Step by Step Guide

Spread and Sustain

Sustaining PROJECT Improvements

Once you have tested and identified changes that successfully improve your process, it is important to sustain and hardwire them into your organization.  There are five areas your team should focus on when sustaining your improvements:

  • Involve and inform your senior leaders
  • Assign ownership to an individual (i.e., QI Coordinator, team lead—there is not a right answer and may vary by project)
  • Hardwire improvements by involving all staff (i.e., training for staff, job performance, hiring criteria, job descriptions, etc.)
  • Communicate improvements to clients and allow them to create accountability
  • Continuously measure and monitor results to ensure your new process is still working—you should reduce the amount of data you have been collecting and chose one or two overall measures that will give you a snap shot of the process

* The sustainability checklist and process owner checklist  provide more detailed guidance in helping develop your sustainability plan.* 


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Sustainability Checklist

Process Owner Checklist


SPREADING and Sustaining QI Within Your Organization

In addition, it is important to think about how to spread new concepts you have created during your project as well as how to begin to spread QI tools and methods to others in your organization.   Your team should consider the following to increase the odds of spread:

  • Identify the QI tools or new concept you want to spread and develop a "case" for why it should be used by others (include the results and stories)
  • Ensure that senior management is supportive of spreading the QI tools or new concept
  • Identify who you will spread the change to first (think about the "early adopters"—those most open to the change)
  • Identify how the change will be communicated to others (e.g., through a training session, personal communications, mentoring, etc.)
  • Identify who will be in charge of spreading  the QI tool or new concept and what issues need to be addressed before spreading
  • Identify how you are going to measure your spread efforts
  • Identify and document lessons learned as you spread to the next groups

* The spread  checklist provides more detailed guidance in helping develop your sustainability plan.*


Spread Checklist and Plan


Identify Change Ideas (Answers the question: What changes can we make that will result in an improvement?)

Understand the Current Condition

Before you can make an improvement it is important to understand how your current process works.   A great way to accomplish this is to conduct an observational walk by going to where the work is done (also referred to as the Gemba Walk).  It is important to observe the process (and flow) firsthand so that you can see how the process is actually performed versus how you think it is performed.  It is best to schedule a time when your entire QI team can conduct the Gemba walk together.  As you observe the process you should:

  • Document each step of the process
  • Record the time it takes to complete each process step (cycle time)
  • Record the time it takes to complete the entire process from start to end (lead time)
  • Record any wait times between each process step or during the process step
  • Document any "waste" you see in the process—remember to view the process from your customer's point of view.   (Use the 8-Wastes Form to help identify the wastes--Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non Value-Added Processing, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Employee Underutilization)

After the Gemba Walk, the team should discuss the "waste" identified and create a list.  Additionally, the team should use the data collected to create a value stream map.    This visual depiction of your process greatly helps the team analyze the process, see where the flow is interrupted or stopped, and highlight opportunities to reduce waste and improve the process.  Depending on your aim statement and goals, some additional tools may be used to enhance your team's understanding of the current process, including focus groups, surveys,  spaghetti diagrams, swim lane chart, focus groups, and interviews with staff and customers. 

Once you have analyzed the process, it is time to identify opportunities for improvement.   Review your current process through the eyes of your client and begin to categorize each activity within the process based upon Lean thinking: 

  • What activities are value added? (i.e., activities that the client/community deems necessary and are at the right time and cost)
  • What activities are non-value added but necessary? (i.e., activities that have to be performed but are not considered of value to the client/community)
  • What activities are non-value added?  (i.e., activities that the client/community does not see as necessary and are unwilling to pay for, such as waiting to see a nurse

You want to focus your improvement efforts on eliminating non-value added activities and reducingnon-value addedbut necessary activities.  In addition, for projects aimed at improving health outcomes or improving the process' effectiveness, you want to identify changes that will increase the value added nature of the process (e.g., adding an evidence-based component to your current process, such as incorporating a referral to an evidence-based smoking cessation program in a project aimed at improving care for diabetic patients).  Do not put a "Band-Aid" on the problems, make sure to drill down to the root cause of the problem using the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagram.   

Identify and Prioritize Change Ideas

As your team reviews the current state of your process, team members will begin to have improvement ideas (also referred to as starbursts).  If your team has difficulty identifying improvement ideas, use the following tools to help generate ideas:    

  • Use the general change concepts list to help your team "think outside of the box" and generate specific ideas
  • Brainstorm or brainwrite ideas and use an affinity diagrams to organize ideas
  • Refer to the 8-Wastes Form to identify potential change ideas for your process
  • Identify evidence-based and promising practices (e.g., the open access scheduling change package from the Clinical Microsystems website, Bright Futures, 5As for smoking cessation, and ideas that other local health department and Division of Public Health teams have used)
  • Collect feedback from staff and clients on ideas for improvement --usually those who are part of the process can identify innovative ways to improve

Many times your team will develop a long list of change ideas.  Work with your team to prioritize the change ideas to work on first (e.g. changes that are easiest to implement and will have the largest benefits to the organization.  You want to get "the biggest bang for your buck" and the "easy wins"! Use the Impact Matrix(e.g., PACE chart) or Pareto Chart to help prioritize your changes ideas.



