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5 Strategies for Quality Improvement Project Success

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   December 07, 2018

Effective management of quality improvement initiatives includes leadership, teamwork, planning, and pace setting.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has developed a QI Project Management Tool to help health systems and other healthcare organizations implement quality improvement initiatives.

As healthcare organizations seek out greater efficiency and shift their business models from volume to value, quality improvement project management has become an essential capability in operational areas ranging from clinical care to finance to innovation.

The IHI officials who led the effort to create the QI Project Management Tool—Executive Director Karen Baldoza, MSW, and Head of Operation Excellence Christina Gunther-Murphy, MBA—say there are several qualities of successful project team leaders.

Successful team leaders can manage a project such as identifying needed processes and developing workplans, and they can facilitate meetings and conversations, Baldoza and Gunther-Murphy told HealthLeaders this week via email.

They said successful team leaders are also good communicators; adept at bringing out the best in people; committed to subordinates, customers, and results; and willing to take risks.

The core team members of a successful quality improvement project possess a similar set of qualities, Baldoza and Gunther-Murphy said.

"A successful core team represents the key perspectives of the area targeted for improvement and has both process and subject matter expertise; has created a culture of trust and psychological safety where team members can bring their whole-self and contribute thoughts, ideas, experience, and constructive skepticism; is made up of ambassadors for the work; and is action-oriented and willing to try."

The QI Project Management Tool has five elements—each with ideas for project leaders to try.

1. Frontload the work

Planning at the beginning of a project such as gathering baseline data and organizing the project team increases the likelihood of success.

  • Hold a project kickoff event with planning activities
  • Establish a checklist of tasks to show the team progress
  • Set a pause date in case early project milestones are not met

2. Build the project team

Successful quality improvement project teams have the right people doing the right work in the right roles with the right team culture.

  • Ensure the right people are on the team, or consider changing the project's scope to have better alignment with goals and staffing
  • Engage the project's sponsor to help push the team beyond the status quo
  • Get experienced staff members to share past quality improvement efforts that can help the team predict whether initiatives will be successful

3. Set the pace

Maintaining momentum for quality improvement projects requires a time-limited work plan with milestones.

  • Ensure the project has start dates and end dates
  • Seize opportunities to quicken the pace such as holding huddles instead of full-fledged meetings
  • Make sure time is used purposefully to meet project goals

4. Make the project easy

Quality improvement work should be easy, efficient, meaningful, and fun for the team. The beginning of a project should feature learning to propel progress.

  • Use a standard agenda to keep meetings short
  • Make team meetings fun and meaningful such as sharing stories about the project's impact
  • Remain curious and willing to change course

5. Start with the end in mind

Projects should be designed with built-in capabilities for scale growth and sustainability.

  • Staff who will be involved with an initiative over the long-term should be involved in a project from the onset
  • Venues should be found where compelling stories about a project can be told
  • Staff who will be involved in the scaling up of a project should shadow the initiative

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Quality improvement projects are essential to help healthcare organizations boost efficiency and shift to value-based care.

Enlightened leadership is prime ingredient for successful projects.

Effective use of time is crucial for multiple project strategies.

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