Skip main navigation

Analysing system failure

Multiple-cause and sign diagrams can highlight system failure. The step introduces an exercise to identify points of failure and possible mitigation.

Exercise

Analysing failure with multiple cause diagrams

Imagine that as the manager of a hospital you have the problem that patients are spending an unacceptable time on trolleys in a corridor next to the admissions unit, sometimes hours or even days. The following have been identified as relevant factors:

  • patients waiting in corridor
  • too many people being admitted
  • too many people are presenting at A&E
  • too many accidents and incidents
  • no beds are available in the wards
  • there are insufficient beds for the population
  • beds are blocked by elderly patients
  • some patients have no carer at their home
  • transport provision is unreliable and patients cannot be discharged
  • there is no accommodation available in residential homes

(a) Arrange these factors into a multiple cause diagram

(b) Put pluses and minuses on your arrows to make a sign graph

You may have to adjust your multiple cause diagram to make it into a sign diagram. This reflects the usual evolutionary nature of systems thinking. The diagramming tools in these exercises often help and inform the process of reflection on a system and its behaviour.

You can share your drawings and receive comments on them on a Padlet wall here. Click the back button to return here.

When you have finished move on to the next step to see our diagrams.

This article is from the free online

Systems Thinking and Complexity

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education