Foundations for Excellence

What Is Meant by Challenges?

Nuts and Bolts IconChallenges come in all forms and levels of difficulty. Pat Lynch, president of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., contends that to successfully address challenges, groups must view them through a big picture lens while focusing on outcome or impact. The Head Start Grant Application Instructions describe challenges as obstacles to achieving the program goals and objectives. Thus, in the baseline application, expected challenges are those that programs expect to come across as they move forward to achieve program goals and objectives. In the continuation application, programs are also asked to describe the actual challenges to achieving the program goals and objectives. The continuation application also requires that you discuss how your program is working to address the challenges.

A big-picture perspective is consistent with systems thinking, a discipline that deals with seeing the whole. Systems thinking taps into a higher level of analyzing, problem-solving, and strategizing. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge uses the analogy of putting together puzzles for the sheer joy of seeing the whole image emerge. He stresses the importance of seeing the "whole"— the "big picture" at the heart of systems thinking.


Management Wheel

The Head Start Management Systems Wheel was developed to support Head Start programs in systems thinking. Leadership and governance are the bedrocks of effective management. They encompass and inform the 12 management systems. The yellow circle outlines the scope of these systems consistent with the five-year project period. The segmented aqua blue ring outlines each of the individual management systems. These systems work together to inform and influence the program’s service delivery, represented in the inner blue circle. This includes ERSEA, Education, Health, Mental Health, Community Partnerships, and Family Engagement.


To identify and voice challenges requires a safe space where staff can openly discuss whatever the data might reveal about program operations and outcomes. It is important to model and build a collaborative learning organization that values staff coming together as a community of learners for a continuous exchange of ideas.

Connecting the Steps

Program goal:
Maintain an exemplary system of program governance.

Fiscal objective:
The management team provides the governing body/Tribal Council with accurate fiscal information on a monthly basis.

Action step:
Monthly program expenditure reports are prepared and submitted for review to the governing body/Tribal Council by the Head Start director.

Expected outcome:
Governing body/Tribal Council members fully understand and effectively use all fiscal information on which to make sound programmatic decisions.

Expected challenge:
Competing financial responsibilities by grantee fiscal staff potentially creates inconsistency on how and when fiscal information is provided to governing body/Tribal Council.

Topic:Program Planning

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 3, 2019