By Mary Byers, CAE, CSP

Meetings. Deadlines. The day-to-day work of running your organization. All of these get in the way of doing new work on behalf of your association. But new work is often necessary to create leverage and momentum—especially when you’re stuck in a business-as-usual environment. A 90-day sprint may be just what you need to get ahead. This time period is long enough to accomplish something big, but short enough to create a sense of urgency (one of the advantages of the sprint concept). Here’s how to use a 90-day sprint:

Clearly identify the purpose of your sprint. Are you setting aside time to develop a plan or implement one? Will you do a deep dive into a challenge such as declining revenue or meeting participation? Do you want to complete 90 days of research, either about your members or how other associations have done what you want to do? The more clearly you define your work, the more likely you will complete it.

The National Association of Healthcare Quality wanted to demonstrate that it was keeping up with evolving trends in healthcare quality by articulating evolving competencies for advanced and master practitioners. According to NAHQ CEO, Stephanie Mercado, CAE, “The quality space is crowded and being first to market is key, so our goal was to bring a quality product to market fast.”

Assemble your team. Though 90-day sprints can be done solo, the larger the project, the more likely you’ll need others’ help. If your project requires more than just you working on it, get buy-in from the people and departments you need before you begin so that you don’t lose time after the clock starts ticking.

Assign work. Identify who is going to do what. Be clear about the end goal so that your team is doing work that supports your goal. Productivity expert Peter Drucker says, “There is nothing so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.” I agree.

Create a feedback loop. Use an online productivity tool such as Basecamp, Asana or Teamwork Projects to share information and track progress all in one place. Use preset meetings to troubleshoot, review work and determine next steps.

Set aside any non-necessary work and put your head down. It’s hard to ignore incoming e-mails and calls (but easier to do if you turn off e-mail notifications and silence your phone) but a powerful way to boost productivity. (My personal e-mail notification has been turned off since 2011, though I check it several times a day.) Work in blocks to allow you to concentrate and avoid the time loss of task switching. Start your day with work related to your sprint and only check your e-mail once or twice a day during your sprint. This is counter to how America works but essential to making gains and achieving big things.

Take stock. Where are you at the end of 90 days? Is there still work to be done? What’s next? All of these are valuable questions when you reach the end of your sprint. The answers will help determine your next steps.

NAHQ launched one competency area every 90 days, for 6 cycles. When the association reached the last topic, it republished the previous 5 competencies and the final competency into one book called HQ Essentials. According to Mercado, “We sent the book to all members for free as part of a larger strategy to improve our value proposition. Members immediately put it to work, developing models for staff structure, competency based job descriptions, etc. The result for NAHQ was demonstrated relevance for our members and the ability for NAHQ to use the HQ Essentials as a product development framework for the future.”

Celebrate. Be sure to take time to celebrate when your sprint is over. Doing so will make it more likely that you’ll be willing to do another…after you take a needed break, of course!

Mary Byers, CAE, CSP, shares additional strategy starters for busy association professionals in her new online learning series titled, Momentum: Strategy Starters for Today’s Association Professional at She is also the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.