'Quality Journey' Update: Results That Make A Difference
by Margherita DiCenzo and Trish Day
You've probably heard a great deal about "quality" over the past several years. Perhaps you've worked on committees or teams connected with the quality management, National Quality Initiative (NQI), and "Quality Journey" efforts. On the other hand, maybe you've heard little about these initiatives. In either case, you may not have the full picture of what these programs have meant for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Can we point to actual changes and results? The answer is yes.
Quality Management in the Federal Lands Highway Office
The Federal Lands Highway Office (FLH) adopted quality management techniques after participating in training on total quality management (TQM) in the summer of 1989. Since then, the organization has integrated quality principles into detailed strategic business planning processes to develop customer-oriented performance measures. FLH has measured external and internal customer satisfaction and product delivery from the beginning of its efforts. The following three results are just some achievements FLH has seen through its efforts:
- FLH has spread contract awards throughout the year so that fourth-quarter contract awards do not cause redundant work and extra costs. In spite of accelerating workloads, the distribution of contract awards has become smoother, resulting in a more stable delivery.
- The organization has more effectively managed design and construction, resulting in less rework and waste and, therefore, less contract growth. Much of this change is due to efforts based on FLH's Strategic Business Plan, which includes strategies to improve the quality of designs and to institute formal construction partnering. In 1995, FLH achieved its goal of 7 percent contract growth, which was 40 percent below the contract growth of some similar organizations.
- FLH began a formal effort to work with contractors as partners to curb claims. This effort is beneficial to both sides. Four years of FLH's formal construction partnering has provided savings of $4 million to the taxpayers. This amount would have otherwise gone to litigation, payment of claims, and other overhead costs.
The Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) has focused on a continual improvement process empowering cross-functional teams to develop and carry out solutions. OMC's objective has been to achieve its strategic goals and increase customer satisfaction. Some of OMC's accomplishments in quality are:
- The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program Team has developed and begun using a standard electronic format for the State Enforcement Plan (SEP) grant-writing procedure. As a result, in 1996, more states submitted SEPs before the deadline date and rated the grant application process at a higher level of satisfaction than in 1995.
- The Training Team recommended team-building training for all OMC employees. Currently, management teams, technical teams, and national and functional process improvement teams use problem-solving tools.
- The Communications Team developed and distributed a Rulemaking Preparation and Distribution Reference Guide. This guide established the rule-writing and coordination process, and it provides up-to-date regulatory information.
- The Information Systems Team developed and distributed the document, How to Find the Correct U.S. DOT/ICC # and Carrier Name. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance also distributed the form in its newsletter, The Guardian. These actions have made it easier for motor carriers to find and record these numbers, and now, more commercial motor vehicle inspection forms show a U.S. DOT/ICC number.
- The Enforcement Team has developed and/or supported processes to enhance enforcement uniformity (e.g., standardized claim letters, streamlined follow-up reviews, carrier selection, and penalty software).
New National Emphasis on Quality Products
FHWA began to apply the quality process to all aspects of highway engineering and operations with Demonstration Project (DP) 89 on Dec. 12 and 13, 1990. The first step was a meeting of FHWA and its partners from state highway agencies, the construction industry, construction associations, and academia to plan specific activities to promote quality in the highway community. The participants made two requests -- support from upper management and a national emphasis -- that would make a difference in the future of quality management.
Also at the meeting, committee members established the mission for the NQI: To place a national emphasis -- from all corners of the highway industry -- on producing quality products.
Since then, we have seen many results and actions that show just what a difference NQI has made.
Results of Quality Initiatives
NQI helped to focus the attention and effort of the transportation community on achieving quality results. For transportation engineers, researchers, and the construction industry, this focus has helped make quality more than just a watchword -- it is now the way we do business. Examples include:
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation and C.C. Mangum Inc. received the first NQI Achievement Award at the second national NQI conference in November 1995. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.; Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa.; Federal Highway Administrator Rodney Slater; and Deputy Administrator Jane Garvey attended this conference. The deadline to apply for the next award is May 1, 1997.
- NQI committee members have participated in trips to "scan" for international technology, bringing back ideas and procedures.
- FHWA established the NQI World Wide Web site, which has the latest news about quality techniques and practices. Any Internet user can get to the NQI home page at http://www.nqi.org. Questions and comments about the web site can be sent via e-mail to Donald Tuggle (Donald.Tuggle@fhwa.dot.gov).
- FHWA is focusing on "customer" satisfaction. Under the auspices of NQI, the agency helped to conduct the National Highway User Survey in the fall of 1995 and published the results in May 1996. FHWA is using the survey as part of a long-term measurement of public opinion to see whether highway users' satisfaction is increasing or decreasing -- and in what areas. The agency will repeat the survey within the next two to five years to measure improvements and shortcomings. Each state department of transportation has been given the survey results that are applicable to that state.
FHWA's Quality Journey
In February 1995, Administrator Slater established the FHWA Quality Council, with Executive Director Tony Kane as chairperson, to provide overall leadership and support to the quality initiative in FHWA. The Quality Council launched the FHWA "Quality Journey" to bring all FHWA elements into a consistent focus in customer satisfaction, employee involvement, and continuous improvement. Examples of quality journey actions include:
- FHWA held Quality Journey roundtables in each region, division, and headquarters office to involve each employee in the quality management process. During the roundtables, employees were encouraged to think in new ways about the FHWA and their roles.
- A network of quality coordinators, representing nearly every major part of the organization, has been established. The quality coordinators share information and ideas about quality improvement.
- The Office of Program Review was renamed the Office of Program Quality Coordination. The role of this office is to promote practices that will improve quality in the delivery of FHWA programs and services.
- On Dec. 3 through 5, 1996, FHWA held its second national Quality Workshop. The workshop was an opportunity for managers and other quality leaders to study quality management practices. It was also an occasion to present the new Quality Journey Awards, recognizing exceptional leadership and achievement.
- Measurement of employee (internal customer) satisfaction has been done through all-employee surveys. They will be repeated on a periodic basis. Managers will provide feedback and take follow-up actions to address employee concerns.
Goals for the Future
Quality management techniques and the specific actions under NQI have produced many benefits. FHWA encourages employees to feel responsible for the quality of their work and to push the envelope with new ideas and processes.
NQI has strengthened relationships among the transportation partners -- FHWA and its associates in the transportation community. Since the goals are to achieve more efficient use of resources, better results, and customer satisfaction, each partner organization knows the benefits of good results.
How do our partners and customers rate the quality of our services and products? How many fewer complaints have we received from the states and from Congress? How many compliments have we received?
Our goal is to answer all these questions with responses that show the improvements we've made. The quality journey has begun for FHWA. And we'll continue to listen to our customers and focus on quality.
Margherita DiCenzo is a senior writer-editor in FHWA's Publishing and Visual Communications Division. She recently assisted with the development and publication of materials for FHWA's Quality Journey roundtable.
Trish Day is a multimedia specialist in FHWA's Publishing and Visual Communications Division. Among her other projects, she manages the production of many of the agency's newsletters.