Aim for Improvement

by Laura Yoshitani, Workplace Effectiveness Consultant and
Catalyst Consulting Group Associate

Catalyst Consulting Group is working with the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging in Minnesota to coach five caregiver services programs to improve the quality and effectiveness of their programming and processes. We are building the capacity of these nonprofit organizations to define and use data to track the impact of their improvement efforts.

Catalyst is teaching the program teams to use the Model for Improvement, which is a framework for learning and quality improvement. We chose this model for its ease of use, applicability to all types of organizations, and potential for high impact in a relatively short amount of time.

Model For Improvement

The Model for Improvement, developed by Associates in Process Improvement, combines three fundamental improvement questions with Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles for testing and implementing changes. The questions help organizations to identify problems and opportunities for improvement, focus the scope of their efforts, and define specific measures of success. The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles provide the means for turning ideas into action.

They facilitate learning and implementation by testing ideas on a small scale.Using the MAAA example, we hope this series of three articles offers insights and tips to our clients wishing to embed continuous improvement into their operations and culture.

This first article covers the improvement question: “What are we trying to accomplish?” and answering it with an Aim Statement.

The second article will discuss the remaining two questions: “How will we know that a change is an improvement?” and “What changes can we make that will result in improvement?”

The final article in the series will explain the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles.

Aim Statement

Crafting an aim statement is the first step in using the Model for Improvement. The aim statement sets a clear direction for the project by answering the first fundamental improvement question “What are we trying to accomplish?”Some organizations start improvement efforts before clearly articulating their desired outcomes.

Once the project is underway, they may realize too late that different team members are trying to accomplish different goals. To avoid this, we start with the aim statement, which focuses the project. It ensures that all team members clearly understand and agree to the goals of the improvement project. That is, they are unified in their answer to the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”

Aim Statement Example

A nonprofit organization might set out to improve its process for registering new volunteers. The specific aim of this initiative will depend on the particular issues identified with the process, as well as the goals of the organization.

Initial Improvement Idea

  • Improve the process for registering new volunteers

Possible Aim Statements

(based on further research into the problem)

  • Reduce the amount of time that volunteers wait between application and approval.
  • Reduce the amount of staff time to enter new volunteer data.
  • Reduce the number of data entry errors related to new volunteer data.
  • Simplify the process to prevent potential new volunteers from dropping out before completing their application.
  • Increase the selectiveness of the volunteer approval process to weed out volunteers who will not participate in the minimum requirements of two hours per month.
As you can see in the example, the specific outcomes of an improvement project could go in many directions. For instance, one person may want to make a process go faster, while another wants to slow down and focus on quality. One person would like to make the process easier for volunteers, while another thinks the process should be more stringent. It is critical for the team to pinpoint and articulate the exact problem they wish to tackle so that all members are headed in the same direction.

The final aim statement should be expressed in a SMART manner, that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant to the organization’s mission, and Time-bound
  • Example: “By June 30, 2016, reduce the amount of time that volunteers wait between application and approval from 3 weeks to 1 week.”

Another purpose of the aim statement is to prevent “scope creep” during the improvement project. By reviewing the aim statement often, the team will stay focused on reaching the agreed-upon outcomes.

Are you about to embark on an improvement initiative in your organization? Start by answering the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”

Coming Soon

The second article in this series will cover the remaining two questions in the Model for Improvement: “How will we know that a change is an improvement?” and “What changes can we make that will result in improvement?”  Watch for it in a few weeks.



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