Change Project 911: Help! My Project Is Dragging on Too Long

Mat Roosa, LCSW-R
NIATx Coach

The Problem 
Change projects are not meant to be open-ended. They’re meant to move quickly and efficiently to extract the maximum benefits. Dave Gustafson, who developed the NIATx model, recommends limiting change projects to no more than a few weeks. Some change projects can be completed successfully in as little as a day. If you find your team in the middle of a never-ending project, try to diagnose the root cause that’s derailing the project.

Any one of these underlying problems could make a change project drag on:

1. Vague aim statement. A change project without a specific, time-limited goal can drag on indefinitely.
The Fix:  Watch your “altitude.”

Some aim statements aim too high (“Improve service quality”) and do not provide any focus for the team. These vague aims are like asking where to find a product in a big-box hardware store and being told, “Yeah, we have that! It’s in the store somewhere.” That’s not enough detail to move you in the right direction.

Other aim statements may aim too low: “Improve the friendliness of the first statements delivered to customers on their first visit.” These types of aim statements are too specific to create much energy or have much impact. Sometimes these low altitude aims end up looking more like a specific strategy. Start with a more straightforward “mid-altitude” aim to ensure clarity for your team. For example: “Improve the first session experience for clients to increase the session 2 show rate by 30%.”

Ask the following key question to identify low-hanging fruit:

What can we do right now that we all agree would result in an improvement?


1. Fix simple technology glitches that reduce access. Any easy fix? Update a long or obsolete voicemail menu.

2. Create a welcoming environment. A fresh coat of paint on the walls and a new lamp are inexpensive improvements that can go a long way in enhancing the customer experience.

3. Engagement scripts. Follow the lead of many customer service efforts in retail environments: train staff to use key language and phrases to connect with clients and increase continuation in care.

• Use a simple aim statement recipe:  "Increase A from B to C by Date D." Almost any change project aim can be plugged into this formula to add clarity.

• Limit the project length!  It’s easy to forget that we call it Rapid-Cycle Change for a reason. Establishing a shorter time frame will push the team to choose projects that can have a measurable impact in the shorter term. “Sometime early next year” does not count as a completion date. Deadlines can help create a sense of urgency that can motivate the team to keep things moving. The “T” in SMART goals stands for “time-bound” as the project's time frame is critical to a precise aim.

• Pick a measure that the team can monitor easily and frequently. Imagine that you are driving down a twisty country road in the dark. Now imagine that your headlights only shine once every 10 seconds for a single second. How long would it take you to complete your journey? Teams find themselves in a similar dilemma when measuring elements with low frequency or elements for which data is not frequently available. The team is then stuck moving very slowly toward its goal, with limited capacity to gauge success.

2. Lack of regular change team meetings. Projects can flounder if change teams don’t meet regularly to monitor PDSA cycles, analyze data, and brainstorm.


• Use existing meetings Sometimes a change team meeting can be tacked on to the front or the back of a standing staff meeting to ensure attendance and efficient use of time.

• Keep change team meetings short A brief and frequent approach to meetings can foster attendance, as members feel a stronger return on their time investment.

• Executive sponsorship Leaders can be critical in setting expectations for the change team related to regular meetings and project status updates.

About Change Project SOS

Change Project SOS is a monthly blog post series covering common change project barriers and how to address them. Has your change project hit a wall that you're not sure how to tackle? Share your story in the comments section below, or email Change Project SOS at We’ll offer solutions from our team of change project experts!

About our Guest Blogger

Mat Roosa was a founding member of NIATx and has been a NIATx coach for a wide range of projects. He works as a consultant in quality improvement, organizational development and planning, and implementing evidence-based practices. Mat also serves as a local government planner in behavioral health in New York State. His experience includes direct clinical practice in mental health and substance use services, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and human service agency administration. You can reach Mat (Change Project SOS) at

Thriving in Survival: Holidays 2020

Jesse Heffernan
CCAR Core Trainer and Recovery Coach Professional

As we start to prepare, or continue, to celebrate the 2020 holiday season, it goes without saying that this will be perhaps one of the most stressful and difficult ones in recent times. The pressure and influence of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many folx in recovery and supporting fields to assess this year differently. For many in or seeking recovery, the holidays may already activate any number of traumas or personal “stuff” causing some to be more susceptible to symptoms of recurrence or heavier use. We may also experience the effectiveness of our self-care strategies lessening through this time, which does not mean we are failing, it instead indicates we are experiencing something new or extra challenging. We need to remember there are ways to successfully navigate the holidays — and we can ask family, friends and colleagues to help.

One of the ways we can mitigate the stress of the season is planning and boosting our self-care before the holidays kick in. We can do this by focusing not just on engagement in recovery supports, but also on staying on track with a holistic approach to support our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Every individual's recovery looks different and with the help a counselor, mentor, recovery coach, or sponsor we can have a plan ready. (We also want to consider other factors, like equitable access to services and promoting multiple pathways of recovery, which includes medications and moderation.)

 Here are some suggestions that may help you out:

1.      Check in with yourself first. A great tool to use is the P.I.E.S. list. It stands for Physical, Intellectual/Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual or Social. Looking at where we are at in these areas before we make connect digitally or in-person is a good way to give ourselves the time and space to reflect.

2.      Take some digital breaks. With so much of our time and energy taking in place in front of screens, planning some time off from them can help you reset and take some time to breathe. Gratefully, there are apps that can help us keep track of our screen time and set reminders.

3.      Check in on someone else or volunteer. Checking in on friends, family or co-workers is a great way to get outside of ourselves in a healthy way. Service and connection can help us gain perspective and support others.