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8 Wastes

Value Stream Map

5 Whys

Fishbone Diagram

General Change Concepts

Impact Matrix

Pareto Chart Maker



DEVELOP AN AIM STATEMENT (Answers the question:  What are we trying to accomplish?)

How many times have you been part of a project that lacks direction?  Lack of direction and scope can lead to wasted resources, frustration, and even project failure.  An aim statement acts as your compass to guide and focus your team's efforts.  It is an explicit statement of the desired outcome of your improvement project.  It is Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound.  A good aim statement includes the following components:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
    • Identify the problem and identify the overall goal (i.e. your long term outcome)
    • Use words like improve, reduce, and increase
  • Why is it important?
    • This should answer the questions "so what?" or "why bother doing this project?"
  • Who is the specific target population?
    • Who or what area is the project focused on?
  • When will this be completed?
    • Include a specific time for completing the improvements (month/day/year)
  • How will this be carried out?
    • It is NOT a specific list of tasks/strategies you will do, instead what methods you will use at a high level (i.e. QI methods and principles, Bright Futures toolkit, etc.)
  • What are our measurable goals?
    • What are some processes and short term outcome goals that will help you know that you have achieved your overall project aim?  (i.e., reduce wait time for child health clinic from 2 hours and 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, increase customer satisfaction scores from 50% to 85%, etc.)
    • Include 4-6 goals
    • The goals are similar to SMART objectives--remember you want to have 'stretch' goals.  For example, if your baseline data for time to process an application is 15 days you would not want to make your goal 12 days, because your team would not have to "stretch" to meet that goal.)


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Aim Statement Template

Aim Statement Example


DEVELOP MEASURES (Answers the question:  How will we know our changes are an improvement?)

Have you ever changed something? How did you know that the change you made was an improvement? You probably had some kind of data to assess the improvement (e.g., a tally of positive comments from observers or before and after pictures).

When doing an improvement project measurement is a key ingredient.  It helps show results and achievements toward your desired goal and also helps replace personal subjectivity so that you do not rely on the notion of "I think or I feel that things are better".  Instead, you have data to actually show if the changes you make are improving your current process.  As you collect data for your project, you should include three types of measures, which are linked to your project aim and goals. These measures include:

  • Outcome-the ultimate results you are trying to achieve
    • Examples:  Overall wait time for family planning visit, time to receive final septic tank permit, overall time to process an application, etc.
  • Process-what you do to achieve your outcome
    • Examples:  Number of forms to complete, number of steps the patient takes during their visit, number of steps in a process, etc.
  • Balancing-what could we "mess up" while trying to improve the process
    • ExamplesSatisfaction with the time spent with provider when increasing clinic efficiency, accuracy and completeness of a form when trying to streamline a process, etc.

While it is critical to have quantitative measures as above, qualitative data including stories from customers/staff and before and after pictures are important to add richer meaning to your results. In addition, these items will be critical to fully communicate the success of your project as well as help spread your improvements to other areas in your organization. Once measures are established, it is important to define the measures and develop a plan for collecting the data (e.g. how will it be collect, how often, who will collect it, etc.)  A Measurement Plan can be used to summarize the details of your data collection plan.  As you collect your data, use a Run Chart or other graphs to display the data.

Additionally, as part of your measurement plan, you should begin to think about how you are going to capture data to calculate a Return on Investment (ROI) for your project. ROI will help provide additional data to show the importance and impact of the improvements. 


* We recommend using a Project Charter to summarize all the information for your project (e.g. aim statement, measure, team participation, scope, and stakeholders).  Once the team has developed a charter, it is important to review it with your organization's leadership, management team and other senior managers and get their sign-off to ensure everyone is in agreement on the project aim and agree to provide the needed resources to support the project. 



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Measurement Plan

Measurement Plan Example

Run Chart Maker

ROI Template

ROI Example

ROI Memory Jogger

Project Charter Template

Project Charter Example - Rural Health

Project Charter Example - Tobacco Branch

Step by Step Guide

The QI Step-by-Step Guide walks you through each phase of a QI project and provides you with examples, tools and templates to successfully carry out your next project. Get started by clicking on each step in the interactive visual below to see a more detailed description of each phase. To access additional CPHQ tools, we will soon offer a low-cost annual subscription for individuals or groups.

To learn more about obtaining a yearly subscription, please contact Andrea Davis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Select a QI Project
Assemble a QI Team



(The QI Roadmap)

AIM: What are we trying to accomplish?
Measures: How will we know our changes are an improvement?
Ideas: What changes will result in an improvement?
Test ideas with Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles
Spread and sustain change ideas that are successful


Programs supported by:

BlueCross BlueShield of NC FoundatoinThe Duke Endowment

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