Tutorial title and one line summary

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Systems thinking is a way of seeing organisations, projects, and teams as systems consisting of interrelated and interacting parts. Systems thinking lets us see the whole, instead of focusing on the parts in isolation. It helps to identify self-reinforcing feedback loops and not-so-obvious cause-effect relations, including suble effects that take place over longer periods of time.

The topic of this tutorial is the Diagram Of Effects (a.k.a. Causal Loop Diagram) technique, one of the System Thinking tools. This tool can be used to cope with issues like:

Creating Diagrams of Effects gives deeper insight in why people do as they do and which effective interventions are available in specific situations.

Content outline and process

We start with an outline of the theory, its history and applications. We then play a collaborative, experiential game. After the game we create step by step, together with the participants, a Diagram of Effects of a story from our own practice. This helps the participants to get an idea how the techniques learnt in the game translate to everyday practice. Subsequently we facilitate groups of participants in translating their own stories in a diagram and finding systemic interventions. Each group presents its results to the rest of the participants.

The tutorial contains only a small theory part and it mostly consists of practice and exercises.


0:60experiencing systems thinking through ball game, including debrief
0:15theory: systems thinking, diagrams of effects (basic concepts); steps for creating diagrams of effects
0:60case study with exercises
0:15wrap-up, theory: causal loop diagrams (advanced concepts)
lunch break
0:15summary of first part, introduction to second part
0:30split participants in groups; collect and tell stories
1:00each group works out a diagram of effects of a story and identifies possible interventions
0:45plenary presentation of results; feedback from participants and facilitators
0:30wrap-up and mini-retrospective


Managers, project leaders, Software developers, scientists, coaches, customers, anybody who's ever had to deal with a non-trivial problem.

The tutorial is self-contained: Participants are not required to have any prior familiarity with the technique.

Benefits of attending

Participants will learn to apply systems thinking, and in particular the Diagram of Effects (or Causal Loop Diagrams) technique, to understand and solve problems in projects, teams, and organisations. Participants will learn how to use this technique to focus improvement efforts and to find effective interventions. They will also learn new stories and interventions from other projects.

Presenter resume with contact information



History of tutorial

This session has been run in various forms at different conferences, like OT2003, XP2004, XP Day Benelux, XP Day London, and XP Days Germany. We used these workshops as an acceptance-test, so we now know which points left the participants puzzled. The session has now matured into a structured and experiential training.

Examples of supporting material

Bob the project manager thinks about systems

How to make subordinates think like entrepreneurs