4.      Building your network, part 1. Attending more recovery support meetings so you are walking into holiday get-togethers with a good foundation and connection to your recovery. There are several platforms that offer free digital support meetings such as In the Rooms. Some in-person meetings have started back up; be sure to make sure they are following all COVID-19 precautions.

5.      Build your network, part 2. Get numbers and social media usernames of other people in recovery and keeping them available just in case you need some extra support. Also consider helping others by committing to calling three or four people who might be struggling (see number 3). 

6.      It's OK to say no and it’s ok to leave. We may at some point felt we had to attend gatherings or events out of a sense of amends or obligation. If you are compromising your own recovery or integrity to be around people who are excessively using or making you uncomfortable, you have the right to decline or leave. Having an exit plan for gatherings or events and a way to get home that is not dependent on others. 

7.      Create your own traditions and meaning. If the stories and memories of the holidays are not happy or align with you, this is the chance to make up new ones. There are several alternative practices and ideas out there that might fit for you. You may also re-examine your current traditions and find deeper meaning in them. This is a time to give yourself room to create or commit to something meaningful for you.

8.      Brave conversations instead of confrontations. The holidays can be a time to try new tools of boundaries and practicing emotional intelligence. Even if we are triggered by a family member or lured into a loaded conversation regarding politics or beliefs, we can simply say this may not be the best time. You can also do some practicing beforehand with someone you trust to make sure you are anchored in your responses and personal values.

9.      It’s about wellness, not perfection. We can often be hardest on ourselves more than anyone else. Work on showing yourself the same, or more, levels of compassion you might have for someone else. Put your wellness and recovery first. In the book The Four Agreements, it’s called Always Doing Your Best. Our best changes from moment to moment and cannot be compared to anyone else’s.

Again, these are just some suggestions, and you may have some great ideas to add. The more we do to meet people where they are at on the journey, the more opportunity we have to thrive in the survival of 2020. Have safe and happy holidays!



NEW WEEKLY MEETING: The Recovery Coach Connection  

This will be a weekly meeting for Coaches and Peers to learn from others in the field, explore the art and role, and receive support. In each meeting, we will focus on a topic or bring in a different guest to share their experience on topics relevant to the recovery coaching field and movement and answer your questions. Meetings will take place on the second Monday of every month at 8 p.m. CST / 9 p.m. EST.

Join here:


Jesse Heffernan is a person in long-term substance use and mental health recovery. He is a CCAR Core Trainer and Recovery Coach Professional. Throughout his professional career, he has worked as the Program Director for one of Wisconsin’s three mental health peer-run mental health respite facilities, the Outreach and Empowerment Coordinator for Faces & Voices of Recovery and currently is the Co-Owner of Helios Recovery services. He lives in WI with his partner and 4 children, enjoying all things in geek culture, basketball, and coffee. It is his belief that Recovery is the process of returning to inherent worth and dignity.

About Helios Recovery:
Helios Recovery Services inspires and ignites leaders through training, consulting, and advocacy that focuses on core elements that help create healthy, responsible, and thriving individuals and communities.

Learn more at and see more recovery related blogs by Jesse Heffernan here.

Peer-Based Training Brings Collaboration to those who Serve Pregnant and Parenting Women

Erika Holliday, MPH
Mid-America Addiction Technology Transfer Center

Inspiration can often come from collaboration and growth amongst like-minded individuals. Finding a community that shares critical life experiences can transform into impactful change at the organizational and community level. Creating such community was an unforeseen joy that sprouted from one of the Mid-America ATTC’s latest programs, “Providing Peer Based Recovery Support Services for Pregnant and Parenting Families,” a two part training and 6-week learning collaborative for peer specialists/recovery coaches and supervisors of peer specialists who want to develop expertise in serving pregnant and parenting families impacted by substance use and/or opioid dependence. The National Opioid Response Network developed the training curriculum and Mid-America ATTC requested permission to pilot the curriculum. In collaboration with the regional ORN TAP J 15.

The training was created by Sharon Hesseltine, the President and CEO of New Beginnings Consulting and Training, and Lonnetta Albright, President and Owner of Moving Forward Inc. The training focused on being recovery-oriented, and person-centered, and looked at key functions such as recovery planning. Challenges from working in diverse settings such as health care or child welfare were explored as well as aspects of the work that is unique to Peers who support pregnant and parenting families. The training also looked at the relationship around the process of becoming a family through pregnancy, delivery and parenting babies who have experienced Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and/or Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NAS/NOWS.)

The Peers training was a great success. The training evaluation indicated that 100% of participants deemed it to be useful, would recommend it to others, and were confident they could apply what they learned to their work as Peer Recovery Support Specialists, or a supervisor of Peer Specialists. More than learning new, important skills, participants indicated they found a new sense of community. One of the participants shared these thoughts with the Mid-America ATTC about the training:

“I have not had training in this area so it was very helpful and reminded me that the effects of mood-altering substances start at conception for our little ones. I really enjoyed getting to collaborate with other professionals in different states on how they run their organizations. I will definitely be focusing on building on strengths with our ladies and pointing out the strengths that our children have and how that plays a role in our daily lives as parents. Thank you so much for the opportunity to get to learn more and make new friends.”

Another participant shared:

“As a recovery coach I have the experience of my own recovery as a tool that can be used to help those new to recovery. With this training I was able to fill my tool bag. So much I learned! Thank you for sharing the wisdom that was given. I can only hope that I will be able to make an impact on the lives of others I get to help.”

The Mid-America ATTC is so pleased to assist in providing impactful knowledge and relationships with those on the ground who are making an effective difference in the field of substance use recovery. With the overwhelming success of this training, we plan to offer it again in 2021, and potentially more often as the work continues.