How to write an aim worth sticking to

Picture of Jason Williams

Published on 2 December 2019 at 17:06

by Jason Williams

Life QI - Writing your QI Aim

If you want to be able to run a successful quality improvement project, one thing is clear: you need to have a specific and uniting aim in order to galvanize productivity and motivation amongst your team members.


Yet even when an aim is specific, teams can find themselves falling into procrastination and de-prioritizing quality improvement initiatives - especially if those initiatives are in addition to their regular job description.


Here are few ideas for creating an aim statement worth seeing through as a team:


Bring the team together


Rather than adopting a top-down approach and dictating an aim, bring your team together to collectively determine what the aim should be. Improvement is a team sport, so bring the team together to unite around a common goal.


It's crucial that aims are relevant to your department and your quality improvement issue.


Include stakeholders


It's all very well having an aim to introduce checklists for nurses on a ward, but if those nurses aren't aware of your plans or - even worse - opposed to them, your aim will quickly fall apart.


This is why it is important to include representatives from key stakeholders and individuals directly affected by your project - not only to bring them on board with your mission, but to also hear their input and create the most relevant aim possible.


Setting the foundations for intrinsic motivation


It is vital that there is a clear team objective and an understanding of why the project or aim is important.

Does it fulfil everyone's values and departmental aims? Do people genuinely think this aim is important? Is the overall aim really necessary?


If members of the team cannot answer these questions positively, it is likely that your project will fail or will be achieved resentfully.


A good exercise is to write a mission statement before you start defining the specific aim.


Look outside of your team


Think outside the box and gather wider research about the issue that you're facing beforehand. Have there been similar projects run elsewhere? How did they perform?


Consider national incentives and targets, and public concerns about your sector. How does your project fit in with the bigger picture?


If your project is part of a larger regional or national programme, you should look at how other organisations in the programme are interpreting the project.


Identify your team's strengths and weaknesses


Is there any expertise that you're lacking? How much time can your team realistically give to this project?


Similarly, are there any team members who can dedicate more time to the project, or who have useful network connections?


Understanding your strengths and limitations will ensure that you create an achievable aim. It will also help to identify areas you may need to work on before embarking on the project.


Consider how an aim will affect people's behaviour


Ever set yourself an aim to lose weight in the new year and then promptly gained a few pounds by the end of January? We wonder why, and then when we look back over the aim and its wording, and we realise that it was filled with shame and resignation.


The same is true for quality improvement aims.


If an aim is set too high or if it inadvertently scape goats certain staff, it may end up triggering negative results: corner-cutting, rushed patient care, and even resentment. (You may realise more of these sorts of potential consequences later when you start to consider balancing measures [link to blog article on types of measures])


An aim should be written in such a way that it encourages a positive reaction from staff and patients alike.


Write your aim as a SMART aim


The above steps lend themselves to creating SMART aims.


"To reduce pressure sores on hospital wards" is a vague aim - there is no way of knowing when or how the aim will be achieved.


However, using the SMART acronym will transform ambiguous intentions into specific and measurable aims:


Specific. Get to grips with who is involved, where the project is taking place, and why it's happening. There should be a group-centric definition of the problem.


Measurable. How much? How many? Having a clear finish line offers teams a sense of accomplishment and an awareness of scope. Feeling like the project is just dragging on indefinitely will sap the project's energy.


Attainable. This is perhaps the trickiest part because you need to strike a balance between making the aim achievable and aspirational. It needs to be a stretch if it's going to adequately motivate the team, but it shouldn't be so overwhelming that team members quit before they've even begun.


Strategic planning before embarking on the project can go a long way in ensuring that even sizeable aims are still attainable.


Realistic. Once you've ensured that your aim is attainable, you need to finally check that it's relevant to the real, every day running of your organisation. This will go a long way in inspiring motivation amongst your team members and key stakeholders.


Time Bound. What is the deadline?


Using the SMART acronym, the indistinct idea of "reducing pressure sores" becomes something along the lines of: "Reduce the number of patients leaving Ward D with hospital-induced pressure sores by 50%, by the 1st April 2021."



If you have any advice or experience in creating aims for a team, share your thoughts with us.


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