Background Aging is one of the most important and obvious phenomenon observed in our society. In the past years, there has been a growing concern in designing physical activity (PA) programmes for elderly people, because evidence suggests that such health promotion interventions may reduce the deleterious effects of the ageing process. Accordingly, a growing body of literature points to the importance of a sound approach to planning and evaluation in order to improve the quality of PA programmes. However, while numerous PA programmes have been designed for the elderly in recent years, their evaluation has been scarce. Quality management processes and tools provide a practical way for organisations to assess, identify and shed light on the areas requiring improvement. The Quality Self-assessment Tool for Exercise Programmes for Seniors (Q-STEPS) seems to provide a framework tailored to evaluate PA programmes for the elderly. Findings The primary purpose of this study is 1) to determine feasibility, acceptability and usability of the Q-STEPS. Secondary purposes of the study are: 2) to examine the quality of the PA programmes for elderly people developed by the Portuguese Local Administration over a three-year period of self-assessments in terms of: a) Enabler domains (Leadership, Policy and Strategy, People, Partnership and Resources, Processes); b) Result domains (Customer Results, People Results, Society Results and Key Performance Results); 3) to estimate the association between the use of Q-STEPS and some indicators relating to the elderly participants, during the three self-assessments, such as: attendance rates, physical fitness, health-related quality of life and the elderly's perceived quality of the programme. The study will be conducted in PA programmes for elderly adults from mainland Portuguese municipalities over a three-year period. The project will adopt a participative quality improvement approach that features annual learning cycles of: 1) self-assessment with the Q-STEPS; 2) feedback to and interpretation of results involving programme's staff; 3) action planning to achieve system changes; 4) implementation of strategies for change; and 5) review process through further self-assessment. The study will collect a range of process and outcome data that will be used to achieve the research aims. Discussion It is our understanding that the results of the Q-STEPS study will contribute directly to the evidence based on effectiveness of continuous quality improvement approaches, in order to improve customer satisfaction and adherence to PA programmes targeting the ageing population. This comprehensive evaluation will also add significant new knowledge regarding the characteristics associated with a sustainable public service.