Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
PlanningEnvironmentReal Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Awards Contacts

Right of Way Quality Managment System - The Journey of Five States

General Overview

This paper describes the types of management systems and best management practices present within State Transportation Department (STD) right-of-way (ROW) divisions. Additionally, it presents how to plan, implement, and measure a management system. Finally, this paper profiles 5 State ROW divisions in various phases of implementing their management systems. The states included are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon. Before discussing the particular states visited, it is helpful to first gain some familiarity with the terms and concepts associated with an integrated management system.

It is difficult to explain the concept of a management system without defining quality. Quality, as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary, means a characteristic or attribute of something, a property or feature. It may also be defined as the natural or essential character of something or as excellence, superiority, or a degree or grade of excellence.

A further challenge to implementing a management system is employee resistance to change, particularly when employees have experienced multiple management initiatives. Their reaction may well be, "Here comes another program." Additionally, employees may not have been introduced to management principles as they relate to a service orientation. But as managers and employees of State DOT-ROW divisions know, many years of government down-sizing has required STD employees to become masters of "doing more with less."

How can your division complete more work and achieve a higher value of service with fewer financial resources? It is through understanding your processes, and then implementing a management system specifically designed for your agency. What works in Florida may not be right for South Carolina, and what is right for Pennsylvania may not be appropriate for California or Indiana. A management system requires commitment and support from management, open and candid training and communication for all managers and employees, an in-depth evaluation of existing processes, and a plan with a vision for your agency's long-term management investment.

What is a management system and how does it help to improve the agency's service? What does it mean for the State DOT-ROW divisions, and how has a management system helped them? The management systems implemented by the five selected ROW divisions have allowed them to work smarter while providing better service to their customers, even with fewer employees. Jim Dousay, Louisiana's director of real estate, said at the AASHTO Conference in Colorado Springs, "TQM in Louisiana means 10 new computers for my division".

How do I get my employees ready to embrace a new management system? It is important to understand that when employees say, "Watch out here comes another one," it is not because they lack motivation or have bad attitudes. It is generally because previous logical-sounding solutions for increasing employee productivity never materialized. Why did those promised changes not materialize? When changes fail to happen, it is generally because no one really understood what the changes meant or felt committed to communicate and train on them.

While the management team may be committed to improvement, it is communication and training that is missing from the success equation. Most management systems fail because technical people are serving in management roles when they have not been properly trained on management techniques.

Management systems, if understood and implemented correctly, will not add to the existing workload but will reduce the amount of work through streamlining job processes, reducing errors, and creating an overall work environment that is truly motivational. Incorporating pride in public service, ownership in the job, and quality into the job processes allows value to be added without costing additional labor.

How does an agency get to this point? Agencies should consider moving cautiously at first, focusing their attention on understanding and documenting job processes. After job processes are clearly identified and understood, then the agency is ready to begin its journey to establish a great management system.

The concepts of quality and continuous change (or improvement) are important concepts to consider, but how do you go about building a management system at your specific State ROW organization? This task can be accomplished through using a model as the generic framework, which develops a specific system. Webster defines a model as something that is capable of serving as a pattern. In this case, the model serves as the pattern for a management system.

Excellent representations of quality management models include the philosophies of W. Edward Deming, PhD; Philip B. Crosby; J.M. Juran, PhD; Tom Peters; and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria. Dr. W. Edward Deming is known as the father of the quality movement. His model focused on 14 points to achieve quality, productivity, and competitive position. His overall philosophy focused on management's obligations and commitment to quality. Dr. Deming identified quality as getting the best from people.

Mr. Philip B. Crosby's quality management model describes the four absolutes of quality management and "Fourteen-Step Quality Improvement Process." Mr. Crosby's 14-step process is focused toward implementing quality through management commitment similar to Dr. Deming's. Mr. Crosby believes that management must communicate its understanding of and commitment to quality to the employees, provide appropriate employee training, and recognize quality performance by employees.

Management expert J.M. Juran, PhD, established an 11-step process that urged all management levels to provide hands-on leadership. Within his 11-step process, the first 8 steps focus on evaluating existing problems and symptoms. The remaining steps address remedies to the problems.

When evaluating the management-consultants, one would be remiss not to mention Tom Peters. Once again, as stressed by Deming, Crosby, and Juran, the first attribute of a successful management system has to be top management's attention to or obsession with quality. Mr. Peters believes that most quality programs fail for one of two reasons: either they have a system without passion or passion without a system. Mr. Peters believed that quality must be measured at the onset for any improvement process.

