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

A Tool Kit for Your Quality Improvement System

The tools outlined in this section are designed to enhance a team's knowledge and skill in quality process improvement and problem solving to improve performance and increase customer satisfaction. The tools presented in this section are designed to assist the implementation and development of a successful quality management program. This tool kit does not imply one size fits all because management programs are unique and will reflect the each agency's different needs. However, each organization should be able to adapt these tools to suit their needs. The tool kit contains the following six components:

  1. Commitment;
  2. Evaluation of Processes;
  3. Communication;
  4. Training;
  5. Continuous Improvement Measurement; and
  6. Actions on Results of Measurement.

Commitment

The building of a quality management program must begin with management commitment and acceptance of the program. Everyone at an agency has an active role in quality and quality improvement. Commitment is the most important ingredient. This commitment must extend to everyone involved in the process, but especially senior management. Management should produce a policy statement declaring its agreement with the objectives, and commitment to the principles of the quality management program. Without such a commitment, the processes and procedures that are put into place have little chance to succeed. Workers who do not see management commitment are unlikely to embrace the program themselves. With the policy statement in place and the necessary commitment and willingness apparent, a successful management system journey may begin.

Evaluating the Processes

A crucial aspect of the quality improvement process is understanding how and why a function or series of functions is performed and how these relate to the entire process. Only when a process makes sense, can it be improved. A quality steering committee (QSC) comprised of senior management should lead this effort. The QSC should not perform the actual evaluation but should assist the formation of teams and provide the teams with support for their continuous improvement efforts. The goal is to produce clearly identified work processes and evaluate each. Because a process has been done a certain way for 50 years does not make it right. Who better to administer this effort than the expert technical staff performing the work? These teams should consist of technical staff from each discipline within ROW. For example, team members could represent appraisal and acquisition, relocation, property management, utilities, and local public agencies, or perhaps form a subgroup representing each discipline. It is extremely important for the team to represent the division or discipline. It should not consist only of senior staff members but should reflect diversity of background and experience. A State with a centralized/ decentralized model, such as Louisiana, may set up a team of individuals with anywhere from 2 to 30 years of experience in the program. A State with a decentralized model may want to include members from the central office as well as from each of the districts. A good rule of thumb is to make the team reflect the ROW Division. It should hold regular meetings, scheduled at the team's discretion. These can be held weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, or annually. Meeting schedules should reflect the needs and structure of the division. A decentralized model may make it more difficult to meet monthly, in which case a quarterly meeting might make more sense.

Team activities work best when each member of the team understands both the performance improvement process and the role each team member performs. Each team should have a leader who plays a crucial role in managing and completing the quality improvement process. Typical leaders may be required to:

  1. Lead the team in selecting the appropriate process improvement or problem-solving model;
  2. Manage meetings and ensure that appropriate minutes are taken and properly distributed;
  3. Cultivate teamwork;
  4. Train team members on applicable process improvement models and tools; and
  5. Plan work.

If the ROW Division operates from a multidisciplinary, project-driven, project management approach a user group made up of construction, design, and other specialty technical groups (e.g., environmental, geotechnical, etc.) may be appropriate. Pennsylvania, Florida, Oregon, and Louisiana are excellent examples for this multidisciplinary project management model. Once the processes have been evaluated and understood, they should still be deemed as necessary and as adding value to the project. Ask the question, "What are the objectives of the process and does the process still meet those objectives?" If these processes do not add value, consider the alternatives of further evaluation, improvement, or elimination. A pilot test of modified processes can be considered for implementation by the division. Results of the pilot test will assist the development of process improvement and help decide whether to keep or eliminate the process.

Communication

Stephen Covey, a business management consultant, in his book, emphasized the need for effective listening skills. Communication is a cornerstone of any work process, especially in the quality improvement arena. A division can produce a nearly perfect quality model, but lacking an effective communication mechanism, the model is doomed to failure. A lack of communication will prevent program improvements from achieving the desired results. When relocation specialists implement a process improvement that they believe has really made a positive impact, then they should share these results with the rest of the division. If on the other hand, a change implemented by relocation is causing problems in construction, the rest of the agency should know how and why this task was performed. Sharing information is vital to the agency's success.

