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No evaluation touting potential for improvement in intergovernmental communication would be complete without noting potential for even further improvements. The management process demands a push toward continuous improvement of customer focus and operational procedures. Working together to improve communication and process for benefits of key stakeholders is a journey, not a destination.
Consistent with the goal of continuous improvement, four specific areas that most states could evaluate as opportunities for improvement include:
The following paragraphs describe each of these opportunities for improvement in greater detail.
The WSDOT study clearly identified how a position such as the local agency coordinator provides value to any transportation program. A key component to the success of any STD/local agency relationship is the appropriate communication system. Establishing this type of rapport will involve a time commitment and a liaison position, like the local agency coordinator position in WSDOT. The amount of time and number of positions required will be dependent on the size of the state's transportation program. However, if this position remains not funded, its success will be compromised, as the position will be difficult for the STDs accountability purposes. Funding of these positions would provide resources necessary to carry out the intent of the TEA-21 legislation.
One important comment made by each WSDOT region visited was the fluctuating workloads for state employees. This concern was also expressed by four of five STDs studied during a previous research project. Demand for transportation construction projects inherently fluctuates within states based upon local and regional needs. This "feast or famine" workload creates staffing challenges for the heartiest of STDs. Consultants may be used to assist STD staff during peak workflow. But, sufficient state staff that could be mobilized to address specific workload needs in specific areas could provide a win-win solution to this dilemma. Local STD divisions could have regular meetings that establish a process improvement team and a plan designed to address the one primary goal-a more balanced workload. Place these plans on either a web page, intra-internet service bulletin board, and on file with each local agency. This plan is a customer commitment plan, demonstrating commitment to customer satisfaction by listening to the STD's partners and customers-the local public agencies. The development of these regional business-scheduling plans can be facilitated by managers from each region, by an outside facilitator, or with assistance from the FHWA.
The use of internal and external surveys has been mentioned an excellent way to acquire performance feedback, process improvements, and problem-solving opportunities. Informal feedback now occurs through instituted positions within STDs. However, a more formalized system of surveying for performance feedback from key customer constituencies of each group would provide STDs and partners with even more strategic information. STDs could survey employees regarding performance within the ROW division and between divisions at the state level.
In a decentralized STD model, internal surveys could also be developed and sent to regional offices to assess headquarters performance regarding its support for each region. Local agencies could survey its regional office regarding customer service, responsiveness, and technical knowledge regarding requests for assistance or training. Certified local agencies could survey its subcontractors regarding the ease with which contractual processes were administered. This would be particularly insightful if these subcontractors worked for more than one local agency, or in more than one region of the state. Furthermore, FHWA could survey the STDs RES operation with regard to how Federal requirements, processes and staffing facilitated or created barriers to the implementation of this State/local agency-partnering model. The effect of diversified surveying would instill mini-feedback loops continuously sending back strategic information regarding baseline transportation project processes.
One widely accepted approach is to monitor and measure improvement through evaluating and interpreting data that relate to specific processes. Because these data are used to measure quality, they are referred to as performance measures and/or indicators. Service performance indicators involve measuring effectiveness, capability, and efficiency of the process. Collecting appropriate data for use as performance indicators means understanding your processes and comparing data against appropriate measures. It is important to use the output from performance indicators to establish strategic goals. Performance indicators must be measured on a regular basis and the results evaluated. Monitoring the management system and measuring results will indicate planning and implementation successes. Additional performance indicators should be implemented to assist in gaining even greater efficiency in STD/local agency relationship process.
The study was conducted by Quality Environmental Professionals, Incorporated (QEPI), of Indianapolis, Indiana, under contract with the Federal Highway Administration Office of Real Estate Services. Principal Investigator for QEPI was Deborah E. Peters.
The cooperation of the Washington State Department of Transportation and their local public agencies is gratefully acknowledged.
This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The United States Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation.