The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) field offices have a very important role in assuring that States submit complete, timely, and accurate Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) data. Headquarters provides overall coordination but must rely on the field offices, which are much closer to the source of the data, to provide technical assistance and support throughout the year. For the most part, States have developed processes that can provide timely and complete data. However, beyond providing timely and complete data, there is a need to assure that HPMS data are of high quality. This may involve further investigation and review of State's processes and procedures used to collect, verify, and manage the data. Division assistance is needed as FHWA examines how these processes are designed, implemented, and improved to achieve better performance and higher quality. This philosophy is the underlying principle of the Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) model.
The Process Review and Product Evaluation (PR/PE) program was used for many years as a compliance based review to assure the data needs of FHWA were being served. This program validated processes and procedures and solved problem areas through product evaluation. While we still have program oversight responsibilities, there is also a new emphasis on relating our oversight activities to factors such as the level of Federal interest in a program, the technical complexity of a program, the local circumstances under which the program operates, the management of program risk, and controlling statutory requirements. To address these areas we must add value to State processes using new tools and techniques to improve what we do today. The CPI model offers various tools and techniques for approaching program oversight; individuals can select those that best meet their needs. This new CPI approach should not be considered an event as was done with PR/PE, a one time review or assistance effort, but an integral part of field office work plans. It is not just a review, but also an effort, a continuous effort, to provide assistance, coordination, support, and interest in data quality.
The HPMS data support the Vital Few and FHWA's performance plan, provide Federal-aid fund apportionment factors, facilitate development and evaluation of legislative proposals, and provide key inputs for performance and other reports to Congress. The FHWA's CPI tools and techniques can be used to improve the quality of HPMS data used for these critical management purposes. The CPI is a means to help FHWA and its partners better understand and improve what they do by focusing on the processes used to accomplish their work. Application of CPI to HPMS will help FHWA add value to State data collection and reporting processes, provide a mechanism for making meaningful process recommendations, and set a framework for supporting and monitoring the implementation of process improvements; all with a goal of improving data quality.
The first step in applying CPI to the HPMS program is to develop a model that moves from the general precepts of CPI to the specifics of an HPMS application. The model developed for the FHWA field organization can be used as a way of managing the HPMS program to achieve continuous quality improvements. Implementation of the CPI model may require changes in the way HPMS programs are managed at both the Headquarters and field level. The discussion parallels the topical areas outlined in the FHWA publication Continuous Process Improvement Tools and Techniques for Practitioners. All field offices were provided copies of this publication in 1997 and updates in July 2001 by the FHWA Office of Corporate Management. That publication should be used as a reference. Attachment A is a flowchart that shows how CPI can be applied to HPMS as it relates to various steps in the process.
Ten key steps in this process are explained in the following discussion:
A process is defined as a sequence of steps, tasks or activities that convert inputs to outputs and add value to the inputs as they are used to produce something new. In the largest sense, there should be no question that the HPMS is a process, and that within the context of the CPI, it meets the criteria for a Key Support Process. By definition, that is a process upon which the organization depends, but which may not be widely evident to many of the customers; oftentimes, HPMS is simply assumed to be an effective source of high quality data.
Attachment B is a flowchart that shows HPMS as a Key Support Process identified not only by the CPI principles, but also by FHWA's significant reliance on this data to meet many business needs. The business needs HPMS data support include the Vital Few, FHWA's performance plans, Federal-aid Highway Program authorization, Federal-aid apportionment factors, and the national data used for a number of required reports to Congress. The many uses of HPMS data are often overlooked.
The requirement for States to collect and provide data to meet the FHWA business needs is a prerequisite for field office approval of the State's SPR Planning Work Program. The SPR funds are available for data collection and should be used to fund activities that will result in improvements to the quality of data reported to the HPMS. Approval of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is predicated on the Division Office biennial planning finding that the State meets FHWA's data reporting needs as cited in Title 23, USC 502 and in 23 CFR 450.
These should be useful to show the extent to which HPMS is a Key Support Process for FHWA; the relationships and references to regulations shown in Appendix B provide the statutory basis for HPMS and support the need for field offices to be actively involved in oversight of the HPMS program. The Divisions may find it beneficial to share this information with the State to demonstrate the importance of HPMS to FHWA, to obtain their continued support for quality HPMS data, and to help States justify to management resources budgeted for HPMS purposes, especially for States with severe budget restrictions. A similar flowchart could be developed with the State to show how and where HPMS fits into the State's operation and organization.
Since HPMS is a Key Support Process for FHWA, a further review of the activities, or processes, that are internal to the reporting of HPMS data elements needs to be undertaken to determine which are of highest value. The CPI is intended to help improve products and services so that they have a greater value to the customer, and with limited resources at both the FHWA and States, it is important to concentrate on the high priority areas. High priority areas can be determined in part by assessing customer needs and expectations, determining governing legal or other obligatory requirements, and discussing perceived process problems. Within the context of the Headquarters/field HPMS partnership, the field offices should develop dialog and communications on perceived process problems to aid in identifying and focusing on high priority areas. Data-related process deficiencies will be discovered and changed only by those closest to the source of the data input.
