This paper presents a simple, fast method (or management tool) for the analysis and improvement of software-intensive complex products and systems (CoPS) called software analysis-software improvement (SA-SI). The tool relies on outside intervention, rapid data collection and structured in-company workshops. The distinctive feature of the method is that it focuses on the ‘soft’, human side of the software development process and examines and compares formal (or rational) processes (‘what should be’) with real, actual practices (‘what is’), in order to identify problems, their causes and strategies for improvement. The tool complements existing formal approaches by delivering a ‘bottom up’, grass roots, practitioner view of real processes in action. The purpose of SA-SI is to help overcome the severe problems of measuring, analysing and improving performance in large scale, complex software projects. An illustrative case example (Company X) is used to show how the tool is applied and how it confronts the problem of actual/real processes differing from ideal/formal processes. It also shows how SA-SI is used to identify process ‘hot spots’(severe problems), analyse their causes and identify solutions. The paper provides guidance on typical problems encountered in running SA-SI and how to overcome them. It also shows how the tool has been modified and extended to deal with other complex domains and innovation management issues. Although SA-SI cannot be a substitute for a change programme, it can play a useful part in complementing ongoing improvement activities. From a research perspective, the method helps link up studies from the organisational development and software fields and assists in ‘closing the loop’ between innovation research and business practice.