What is a Driver Diagram?

Picture of Fran Williams

Published on 11 May 2020 at 18:28

by Fran Williams

Driver Diagram - Life QI

A driver diagram (also known as a tree diagram) is an incredibly valuable tool that helps an individual or team to understand and plan their organisations improvement aim, translating it into a set of visible drivers and changes that underpin it.

Driver diagrams offer a straightforward way to illustrate how the drivers and changes may affect the success of achieving the overall improvement aim. It offers an individual or team insight into any key actions that may need to be taken. The improvement aim itself needs to be focussed, measurable and time-specific.


From there, the drivers are broken down into different levels - primary and secondary (not always used) and then change ideas.


  • Primary drivers – these are the big ideas, or topics that will help you to achieve your aim
  • Secondary drivers - these influence the primary drivers, need to be more specific and you will need to identify change ideas that relate to these drivers
  • Change ideas – these are small-scale, easy to implement and ideally measurable. They ensure your improvement project can move out of the planning stage and into action.


Driver Diagram Life QI

Driver Diagram example is from Life QI. 


When should I use a driver diagram?

Do you or your team have a complex problem to solve or an improvement to make?


Driver diagrams support collaborative change projects, foster group-thinking, ensuring each member of the team understands why the change is taking place. 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.


Ideally a driver diagram focuses on things that will have the most impact on the improvement aim, ensuring efficient use of resources, and avoiding time misspent on low impact changes. Prioritise your change ideas based on impact but also efficient use of time, if there is a quick win to be had then this is great for team morale and shouldn’t be overlooked.


What is the best way to use it?

Driver diagram creation is most effective if developed by a team at the early planning stages of a project. It is then used regularly throughout the project life-cycle and updated as required. The group contributes to the different level of drivers and change ideas, and greater team engagement is facilitated through this process.


Ask your team to brainstorm and prioritise the secondary drivers and change ideas. The primary drivers will be led by the improvement aim and organisation's objectives, but the how and the when of the action plan needs to be contributed to by the team.


The changes are tested by the team using PDSA cycles (more info here on PDSA) and the results are measured and discussed at regular meetings.


There is no one way to write a good driver diagram, or how many drivers or change ideas there should be. However, there does need to be a causal link between the change ideas, hierarchy of drivers and aim.


Driver diagrams grow and evolve, as change ideas are tested you can add or remove drivers and change ideas. The diagram should be regularly reviewed and tested and treated as a live resource.



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