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  • Writer's pictureHillel Glazer

Still. The most effective way to scale.

Ever wonder how your small team could ever punch well above its weight without growing in size?

What if you only needed to be bigger for a short burst of effort?

Would you be able to pull it off?

Would you be able to pull it off without Herculean effort and burning everyone (including yourself) out?

What do you think it would take to, over the course of 7-11 days:

  • Serve nearly 600,000 customers

  • Generate hundreds of millions in revenues

  • Manage nearly a thousand vendors and supplier companies

  • Coordinate lodging for tens of thousands of people

  • Coordinate transportation and security

  • Ensure availability of or provide food and catering for everyone on site

  • Safely move several thousand aircraft, most of which are being operated by non-professional pilots

  • Handle more aircraft operations in one week than Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or London

  • All on a property you do not control.

What would that take?

What would you say if I told you that it happens every year by a non-profit with 180 employees?

You already know there's no point in not believing me.

This happens for an event called AirVenture, produced by a non-profit called the Experimental Aircraft Association, (or EAA—

While they do hire hundreds of temporary contractors for certain roles, you'd be right to be incredulous about their ability to manage these accomplishments even with these staff augmentations. Let alone trying to train and manage them to be productive and reduce, rather than increase, permanent staff workload.

Now imagine that the EAA has a volunteer workforce of thousands to get ready and to run the event.

Everyone one of us who's ever been part of or had to manage a volunteer operation knows what a challenge that entails—regardless of the attractive price point.

So how do they do it?

It's like a light switch.

Starting in earnest in June (with planning that takes place beginning in late Q1 of the calendar year), a workforce of thousands descend upon and are coordinated to create a massive temporary city-within-a-city on the grounds of the Whitman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Whitman airport covers 1400 acres (or over 2 square miles, or about 1/10th of Manhattan, or almost 800 soccer fields). EAA does not own or control the airport.

The preparation work involves, to name just a few tasks:

  • signs, signs, and more signs

  • landscaping

  • fabricating and placing wooden 4-place picnic tables

  • cleaning/rehabilitating dozens of permanent open-sided pavilions

  • marking parking and camping sites

  • laying out roped-off areas with staunchions and ropes and flags

  • setting up lighting

  • opening and furnishing structures

  • Preparing and feeding the volunteers

  • I'm missing dozens of other tasks

This workforce continues throughout the week-long event. And again, it's made up entirely of volunteers.

During the event volunteers

  • Staff nearly every security post

  • Staff nearly every safety post

  • Coordinate ground traffic and parking (vehicle and aircraft)

  • Handle registration (event and camping)

  • Staff customer service and information booths

  • Greet camping visitors

  • Serve food

  • Driving transportation trams

  • Driving VIP and courtesy vehicles

  • I'm sure that's not everything.

The event is in its 70th year and each of the last 5 years (skipping 2020 for obvious reasons) have experienced modest year-over-year grown of between 5-10%.

How is this even possible?

180 employees and then ALL VOLUNTEERS

Not magic.

Plain, old, planning and processes.

There's no way around it.

Still. The most effective way to scale.


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