While the recommended priority areas of traffic monitoring, pavement data, and sample adequacy have been identified based on Headquarters perspective, these could be different for some States after a thorough analysis that considers field office experiences. These areas are the greatest at risk since they have the largest impact on the business needs of FHWA and are major data collection activities of all States. Within each of these areas there are specific data items and collection processes that we have been concerned about in the past and that are still important; they should be considered for the kind of continuous monitoring and improvement envisioned in the CPI model. Many of these are in the Appendix to the existing Field Review Guidelines.
At-risk areas should be identified by the field offices considering comments and nationwide perspective from Headquarters so that they will become the focus of attention for CPI related activities. This is not to say that other data item questions or annual trend analyses should be ignored but that in-depth reviews of data processes should focus on identified at-risk areas.
In traffic monitoring, accurate and quality vehicle miles of travel (VMT) both on and off State systems are needed for apportionment and other purposes; traffic volume and classification data needed for the annual average daily traffic, percent trucks, and other data items affecting capacity and design are also of high priority.
The pavement data items related to pavement roughness and serviceability ratings, and pavement type and composition are critical items for the business needs of both FHWA and States.
Sample adequacy is an activity that affects the statistical reliability of the HPMS database for each State. It is not a single data item to review but reflects on the State's overall management of the database. There is a need to periodically review the sample structure to account for changes over time in volume groups, sample revisions, and functional classification changes.
The process to be reviewed, the expertise level of the reviewer on that subject, and resource availability all should be considered in deciding how the review will actually be performed; a single individual up through a team of experts from various levels of FHWA can be used.
The use of a team approach is encouraged when making reviews of HPMS data programs and processes. Division Office Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), pavement, and other specialists have useful knowledge of the State's programs and can be valuable assets when conducting reviews of data quality, collection procedures, and linkages to source data systems. Source data specialists from the State or from other agencies that are providing data should be included in the review team.
Divisions are encouraged to reach out to technical experts in the Resources Center and Headquarters to be members of review teams. Their expertise can be a valuable asset to these teams by sharing their subject area knowledge and experiences from other States. Outreach efforts should be in specific technical areas that relate to traffic, pavement, and ITS, or other inventory or condition source data systems that are used to generate States HPMS database inputs.
If a team approach is used, the team needs to be assembled, team members identified, and a schedule of activities to be accomplished by the team developed. This should be done in sufficient time to allow for proper identification and commitment of resources by team members in their office performance plans.
Attachment C shows how the HPMS is based on data from State data collection programs and contains selected data from statewide databases. These programs also provide needed data for the planning process, engineering applications, and environmental analysis. The focus of CPI activities should be on HPMS data items as well as those much larger and comprehensive databases, which may be a source of HPMS data.
In many States the HPMS data is extracted from existing statewide databases and reformatted to meet HPMS codes and submittal criteria. In these cases, the statewide databases should become the focus of CPI activities; it is important to get to the source of the data collection and reporting processes used to meet HPMS and other important needs. Data quality improvements in these processes should be a major concern for the State because of the impacts on their own data needs; improvements to these processes will eventually be reflected in future HPMS data submittals.
Once at-risk areas have been identified,the next step is to determine which data areas should be reviewed and at what organizational levels within the State. There may be several different processes involved from the raw data collection to data management and update to linking the data to the HPMS submittal that may need to be reviewed to get a complete understanding of the total process and to be able to determine where improvements can be made. Ideally, this should lead to documentation of the process to assure continued success and adherence to accepted procedures. A team approach is encouraged for effectively using resources and expertise that may be readily available. This documentation may help meet staff succession planning objectives (a common concern in many States), may help avoid gaps in management support, and may help the understanding of HPMS and data quality.
The existing HPMS Field Review Guidelines,issued in June 2001, provide useful information for performing meaningful technical reviews. The questions in the Appendix of the Review Guidelines provide information about various subject areas that can be used to review processes and procedures. They are not all encompassing and should not be the extent of a detailed process review. There are references to additional material available for each area that goes beyond the basics. Divisions should determine how they could become educated on these topics using the experts in their office and the Resource Center when planning and executing technical reviews. They should try to understand unique terminology and technical concepts so they can go beyond basic, obvious information that is readily available.
There are other reference materials, tools, and training opportunities that should be considered in performing reviews. This information is readily accessible to all field offices and States and is kept current on the HPMS web site. Some of these are:
The review of the HPMS data program should be a continuous process that not only looks at the end result, the data submittal, but the process to collect, verify, and manage the data. A time series diagram linking factors such as data collection schedules, reporting dates, data year, and the time lag required to effect change may be helpful in encouraging continuous monitoring of the HPMS program by the States. Reviews throughout the year may be more timely and useful to the State for the annual submittal and to provide budget support for resource decisions needed for July or October program years. Recommendations and plans for improvement should be included and supported in the State's SPR Planning Work Program to reflect management commitment and permit implementation monitoring.
