Quality of care was recognized as a key element for improved health outcomes and efficiency in the World Health Organization's (WHO) widely adopted framework for health system strengthening in resource-poor countries. Although modern approaches to improving quality are increasingly used globally, their adoption remains sporadic in developing countries. Healthcare leaders and improvement experts representing 15 countries met in October 2008 to catalyze the adoption of quality improvement (QI) methods to improve healthcare quality in resource-poor settings. This paper describes the evidence used to frame deliberations, the proceedings and a proposal for incorporating QI methods into plans for strengthening health systems. The conference participants presented case reports and reviewed a growing body of evidence from peer-reviewed journals demonstrating that QI methods can make significant contributions in resource poor settings. Deliberations focused on the barriers to adoption of QI methods and potential strategies for addressing those barriers. Attendees concluded that QI has the potential to optimize the use of limited resources available from governments and global initiatives targeted at achieving shared aims. Demonstrable improvements in quality may encourage greater investment in health systems in developing countries by increasing donor, population and governmental confidence that resources are being used well.