Course Content
Sarah’s Retail Inventory Management
Sarah owns a small retail business that sells handmade jewelry. She's been experiencing inventory management challenges, such as stockouts of popular items and overstocking of slow-moving products. Sarah realizes that she needs a more strategic approach to managing her inventory to improve sales and optimize cash flow. She adopts a systems approach.
Susans’ Restaurant Workflow
Susan's journey towards optimizing her restaurant's operations using systems thinking principles exemplifies the power of proactive problem-solving, continuous improvement, and strategic innovation. By identifying inefficiencies, leveraging feedback loops, analyzing leverage points, implementing systemic solutions, and monitoring performance, Susan transforms her restaurant into a thriving and sustainable business.
Use Cases: Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Small Business Management
About Lesson

Use Case: Optimizing Workflow Efficiency in a Small Restaurant

A great use case for small business management that showcases systems thinking and is easily accessible to novice systems thinkers could be optimizing workflow efficiency in a small restaurant. The general principles are widely applicable across types of businesses.



Susan owns a small restaurant that specializes in casual dining. She’s been experiencing inefficiencies in her restaurant’s workflow, leading to longer wait times, order errors, and employee frustration. Susan recognizes the need to apply systems thinking principles to identify and address the root causes of these challenges while optimizing operational efficiency.

Step 1: Identifying the Problem

Susan begins by identifying the inefficiencies in her restaurant’s workflow, such as bottlenecks during peak hours, inconsistencies in order processing, and communication breakdowns between front-of-house and back-of-house staff. She understands that these issues are interconnected and influenced by various factors, including menu complexity, staffing levels, kitchen layout, and customer demand patterns.

Step 2: Mapping the System

Susan creates a visual map of her restaurant’s workflow, identifying key components such as customer seating areas, kitchen stations, order processing systems, and employee roles. She maps out the relationships and interactions between these components to gain a holistic understanding of how her restaurant operates as a system.

Step 3: Identifying Feedback Loops

Susan identifies feedback loops within her restaurant’s workflow, such as the “order accuracy” feedback loop, where errors in order processing lead to customer complaints and rework, impacting employee morale and customer satisfaction. She also recognizes the “staffing demand” feedback loop, where fluctuations in customer demand influence staffing levels and operational efficiency.

Step 4: Analyzing Leverage Points

Using systems thinking principles, Susan analyzes leverage points within her restaurant’s workflow, identifying opportunities to optimize efficiency and improve overall performance. She recognizes that adjusting staffing levels, simplifying menu offerings, streamlining kitchen processes, and enhancing communication channels are potential leverage points that could lead to significant improvements.

Step 5: Implementing Systemic Solutions

Susan implements systemic solutions to address the identified inefficiencies in her restaurant’s workflow. This includes optimizing staff schedules based on demand patterns, redesigning the kitchen layout for improved workflow, standardizing order processing procedures, and implementing technology solutions such as point-of-sale systems to enhance efficiency and accuracy.

Step 6: Monitoring and Iterating

Susan monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) such as table turnover rates, order processing times, customer satisfaction scores, and employee feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of her systemic solutions. She iterates her strategies based on feedback and insights, continuously refining her restaurant’s workflow to achieve optimal efficiency and customer experience.


By applying systems thinking principles to optimize workflow efficiency in her small restaurant, Susan achieves significant improvements in operational performance. She reduces wait times, minimizes order errors, enhances employee morale, and increases customer satisfaction. Moreover, Susan develops a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of her restaurant’s processes, empowering her to make more informed and strategic decisions to drive business success.


This use case illustrates how small business owners can leverage systems thinking principles to optimize workflow efficiency and improve operational performance in their organizations. By taking a holistic and systemic approach to problem-solving, small business owners like Susan can identify root causes, implement targeted interventions, and achieve sustainable business growth in a competitive market environment.

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