Driver Diagrams

Decisions chart


A driver diagram is a visual representation of a team’s thinking about what ‘drives’ or contributes to, the achievement of an improvement project’s aim. It is a picture of the teams shared view and is a helpful tool for communicating to other stakeholders.

A driver diagram shows the relationship between the overall aim of the project and the primary drivers that contribute directly to achieving that aim. 




The diagram also shows any secondary drivers (components of a primary driver) and specific change ideas / opportunities underneath the drivers that the team can test and explore in their pursuit of achieving the aim.

Constructing a driver diagram is straightforward and you will have collected much of the required detail in the previous stages of completing the project charter. You may wonder why we are creating a driver diagram if we already have the information captured and shown in the project charter?  It is so that we can quickly and clearly see our ‘theory of change’ (how we believe we will achieve our aim).  This allows us to have further insights and ideas.

Driver diagrams are not static documents. They should evolve and change as our understanding of the problem and potential solutions – and thus our ‘theory of change’ – evolves.

You will find a blank driver diagram template here, but you can also use a simple hand drawn one with your team. Remember, things don’t have to be neat and perfect, just helpful.

The example driver diagram shown below is based on an improvement project centred around an individual’s weight loss.

This highlights the ‘theory of change’ that to achieve the aim, the main influencing factors are how many calories are taken on and how many are used. There have been a number of secondary drivers identified underneath these as well as some change ideas that will be tested.  The measures of success are also outlined.

You can quickly see how a change idea is intended to impact on the aim. For example the ‘join a weight loss group’ change idea is intended to help with a person’s motivation (a secondary driver) which in turn has been identified as a factor influencing the ‘calories out’ primary driver.

Being able to ‘see’ this is important for peoples understanding. We will all have experienced a change being implemented at work where we have no real understanding of why it is happening.  This can lead to people feeling confused, frustrated or concerned, which are poor conditions for an idea to succeed. 

In your own experience, if a ‘theory of change’ had been visible to you in a simple and quick format, do you think that would have helped with the acceptance of a change? If so, you will already understand the value of a driver diagram!

When you start constructing your own driver diagram, start with the aim. Is it clear and timebound and do you know the measures that will tell you that you are achieving it?  This is a great way of sense checking that you have captured something SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound).

Next, take your list of potential drivers and think about which of these are the main factors that will impact on achieving the aim. Usually you will be looking for up to 4 primary drivers, but this isn’t an hard and fast rule – you may have more, but probably not many more.  Add these to your driver diagram.

You may still have some other factors that you have identified and these may well be secondary drivers - components of a primary driver. If that is the case, you can add these to your driver diagram underneath the relevant primary driver.

Don’t worry if you haven’t identified any secondary drivers – it isn’t a requirement that you have them.

Finally, you can add your change ideas / opportunities underneath the relevant primary or secondary driver. If they seem to fit in more than one place, you can either put them in both or pick the most appropriate.  Again, it is whatever makes most sense to you / your ‘theory of change’.

Once you have constructed your driver diagram, you should display this alongside your project charter so that everyone can see the thinking. Now that your theory of change is visible, it can be a catalyst for generating more change ideas; people can see clearly what is trying to be achieved, what are the influencing factors and what ideas have already been generated.