Teach For America
Revamping processes to drive customer-centricity.
For over twenty-five years, Teach For America has been a powerful force in ending educational inequity in America. They operate in 50+ regions throughout the US and have a staff of nearly 2,800, roughly 80 of whom sit within the national marketing and communications team.
The marketing and communications team was leading the charge to create a deeper engagement with the young members of their program (called Corps Members) and with their large and influential alumni base. The goal was to create a customer-first approach to engaging these important constituents.
As part of this initiative, and in partnership with the leadership team, we re-designed the structure and make-up of the team. With that work completed, the next step was to create a more integrated and efficient way of working by leveraging agile philosophies and methodologies. The aim was to enable deeper customer-centricity, better cross-functional collaboration, more distributed decision-making, better prioritization and higher quality work.
We designed a pilot program in which a cross-functional team tested a set of hypotheses within a series of time-bound ‘sprints’. The aim was to determine the fit-for-purpose of a range of working practices that lived under the agile umbrella.
Rather than adopting any particular agile methodology out of the box, this approach was focused on creating a set of agile processes that worked well for the team, based on their specific strategy, goals and culture.
The first step was to conduct a multi-day retreat with a cross section of team members from many levels of the marketing organization. This was focused on introducing agile concepts and then testing out particular approaches to specific work challenges. This resulted in the creation of a working theory for a unique TFA-specific agile recipe. It also allowed us to identify a selection of individuals to participate in testing the theory out in practice.
After the leadership retreat, we began an onboarding process for the selected cross-functional team that started with conducting a survey to better understand current working methods, including strengths, weaknesses and cultural conventions.
Next we educated the pilot group on relevant agile principles and worked with them to pressure test specific agile workflows.
The actual pilots that followed took place over 16 weeks, through eight sprints of two weeks each. During the pilots, our team acted as coaches and mentors, unblocking process challenges and suggesting alternative tests when particular approaches were unsuccessful. There were a number of fast-fails, which required a sharp pivot. With our support, the pilot team was able to quickly adapt and evolve.
When these sprints were completed, we documented our findings and codified our learnings into an agile toolkit that could be rolled-out to the broader organization. Our goal here was not to create an inflexible final solution. Instead, we focused on creating a firm starting point from which to further refine working processes as they prove their value.
The end result was a well-defined solution that allowed the full marketing and communications team to adopt a version of agile that was tailored to their unique needs, pressure-tested in the field and bought into by the team.
Feedback from the team showed high levels of satisfaction with the outcomes of this initiative. The toolkit has continued to evolve based on ongoing learning. And, most importantly, some of the larger objectives have been realized. Customer-centricity is now baked into the way teams work and think. Functional silos have largely broken down. Decision-making and prioritization have improved. And all of this is now clearly reflected in the quality and effectiveness of the work going out the door.
Other work for this client has included:
- Content Strategy
- Research to diagnose conversion issues for the admissions team
- Managing marketing pilots across multiple regions
Podcast: Crafting A Digital Strategy for TFA
This interview provides an inside look at the ins and outs of making change happen in a large, complex, mission-driven organization.
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