BTOP Projects at Work: Operational Excellence and Program Flexibility: An Oxymoron?

This weekend we launched our Fast Forward trainings in Rio Rancho, a sizable suburb just north of Albuquerque, NM. Once again, we have over 300 registrants! It seems we are off to a solid start in another community. Our program has finally gained a routine and may even be somewhat predictable. Program activities have not become easy and rote, but we do seem to finally have a reliable calendar of operations that guides our program planning, implementation, and assessment. This means, if we follow our own best practices, we consistently enroll over 250 people in our classes. Moreover, we maintain our trajectory of meeting our grant goals.

This is great - right? Except the backstory is that we are now less flexible in each location because we know (or at least we think we know) what works and what doesn’t. So, if a local community organization asks us to do something outside of our norm we are likely to say, “That isn’t the way we have found it works best.” And yet, a key part of our success has been the responsiveness that underpins the relationships we form in each community.

We continue to acknowledge each community’s differences and respond with tailored program elements that embrace these differences. 

Balancing quality in program operations (think: Toyota’s Camry production line) and flexibility in meeting each community’s unique needs (think: art class for 4-year-olds) is tough. And in a world where “replication of program models” is king we are keenly aware of the need to seek and strike this balance. So, we have done a few things to help ourselves perform this balancing act.

  1. We talk a lot with one another on our own team to share what is going on so we don't let something slip through the cracks
  2. We say no to some requests and we don't budge.
  3. We say yes to other requests - with the caveat that the community help bear the weight. And, we are really clear about who is doing what.
  4. We say yes to some requests that we should have thought of ourselves and we work to learn how to do it.

The other thing we have learned to do is to rely on our data to help us make decisions. For example, most communities are adamant that they want evening classes. And in every site those are the classes that fill the least. So, now we listen to communities' requests and offer a few evening classes. We know we might need to cancel these classes when, as is always the case (so far!), only 1 or 2 people actually register.  

The last thing we always do is to verbally acknowledge to community leaders that their community is different and that we do need help in navigating it to be successful. Whether or not each community is vastly different from another I'm not sure but regardless, no one wants to be told they are "just like the last place we went."

Alice Loy

Co-Founder, GCCE ~ fostering economic prosperity and cultural wealth ~

Santa Fe, NM 


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.