The Malcolm Baldrige national quality award criteria are used by many Federal, State, and local units of government as guidance for evaluating their progress in the quality journey. The Malcolm Baldrige model requires an organization to place a strong emphasis on quality results and customer satisfaction. The Baldrige model stresses six common features that contribute to an organization's improved performance. These include (1) customer focus, (2) senior management leadership, (3) employee involvement and empowerment, (4) an open corporate culture, (5) fact-based decision making, and (6) a partnership with suppliers.

It is important to extract from all of the available management system models those common characteristics that are necessary for success. The following is one model that synthesizes many of the major characteristics:

To incorporate this simplified model throughout the organization, it is imperative to educate everyone on the management system design and implementation process. Mr. Crosby notes the six "C's": comprehension, commitment, competence, correction, communication, and continuance.

Crosby's six "C's" reveal that comprehension must precede change. Next, there must be commitment to change from both the management staff and the employees. Competence means implementing change in a methodical way. Correction refers to the process of problem-solving, and communications goes to the importance of communicating to all parties involved in the process, including suppliers and customers. Finally, continuance is remembering how things were and how they will be in the future.

The development and implementation of a management system is a continuous improvement process, one that never ends. When the system is not working, a steady focus by the organization can make it better. If the system is performing well, a continued focus by the organization can make it among the best. Therefore, education focused on the key parameters of the selected management system must be continued forever, no matter how the system works in the short run.

It is important to understand that with any management system there are critical steps in the process. Those steps are planning, implementation, monitoring and measurement, and revision.. After management has committed to a management system and communicated its commitment to employees, the first step is the planning process.

The Planning Process

The planning process varies slightly in the private and public sectors. Generally, planning in the private sector is highly profit-oriented, whereas planning in the public sector is strongly mission-oriented. In both sectors, it is important that organizations include the concepts of quality, best management practices, and continuous improvement in their planning efforts to ensure continuous movement in the right direction. Organizations (like organisms) that do not evolve either undergo significant stress in a changing environment or become extinct.

This study found that State ROW organizations need to implement a more formalized strategic planning process. In discussions with various parties across the country, wide disparity emerged in the importance ROW organizations attach to this process. State ROW organizations generally are in an environment where others set the overall priorities and goals for the department. Goals are set by planning, design and construction departments, the political process, and the public. However, State ROW organizations should realize that this situation typifies many public, nonprofit, and private groups that have also successfully implemented strategic planning. Therefore, the opportunity exists for ROW organizations to develop their own missions, core competencies, sub-goals, and action plans in line with the overall goals of the STD.

To begin the strategic planning process, the State ROW organization determines how four key concepts of management apply to their operations. First, ROW organizations provide a service, not a product. This means that the ROW division performs work for other parties. Those parties control the workload, just like customers in private industry control the workload through their ordering of services.

Second, ROW organizations have both internal and external customers. Internal customers may include administrative, design, construction, and specialty technical groups. External groups may include local public agencies (LPAs), suppliers, other government agencies and the public impacted by the ROW process. A focus on what these customers need from the ROW division is fundamental to strategic planning.

Third, customer satisfaction is achieved when the service provided by the ROW division meets the needs of its internal and external customers. This means that the ROW organization must define its mission in terms of the expectations of other groups.

A period of training and communication should precede the start of a strategic quality planning process. The magnitude and duration of that training depends on the flexibility and the degree of honest communications shown by the personnel involved in the process.

Strategic planning efforts should exhibit flexibility in thought and be inclusive in nature. These two attributes of a successful strategic plan are critical because ROW organizations are highly dependent upon other groups for both input to the ROW process and output to the construction group. Flexibility in the plan allows personnel to easily adapt when there are changes in workload or environmental factors. Inclusiveness makes everyone a part of the process and promotes teamwork. These two attributes of a successful plan will allow a ROW organization to better share workload across functional or geographic boundaries when conditions warrant, as well as adapt to a rapidly changing environment as necessary.

Implementation of a Management System

Implementation of an integrated management system causes many emotional responses from employees. One that generally appears first is fear of change. Often, when discussing management systems with employees, one popular response is "Well, we have been doing this work the same way for 25 years and nothing has been wrong with it, so what's the fuss now!" This mindset is fatal to effecting a creative environment that is technologically current.

