Keeping the Fire Burning: 5 Tips to Maintaining Momentum within Quality Improvement Projects by Deborah Little @Deb84SLT

Maybe, like me, you have got into holidaying in the great outdoors recently; camping, wild swimming and building endless fires for kids who like to toast marshmallows. This summer, as I hunkered down next to remaining embers and huffed and puffed in attempts to alight the tiniest of flames (because “Mum, there are two marshmallows left!”), it struck me that this was how work had felt recently….

I had so many ideas for QI projects – fabulous burning bonfires of ideas! But as weeks, months and then even a year passed, I was struggling to feel any sense of real success about any of them and was starting to feel generally a little bit hopeless: when was I ever going to have enough time and space to make successful work based QI projects a reality without additional funded time?

Maybe one of the fires below represents the stage of a QI project currently on the go for you. Mine all used to feel like middle of row 4.

And then, two things happened. First, I was reminded of this quote:

“To conquer frustration one must remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles.” T.F. Hodge.

And, I paused to reflect on the important things my QI project ideas focused on as an SLT for Children and Young People – topics ranging from improving mouth care in children with swallowing difficulties to improving how we seek the views of children with communication disabilities. These were sparks that were worth igniting.

So, tip 1 is to be clear about your ‘why’ and know it’s a good one – hold on to that vision and practise communicating it clearly; believing in its importance will keep you focused on your project more than anything else.

Secondly, I spoke to a colleague about how I was feeling and she suggested that I access free coaching conversations available to anyone working in Health and Social Care via the Leading to Change website (formally known as Project Lift).

Tip 2 is to never underestimate the importance of conversations, connections and linking with your networks. This one conversation with a colleague set me on a whole new path.

This proved to be a fantastic idea. Through the website, I completed questionnaires describing a bit about my job and the areas I was struggling with. I was matched with a coach and met with him for two, hour-long sessions over Zoom. Creating this space for conversation with someone who was objective and a skilled coach, allowed me to reflect more deeply than I ever had before on important areas such as my leadership style, prioritisation, self-care and team working.

Tip 3 is to access and benefit from the plethora of resources and coaching/mentoring support available.

Of course, I talked about my ‘burnt out’ fires and my coach shared this suggestion (one of many), which helped me to move forward. He started by giving me some truths, namely: it’s great to have lots of ideas, but you have to be able to focus and organise them – otherwise, you are going to drive your team members mad (and end up with lots of piles of logs instead of a roaring fire).

Some project ideas needed parked, some needed stopped completely and one or maybe two had legs and I needed to put my energies into them. To help me and my small team work out which were the ideas to run with, my coach encouraged me to prioritise using this grid:

Tip 4 is, if you have lots of ideas, plot them on a grid such as the one above. Acknowledge you are only human and think honestly about what is possible, and what is most important, with your team. This will help you move forward with confidence.

This gave us a more objective way to discuss and agree which project ideas would have the most important and positive outcomes for the children and families we work with, while also involving us having a fairly high level of control: the combination of which would mean our projects were more likely to be successful. Upon deciding this, we were able to move forward with confidence using our trusty QI tools such as driver diagrams and implementation timelines.

So, how am I feeling now? Pretty good! I am taking forward a couple of projects and have supportive networks of invested and motivated colleagues around them. I also know that these projects will continue to be like the fire on Loch Tay that I worked to keep alight for my kids. Sometimes, after I’ve collected lots of wood and paper and got it all set up, it burns happily itself; I can sit back for a while and enjoy the flickering flames. But inevitably, it will dip and I need to think about lighting it up again by: asking someone to help or collecting more wood or maybe even throwing in a fire lighter – and that’s OK.

Tip 5 is to celebrate every small win and success and physically record it somewhere; maybe keep a file saved somewhere e.g. I know my project is going well and is important because…. You can come back to this when the going gets tough and use it to fuel your fire.

Deborah Little, Highly Specialist SLT for Children and Young People @Deb84SLT


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