Sep 19 2019
Clare McKinley

Centro Stories: Joanna Vahlsing Turns Ideas into Accomplishments


Our people are a large part of what makes Centro such a great place to work. We’re excited to introduce you to some of Centro’s most interesting people in our newest blog series, as they share their ‘Centro stories’ and a variety of experiences that have impacted their work and life.

As SVP of Program Management and Operations, Joanna Vahlsing creates a variety of systems, frameworks, and processes to help Centro reach its strategic goals. Her agile, collaborative style allows Centro to continually grow in efficiency and speed.

Read on to learn how Centro’s leading process and operations engineer transforms big ideas into big accomplishments.

Clare McKinley: Can you give us an example of a system, framework, or process you’ve created, and the impact it’s had on Centro?

Joanna Vahlsing: One high-level framework that I’m proud of is integrating operational goals into Centro’s annual plan. Every year we create an annual plan, which focuses primarily on revenue goals and expense budgets. This year, in addition to setting revenue goals, we set operational goals as well.

The framework started with gathering departmental goals from the entire leadership team. Understanding and aligning these goals ensures that we’re set up to enable each other, and also makes any dependencies across departments very clear (situations where, in order for one department to achieve a particular goal, it needs a deliverable from a different department).

In addition to rolling out operational goals, we have an operational meeting every six weeks to review our progress against those goals and make any necessary changes along the way.

CM: You’re known for taking the Agile process and putting it to work throughout Centro. What do you find valuable about the Agile process in terms of program management and operations?

JV:  In general, the premise behind Agile is that it’s the most adaptable framework for getting things done. It’s a methodology that reminds us that sometimes it’s OK to deviate from the plan. That also aligns well with Centro’s culture—we’re a team that chooses to embrace change, rather than resist it.

Centro’s method of providing solutions is actually informed by Agile—when we first rolled out Basis, the primary solution offered was our self-service option. As we collected feedback from the market, we realized we needed more flexibility and optionality. We began offering flexible solutions between managed services and self-service, in order to meet customers where they are. If we hadn’t been working from an Agile mindset, we wouldn’t have been able to pivot and realize those opportunities.

CM: You’ve successfully increased cross-departmental collaboration at Centro. What strategies have worked for you in terms of this achievement?

JV: Well, there are many ways to do it wrong (laughs).

For starters, when we kick off cross-departmental projects and initiatives, we include clearly stated and measurable goals. A goal creates a reason why participation and collaboration are needed.

Another strategy that’s worked for me is inviting feedback. I regularly invite people to poke holes in my ideas. I’m up-front about asking, “Where do I have blind spots? What am I missing?” That creates a layer of ownership and commitment to whatever we’re working on.

CM: How would you characterize your leadership style?

JV: I strive to be a coach, a servant leader, and an enabler. I have high trust in the folks on the team, and fully expect them to go until I tell them to stop. I create a lot of autonomy within the team—and a lot of trust.

CM: What do you find most challenging about your work? Most rewarding?

JV: Well, I don’t like to be bored, so I love challenges. I love when someone says, “It would be really great if we could…” Cool! Let’s figure out how to make it happen. No challenge is too crazy.

The most rewarding part of my job is being part of a winning team. I’m really proud of the work everyone is doing. I love where we’re at right now—the accolades we’re getting, the uptick in Basis usership—it feels like the culmination of everything we’ve been working for over the past five years since I joined Centro.

What I love even more is that it’s not at all that we’re “peaking.” Things are going to keep getting better. We have an amazing future ahead of us.