Another frequent comment reflects the second big fear of management system implementation: actual job performance expectations. The employee who lacks confidence in his/her job performance might ask, "Is management implying that we haven't been doing quality work now?" Indeed, continuous improvement implies to most people that something must be wrong if there's a need to improve, although that may not be the case at all. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the first automobile manufactured in the early 1900's. However, customer input and continuous improvement in the design process of manufacturing companies have resulted in many new design improvements throughout the automotive revolution. Absent such continuous improvements, we might all still be driving black Ford Model T's.

Finally, without a commitment to implement a management system, the overall system will not succeed. Mr. Crosby believes that one of the main obstacles to management system improvement is the stubborn mindset of management. He also believes companies that rest on their laurels or have only a large book of policies and practices might not save their organizations from disaster. For him, management must believe in quality and continuous improvement and incorporate three distinct management actions: determination, education, and implementation. If management believes that schedule and cost come before quality and improvement, then a major shift in thinking must inform the process since only quality improvement can ensure that the cost and schedule will always be met.

Measuring Success

Now that your agency has implemented its management system, how is the system monitored and measured for successful performance? Does quality in production and manufacturing equate to quality in service? If so, how do you measure quality? How is quality defined in the service organization? What performance standard do you select to measure quality? Finally, what measurement system is required to assure continuous improvement?

There are many ways to measure effective uses of processes in an organization. The most widely accepted approach is to monitor and measure improvement through evaluating and interpreting the data that relate to the 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 the effectiveness, capability, and efficiency of the process.

Performance indicators measure the input to a process. The input, in turn, affects the output of a process, the measurement of which is termed a cause-and-effect indicator. For example, in the ROW process, if the acquisition negotiator were inefficient in his or her performance, then the time to complete a project and project's cost would be greater than for a more efficient acquisition negotiator. Time and cost are inputs to the process, and their measurements would be likely performance indicators for the specialist. On the other hand, the condemnation rate may also rise, but this measurement is one of output of the process. In some cases, the process might actually be more efficient (i.e. take less time and cost less money) if the property is condemned. In this case, the condemnation rate will still rise, but does not reflect a gain in process efficiency.

Collecting appropriate data as performance indicators means understanding your processes and comparing your process data against measures. It's important to use output from performance indicators to establish strategic goals. Performance indicators are not merely counting the number of phone calls, memoranda, or letters each employee generates; they are evaluating the results of phone calls, memos, or letters that may lead to process improvements.

Revisions and Changes in the Continuous Improvement Process

It becomes especially important for service organizations to incorporate changes and revisions resulting from internal and external process evaluations, customer input, employee input, and other performance indicators. After all, what good is an evaluation if needed changes are not made? It is also important to understand which modifications and/or revisions need to be made. In order to move forward with your management system, revisions will be necessary.

Organizational Structure and Management Systems

Implementation of an integrated management system depends upon the size and organization of the ROW function within the individual State agencies. The highway development process is a function of both the size of the state and whether the organization is centralized or decentralized in its decision-making process.

The centralized governance structure is a traditional hierarchical approach. The central office is the decision-making authority. Operations are carried out at the district or regional level under the direct supervision of central office administration. The role of the central office is that of central decision-maker and controller of the resources and workload. The centralized structure appears to operate effectively in facilitating communication of one team, one mission, and one goal. However, this structure is less flexible in responding to changes in workload and resources.

The decentralized structure, on the other hand, relies heavily on downward delegation of decision-making authority and autonomy. The district or regional offices in these states vary greatly in their operations, functioning as highly autonomous, independent units. The role of the central office is that of monitor, and provider of technical assistance and administrator of policy. Given the diversity of operational structures, piloting different ideas simultaneously across a decentralized structure is not only possible, but also highly likely at any given time. However, variations in operations makes communication across office units in this type of structure much more challenging than in a centralized organization. This communication gap can often impose both operational variability and process implementation barriers across a state.

Obviously, the internal and external environments in which a state ROW organization operates has a tremendous impact on the type of management system that might be appropriate. Additionally, the level of effort required to design and implement the system is going to be greater for states that are trying to change their organizational structures, respond to a change in their workload or resources, or are experiencing rapid change caused by external factors.

A management system, if designed and implemented correctly, will allow the State ROW departments to: meet their mission goals, put mechanisms in place for measuring performance, and meet their financial goals. With this common base of knowledge regarding management systems, it is time to focus attention on the 5 states studied to learn how they implemented their management systems and how their best management practices might be shared among all States.

Updated: 09/05/2014
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101