you create driver diagrams, this can really help.



Complex and daunting to kick off

Driver diagrams can be daunting to kick off. If you don’t have the right tools in place, you could find it a daunting prospect. They are quite difficult to create if you use a paper template – but if you have the right tools in place, such as Life QI, this will make development much easier.



Used in the wrong way

Some QI teams may be tempted to use the driver diagram as a mere expression of their thoughts, rather than as an actual tool or method for planning. It’s worth setting out objectives at the offset so everyone is clear about purpose.


The feedback in general on driver diagrams is generally very positive from QI teams. And from looking further into the pros and cons of driver diagrams in this piece, I think it is safe to conclude that there are more pros than cons and the driver diagram is an effective QI planning tool.


However you are using driver diagrams to support you on your QI journey – whether sharing successes or deconstructing complex problems - creating a driver diagram is made significantly easier when using a QI software solution. Solutions such as Life QI can really help – and indeed, QI teams such as those at East London Foundation Trust use Life QI to create their driver diagrams online with great success.


Good luck in creating your driver diagram!





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