Selecting an Ideal Improvement Project

in Tools & Methods

By David M. Williams, Ph.D.

There are many types of activities that are labeled “projects,” but not all are “improvement projects” aimed at changing the underlying process or system to get a different measurable result. Other projects may not be ideal for a host of reasons. It’s common for novice improvers to have trouble picking a good project for using improvement methods. Here are a few common pitfalls to try to avoid when selecting a project:

  • Projects not aligned with organizational priorities
  • Projects that are activities or create something like training programs, audit processes, or policies but do not improve a process
  • Projects where you have no control over making changes to the process
  • Projects that are infrequent occurrences (don’t happen every day or week)
  • Projects where you cannot make frequent, small sequential changes
  • Projects where you can’t answer: How will I know a change is an improvement?
  • Projects that will not include an “improvement team”
  • Projects without leadership support and sponsorship
  • Projects where you do not expect to see measurable improvement in a year or less
  • Projects without a pilot population or model cell identified

Selecting a good project, especially when you are new to improvement, is essential. Good projects are strategically important to the organization for one of the following reasons:

  1. Patients are experiencing problems with safety, service, or outcomes
  2. There is a need to reduce costs while maintaining or improving quality
  3. There is a need to go beyond customer expectations with attractive products and services

Finally, projects always benefit when you can include team members closest to what is being improved, including patients and family.

As you consider launching an improvement project, walk through this checklist to see if your project is a good fit for improvement methods and is positioned for success. 

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