CATWOE Analysis: theory and example

Catwoe Analysis - toolshero

CATWOE Analysis: this article explains the CATWOE Analysis, developed by Peter Checkland in a practical way. Next to what it is, this article also highlights the application and a CATWOE Analysis example. After reading you will understand the basics of this problem solving tool. Enjoy reading!

What is CATWOE Analysis? A simple explanation of this theory

In the late 1960s, the British systems thinker Peter Checkland developed the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) while working at Lancaster University in England.

The SSM can be used to solve certain problems in business processes. It is often wrongly assumed that Checkland improved SSM himself with the CATWOE method.

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In fact, it was David Smyth, a member of Checkland’s team. In 1975, he developed the CATWOE method to make SSM more successful. Peter Checkland subsequently added the W (worldview). They first published their work on CATWOE in 1976.

CATWOE is an acronym that stands for Customers – Actors – Transformation process – World view – Owners – Environmental constraints.

It’s a simple checklist to find solutions to problems. It offers surprising solutions and stimulates multiple approaches.

The CATWOE Analysis makes it possible to identify problem areas, look at what a company wants to achieve, and which solutions can influence the stakeholders. The analysis uses thought solutions from multiple perspectives.

CATWOE Analysis by Peter Checkland - toolshero

Figure 1 – CATWOE Analysis Approach

The CATWOE Analysis makes it possible to identify problem areas, what a company wants to achieve, and which solutions can influence the stakeholders. The analysis uses thought solutions from multiple perspectives.

Application of the CATWOE Analysis

The CATWOE Analysis is used to identify and solve business problems that often involve multiple and conflicting interests. By considering all perspectives and standpoints, it offers an ethical framework for the problem-solving approach.

The CATWOE Analysis happens on the existing system or process within an organisation. The components below are used to think about a problem and/or the solution:

C – Customers

Generally, these are an organisation’s customers. They are users and stakeholders of a system. The will undoubtedly benefit if a change is to occur within the system or process or if a problem is solved.

The first step in the CATWOE Analysis is to identify the customers and understand how the process or system influences them. In addition, you’ll need to find out what problems they encounter before considering solutions.

A – Actors

They are usually the employees within an organisation. They ensure that a transformation process happens. They’re responsible for carrying out work and are involved with the implementation of changes in the system.

By knowing their qualities, abilities and interests in advance, you get a clear picture of their impact on the process or system.

T – Transformation Process

Transformation is the change that a system or process leads to. It’s the process in which input (including raw materials and man-hours) is transformed by an organisation into output (such as a final product or solution to a problem).

In addition to knowing in advance what the input requires and what the end result (output) will be, you also have to carefully consider the intermediate steps.

W – World view

This is about the ‘bigger picture’ and considers the different stakeholders and interested parties from the environment surrounding an organisation and the influence they can have.

It is also seen as the most crucial step in the CATWOE analysis. Stakeholders often have different approaches to the same issue, with other (conflicting) interests. The goal of the CATWOE analysis is to make their different viewpoint explicit.

O – Owners

This usually refers to the owner, entrepreneur or investor of an organisation, who wants to make changes and who decides whether a project should start or stop. As decision makers, they have the highest authorities.

E – Environmental Constraints

In contrast with World view, this is about the actual environmental elements that may influence the organisation and can limit or restrict the system. Examples include ethical boundaries, regulations, financial constraints and environmental factors.

A CATWOE Analysis example

A CATWOE Analysis provides insights into problems and the different perceptions that different audience groups have to come to solutions. A CATWOE Analysis enables you to gather all different standpoints in a common platform.

It offers a holistic understanding of the different perspectives and forms the foundation for integration of two or more viewpoints. The next example is about a change that an airport wants to make to the landing procedures.

Aircraft are obligated to initiate their landing in a different way to reduce noise significantly. Using the CATWOE analysis, we deal with the following:

C – Customers

The customers in this situation are the airlines, their employees and passengers who will be affected by the change. It’s mostly the airlines and their staff who will have to incorporate and carry out the change. In that sense, they influence the change process.

A – Actors

The actors in this case are the air traffic controllers who work at the airport; they have to give different instructions for for instance a longer approach, which means that the planes won’t have to brake as hard on the runway.

The pilots of the different airlines also have to start their landing procedures in a different way and monitor their braking. They’re actors as well.

T – Transformation Process

The entire process (transformation process) of landing will be changed significantly. When an aircraft approaches the runway from the sky, its speed will already have been greatly reduced. After touchdown on the runway, brakes are applied to the aircraft’s wheels to bring it to a halt.

By using a longer approach route, they can already reduce a lot of speed in the air, which meant they won’t have to brake as long on the runway (which leads to a lot of noise).

The entire procedure requires that different signals and instructions are given by air traffic control to the aircraft in the air.

W – World view

From the airport’s surroundings (world view), home-owners will want procedures to reduce noise from aircraft landings. Other stakeholders, including the airlines, have conflicting interests.

They will probably argue that longer approach routes can lead to dangerous situations in the air. For passengers, it might be inconvenient to have longer travel times.

And based on commercial considerations, the management of the airport can argue that they can now not have as many aircraft landings per hour.

O – Owners

The owners of the airlines are the ones who will eventually give or deny permission for changing the approach route and braking procedure.

In this case, the airport board is an important owner as well, with a lot of influence that allows them to force the change in the procedure.

E – Environmental Constraints

The environmental constraints will significantly influence the new approach. Think for instance about laws made by the government, weather conditions, geographical features of the runway and the increased emissions that can lead to environmental issues. The competition from other airports can also be studied as an environmental constraint.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Can you apply the CATWOE Analysis in today’s modern business companies? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for problem analysis and problem solving?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Basden, A., & Wood‐Harper, A. T. (2006). A philosophical discussion of the root definition in soft systems thinking: an enrichment of CATWOE. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 23(1), 61-87.
  2. Bergvall-Kåreborn, B., Mirijamdotter, A., & Basden, A. (2004). Basic principles of SSM modeling: an examination of CATWOE from a soft perspective. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 17(2), 55-73.
  3. Checkland, P. (1999). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: Includes a 30-Year Retrospective. Wiley.
  4. Flood, R.L., & Carson, E.R. (1993). Dealing with Complexity: An Introduction to the Theory and Application of Systems Science (Language of Science). Springer.
  5. Smyth, D. S. and Checkland P. B. (1976). Using a Systems Approach: The Structure of Root Definitions. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, Vol 6, No.1.
  6. Sylvester, A., Tate, M., & Johnstone, D. (2007). Re-presenting the literature review: a rich picture of service quality research in information systems. PACIS 2007 Proceedings, 113.

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Original publication date: 06/10/2017 | Last update: 01/26/2024

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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