Some available communication tools include e-mail, Internet, fax modems, phones, etc. States use various methods to communicate employee training needs. Florida and Oregon use internal survey forms to evaluate processes such as training. Wisconsin uses training survey forms. To communicate technical information from the quality team, Wisconsin sends the minutes from user group meetings to others in real estate. Oregon has a relocation group, which sends out "Andy-Grams" via the intranet. Written memos are an effective means of relating information. Properly planned staff meetings can also be a useful tool for conveying information. Employee suggestion boxes like those used in Pennsylvania are an effective tool. Databases, used in several of the states, can be useful if properly designed.

Both external and internal communication devises can be used. Internal communication involves sharing ideas, information, etc., with other sections within the agency. Louisiana holds biweekly meetings with other departments to discuss issues such as workload, project updates, and project needs. It has developed "the Statewide Gang," comprised of five individuals who help with the roller coaster run of unknown and varying workloads. They travel throughout the state and assist the districts when needed. This internal process allows Louisiana to allocate its resources where they are needed, thereby increasing efficiency and production. External communication, or multi-disciplinary communication, involves sharing ideas and information with all those involved in a project. Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Louisiana use this multidisciplinary approach to communicate. In Louisiana, the directors of all of the divisions involved in a project meet weekly to discuss project-related issues. Agenda items include schedules, problems, and project needs. Breaking down the barriers through communication brings about mutual understanding of other technical areas.

Means of Training

The ROW Division should train employees on the new procedures resulting from process evaluation and modifications. Training should include internal as well as external training programs. Internal programs can involve mentoring, on-the-job training, how-to manuals, training databases, and staff meetings where information is shared. Mentoring is one-on-one training whereby senior, experienced staff provide assistance and guidance to new, inexperienced personnel. Although it can take several forms, on-the-job training is basically teaching new staff as they perform the work, correcting their errors along the way and advising them on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Additional training could be obtained from staff meetings and user groups designed to share information and experiences. Florida, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana have completed thorough employee training manuals, invaluable tools in cross-functional role development. Louisiana measures for continuous, evolving improvements based upon completion of internal quality audits performed annually. Pennsylvania and Oregon use a training database to track completed employee training, to develop training materials, and to identify employee training needs. External programs can involve tuition reimbursement, pay incentives for degree completion, and agency-approved or-sponsored courses. Oregon has developed a cross-functional leadership course to provide employees with tools for developing better communication and leadership skills. Wisconsin develops formal training programs and provides informal training through user groups and statewide conferences.

Measuring Continuous Improvement

There are many ways to measure quality improvement. The challenge is to find the most efficient, user-friendly process. It is important, therefore, not only to understand the process but to be able to measure performance in a tangible fashion.

Performance indicators must be measured on a regular basis. Simply counting the number of calls or the number of letters written daily does not add value, because counting is not measurement. However, internal and external surveys can be valued performance indicators if a process is in place to evaluate the results. If results are not evaluated, then the task of collecting the data has no merit. It is not the survey itself that is the measure of improvement, it is the information collected and analyzed from the survey that allows one to measure improvement, and produce results. And it is the negative comments that provide the most insight into process shortcomings. Comments can and should lead to actions taken to modify, change, or improve a process. The attention paid to these comments need to be communicated with the customer. How to share information with the customer depends on the policy of each agency and the type of information being shared. For example, if a customer's complaint is about a procedure that is statutorily required, then an explanation may be the best approach. If the complaint goes to a process flaw, then an action to correct the flaw may be necessary. Customers should also be contacted by phone or mail to let them know the complaint was addressed and the process modified.

Actions Based on Measurement Results

Success of any management system ultimately depends on how one uses the results of performance measures, quality assurance audits, and other quality improvement processes in place. Quality must be a continuous process that offers no real closure---and is perpetuated beyond project completion.

Updated: 09/05/2014
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