The existing procedures should be benchmarked based on current available information and understanding of the process. Reviews of past data submittal comments and analysis of individual data items associated with at-risk areas should be identified and reviewed. Those processes associated with the collection, reporting, and management of HPMS data should be the focus of this step. Existing documentation of processes and prior reviews should be a valuable source of information
The generic CPI model offers a number of tools and techniques that can be used directly in an HPMS application. These include the development of subject-relevant review teams, analyzing the current process through process mapping, proposing improvements to the current process through the use of problem solving models and techniques, and reporting relevant conclusions and recommendations. Under this model, the SPR work program documents management support that quality enhancing process improvement recommendations are funded and implemented.
One of the CPI model problem solving techniques that can be used in assessing HPMS data reporting processes is the four-step Focus, Analyze, Develop, and Execute (FADE) model. The following is an explanation of the four steps and how the field offices can use them.
This may take more than one data (or process) reporting cycle so it is important that not only monitoring but also support and assistance be provided until full execution. Tracking the expenditure of resources committed in the SPR program can be an effective way of monitoring plan execution and implementation.
A plan for implementing recommendations for maintaining and improving the process reviewed should be developed with the State or owner of the process, supported by management, and may be included in the SPR work program. This is a plan that has a description of actions necessary for implementation, responsible offices identified, dates when each action should be completed, and the measures of successful implementation. Since some improvements may take several years to implement and for results to become evident, it is important to develop a plan that includes the complete process and actions necessary. This also serves as a record of what needs to be done, and should be a valuable reference for new staff at both the Division Office and the State.
The success of the implementation plan depends on the owners of the process being receptive and prepared to implement the changes recommended. The State should develop this plan since they will be responsible for following it. This may result in new initiatives requiring additional resources supported by management. The plan may identify a need for additional staff, consultant or research efforts, and funding requirements.
This is one of the most important steps in the CPI process since it cooperatively identifies what actions need to be undertaken and the resource requirements to achieve successful and timely results. It reflects a commitment by the State to continually improve the process.
There should be follow-up and continuous involvement and support from the field offices to assure that recommendations identified in the implementation plan are actually being implemented. Adherence to the schedule and State management support are critical areas that may need attention. The support should be reflected in the SPR work program, which may be a multi year effort before complete changes are made and reflected in future data submittals.
There should be a follow-up strategy that insures the processes are improved. This relies on such activities as communications, avoiding the not-invented-here syndrome, and making it a learning experience for the process owners as well as the CPI reviewers. Like everything else, CPI requires continuous work and attention; nothing magical will happen overnight.
This step reminds everyone of the commitments made which are especially important when there are staff changes at either FHWA or the State. If recommendations are not being implemented, this is another opportunity to review the implementation plan and make changes if necessary to get back on schedule and renew prior commitments.
This last step takes another look at the final product to determine if it reflects the recommended improvements for complete, accurate, and timely reporting of quality data. This could rely on data submittal comments, trend analysis, new procedures implemented, and increased confidence in the data by FHWA and the State.
To measure the success of recommended improvements, there needs to be some means of measuring the performance of the process. The outputs of the process can be measured in terms of criteria such as whether the process is economical, sensitive, useful, and reliable. Economical means that the process allows for cost effective data collection, while sensitive means that it is capable of indicating change in performance. Useful shows how well goals and objectives are being met, and reliable indicates that the process is quantifiable, realistic, and data driven.
A flowchart that provides an overview of how the CPI model can be used for HPMS and how it can be incorporated into management activities of the Division Office is shown in Attachment D. CPI should be integrated into the development of performance plans, can make use of multidisciplinary teams, should be used to promote implementation of process improvement activities, and should affect the approval and monitoring of SPR work programs.
Implementing CPI should become a partnership with the State to improve the quality and delivery of data programs and processes. It should also facilitate the sharing of best practices and ensure statewide consistency in program administration, process applications, and standards. The goal is to establish stewardship processes that add value, meet the technical and quality improvement needs of the State and meet the accountability needs of FHWA. The use of CPI is a primary technique for accomplishing this objective.
At least once a year, the Division and the State should jointly identify and prioritize appropriate oversight initiatives based on risks and benefits and allocate resources to undertake quality improvement evaluations using the CPI model.
The CPI model can be applied to HPMS. By definition, HPMS is a Key Support Process for FHWA. The ten-step approach that has been developed links HPMS to a recognized agency management process that furthers FHWA's commitment to the Quality Journey. There is room for improvement in the HPMS data collection and reporting process, and the ten-step approach for implementing the CPI model for HPMS presents a wide range of activities that can be used to better manage the HPMS data program. Some of these activities are easy to implement and others require more in the way of resources and staff time. The more extensive activities involve a field management commitment and support from others within the field office, and may need assistance from the Resource Center and Headquarters in some cases.