Emergency medicine (EM) providers work in a fast-paced and often hectic environment that has a high risk for patient safety incidents and gaps in the quality of care. These challenges have resulted in opportunities for frontline EM providers to play a role in quality improvement (QI) projects. QI has developed into a mature field with methodologies that can dramatically improve the odds of having a successful project with a sustainable impact. However, this expertise is not yet commonly taught during professional training. In this first of three articles meant as a QI primer for EM clinicians, we will introduce QI methodology and strategic planning using a fictional case study as an example. We will review how to identify a QI problem, define components of an effective problem statement, and identify stakeholders and core change team members. We will also describe three techniques used to perform root cause analyses—Ishikawa diagrams, Pareto charts and process mapping—and how they relate to preparing for a QI project. The next two papers in this series will focus on the execution of the QI project itself using rapid-cycle testing and on the evaluation and sustainability of QI projects.