Change Project 911: No Time for a Change Project: Finding Time vs. Making Choices

Mat Roosa, LCSW-R
NIATx Coach

“The change seems like a good idea, but we just don’t have the time to do it. Let’s come back to this next year when we have more resources."

No time for a change project:
Finding time vs. making choices

Why do so many good change ideas end up at the bottom of the pile? Why do most teams struggle to find the time, energy, and people to implement change projects? Many teams are convinced that they cannot control the urgent needs, staffing and fiscal resource demands, and other obstacles that get in the way of change implementation.  This might be because they are asking the wrong question.


Instead of asking, “Do we have the time to take on this new project?” teams and leaders should be asking, “Which projects should we choose?”.


While we may be short on time, we can choose how we’ll spend it. The four steps below can help you choose which project to pursue. Apply these strategies to both current and potential projects periodically to ensure that you create time for the critical projects and let go of the rest.  

  1. Consider the return on investment of a potential change project before implementing the change.
  2. Prioritize a manageable number of activities for action to ensure that you have the resources to complete the change project successfully.
  3. Cultivate urgency within your team to foster focus and action.
  4. Use tested practices to unite the team and sustain action to implement the project.

ROI: Understanding pros and cons and the value of the change

In keeping with a motivational Interviewing model, we are all ambivalent about most of our decisions. This includes decisions to invest in change projects. It can be helpful to use a decision balance exercise with your team regarding the pros and cons of moving forward with the change project. How valuable will this change project be for our team?

"Why should we do the change?" and "What will we lose if we fail to do this change?" balanced with "Why should we avoid the change?" and "What will we lose if we do the change?"

Priority: If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

Once you have determined a strong ROI for completing a change, then you need to find a way to make it happen. Most of us have too many priorities and struggle to move them forward in a timely fashion. There are only so many projects that you and your team can complete successfully, and that number is probably smaller than you think it is. To succeed with a change implementation, we need to decide what we want to do. We also need to decide what needs to come off our list to ensure that the priority projects are completed.  

Urgency: the burning platform

Most of us, most of the time, have a bias toward the status quo. Unless there is a convincing reason to change, we tend to favor options that we know over those less familiar. Known things are more comfortable, even when they are not useful, or even dangerous. New and unknown things are stressful, even when they are likely to provide us with great benefits.

Change requires a felt sense of urgency. Many have used the story of the burning platform to understand the importance of urgency. Imagine that you are on a platform in the ocean, a mile from the shore. You are told that you need to jump into the water and swim to shore. You will likely hesitate and consider all the risks related to this swim. Will you be hurt jumping off the high platform? Can you swim that far? Is there a current? Are their sharks in the water? Etc.

Now imagine that the platform is on fire, and flames are spreading toward the edge where you stand. You may pause briefly, but then you will jump and do your best to swim toward the shore. 

The challenge of urgency is that most of us do not experience the clear danger of a burning platform. The need for change is rarely as obvious as when the window of opportunity to make beneficial changes has closed. Leaders need to understand the risks of inaction and the rewards for action and communicate these in a way that cultivates urgency for the team. Leaders should never “light a fire” to get their team to jump, but they need to be able to point to the obvious risks of inaction.  

Tested Practices: Do what works to find the time. 

Once you have found a project with a high ROI, and have cultivated urgency for this new priority, you are ready to implement the change. Effective team implementation requires that you:  

  • Collaborate with the team to harness the energy and skills of a diverse group. 
  • Delegate elements of the project to ensure team engagement and to spread responsibility so that the project is more manageable. 
  • Use existing infrastructures such as staff meetings and supervisory processes to steer the change project. This prevents the need to find additional time to work on the project. 

There is always time for the most valuable priorities. Hopefully these ideas will help you define priority changes and then take action to get them done.

Planning a change project in 2022? 

A key role in the NIATx model is the Change Leader. Teams are also encouraged to assign a data coordinator, who gathers and presents the change project data. The Sustain Leader plays another key role for Change Teams. Assigning a  Sustain Leader responsible for creating a sustainment plan is the clearest path to making sustaining the change a priority for your team.

Join an upcoming NIATx Change Leader Academy! View the complete 2022 NIATx Change Leader Academy Training Schedule.

About Change Project 911

Change Project 911 is a monthly blog post series covering common change project barriers and how to address them. Has your change project hit a snag that you’re not sure to tackle? Share your issue in the comments section below, or email Change Project 911 at matroosa@gmail.comWe’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. 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


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