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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-02-095

Chapter 2. Initiation and Planning

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Initiation and planning form Phase I in the specification development and implementation process. The purpose of this chapter is to explain, in detail, theneed for planning and the issues that should be addressed before embarking on the development of a new QA specification or the revision of an existing QA specification. The steps that are involved in this process are identified in the flowchart in figure 4. Each of the seven major steps in the flowchart is discussed in the following sections. The numbers in boxes before section titles refer to the corresponding box in the flowchart.

1Identify the Need

One of the first considerations for a new, or modified, QA specification is to establish the need for change. Very seldom is the development of a new specification undertaken before it is needed, but caution should be exercised to assure that this developmental process is timely. Because change, in any form, is often hard to accomplish, a definable need should be established before embarking on a change. Thus, it is essential to recognize, identify, and document the need for the new or revised QA specification.

1.1. Reasons for Developing or Modifying a QA Specification

There are a number of potential reasons for needing a new or revised QA specification. There may be problems that have been identified with the present specification that need to be solved. QA specifications should be dynamic and evolve as other technology evolves. Technology in testing or the process of making the product may have evolved to a point that the present procedures are obsolete. The present procedures may have become outdated and a more innovative and progressive QA specification is needed. There may be better ways to obtain the desired product than those presently used. For instance, QA specifications have become a very popular way of sharing responsibility between the agency obtaining and the contractor providing quality products.

Flowchart for Phase I Initiation and Planning

Figure 4. Flowchart for Phase I-Initiation and Planning

Potential reasons for modifying an existing QA specification include:

The reasons for developing or modifying the QA specification will likely address whether the problem(s) is (are) with a single procedure or whether several procedures do not seem to be working properly, such as not being effective in obtaining the desired product.

1.2. Identify Source of the Initiative

Another consideration is to identify the source of the initiative to develop or modify the QA specification. Did the initiative come from within the agency or did it come from the private industry sector? This is important from the standpoint of getting input into the planning process. If, for instance, a segment of the private industry feels strongly that the specification needs changing, it is logical to have the reasons explained and hear what changes are proposed. If the initiative for change comes from within the agency, the reasons for the change should be stipulated by the agency.

However, from whichever source the desire for a change may come, expect some resistance or skepticism from individuals in the other source. The low bid system has generated a degree of skepticism between agencies and contractors when it comes to change. Although this is a generalization, it has been observed to exist nationwide to various degrees. The potential for this skepticism should be used in a positive manner to assure that the reasons for the change are explored, validated, and explained in detail. Also, when it comes to the implementation phase, joint training of agency and contractor personnel can help to minimize this problem.

Define Goals and Expectations

The first goal is to identify potential benefits to the agency and to the industry. One of the goals will certainly be to correct the identified deficiencies with the present specification(s). If the present specification is too restrictive, making it less restrictive will be a goal. If the present specification does not place any responsibility on the contractor and a sharing of responsibility is desired, this becomes a goal. However, it must be recognized that with responsibility goes the authority and freedom of operation associated with the responsibility. Whether the industry is in a position to assume more responsibility should be determined. If not, what will be required to facilitate their moving into such a position should be determined. Under any potential goals, the benefits to the agency and to the contractor must be identified. If only one party receives benefits, the other party may wonder why a change is desirable. Once again, in defining the goals, the scope of the initiative must be considered. If more than one area of materials and construction is to be considered, the general goals may be similar but the specific goals may differ for each area considered. Both the general and specific goals should be identified.

2.1. What is Expected of the QA Specification?

Identify and list the expectations for the new QA specification. Ensure that they are realistic and not just "wishful thinking." For instance, expecting that the new specification will double the expected pavement life or reduce the life-cycle cost (LCC) by 50 percent may seem desirable, but is unlikely to occur. If unrealistic expectations are listed, the final product may be considered a failure when the expectations are not met; yet, the product may still be substantially better than that previously produced.

Define the criteria that will be used to measure the degree of success. Decide upon the criteria that will be used to judge whether the goals and expectations have been met when the QA specification is implemented. The criteria must be realistic. A few potential criteria are listed below, and some are more realistic than others. Expecting all problems to be solved by the improved specification is an unrealistic goal.

Possible criteria upon which to judge success include:

3 Reach Agency Consensus

The first, and most essential, step in reaching agency consensus is to obtain top management support. If there is a single success issue that stands out as more important than any other, it is obtaining firm top management commitment and support at an early stage of the initiative. In the case that top management is not promoting the initiative, it must be verified that the direction of the initiative has this vital support. More quality initiatives have been curtailed, delayed, or had the direction changed because of a decision by top management than for any other single reason. Keep in mind that top management has many issues with which to deal and that these other issues may impact the quality initiative.

Use the benefits to both the agency and the industry to gather top management support. Benefit/cost advantages are an important "selling tool" for top management. This information may be difficult to obtain, but is highly regarded by top management.

Realize that many obstacles may stand in the way of successful completion of the initiative. Although resistance to change is natural, with proper management support, enthusiastic leadership, enlightenment, and persistence, the obstacles can be overcome.

3.1. Choose Progressive Leadership

Next, choose agency leaders and members to be on a task force that eventually will be a joint agency/industry task force. The successful accomplishment of this step cannot be overemphasized. Leaders at all levels must realize the benefits that can emerge from the initiative. Ensure that representatives from all operating divisions and field personnel from different levels that will use the QA specification are included on the task force. At the same time, avoid having such a large task force that it becomes unwieldy. One way around this dilemma is to eventually establish subgroups within the task force to address special issues. Also, when selecting personnel for the task force, without being biased, choose members with a progressive "can do" attitude. It may not hurt to have a few skeptics on the task force. Convincing skeptics of the advantages of QA specifications can be a strong selling point when it comes to implementation. But try to avoid obstructionists who may hinder progress.

Build a consensus within the agency task force members to pursue the development and eventual implementation of the QA specification. Have a well-thought-out outline of scope for the specification before convening the task force. This will provide initial direction and give the task force specific issues to address and discuss. Expect differences of opinion. Try to create an open, free-flowing discussion of the main issues. Try not to get bogged down with minute details this early in the discussion-this may just delay progress. These issues should be addressed during the developmental stage. But, it is important that the members "buy into" the need to develop the specification, and to stress that members need to maintain an open mind to the potential for success.

3.2. Set Initial Target Date

Set a target date for the initial draft of the QA specification. The amount of time it will take to develop the QA specification will depend on many factors. One important factor is the experience that the agency has with QA initiatives. If this is the first attempt to develop a QA specification, the developmental period may require several years. If an existing QA specification is merely being modified, the period may be less than a year. The timing is important and strong consideration should be given to doing it right as opposed to doing it quickly. Do not rush the target date. Make sure that both agency and contractor personnel will have time to understand the specification before rushing to implement it. The dates, tentatively established at this point, may need to be revised after meeting jointly with representatives from the private sector.

4 Understand "Best Practices"

There are two tasks that should be addressed at this point. Both of these tasks are preliminary and will be greatly expanded once the specification development phase begins.

4.1. Conduct Literature Review

The first task is to conduct a preliminary literature review. Get an idea what other agencies have done. This should not be exhaustive at this point but should give guidance as to direction. For instance, what is the general state-of-the-practice of acceptance plans? What are some of the important issues that need to be addressed in a well written QA specification? NCHRP and other syntheses, as well as published reports, are a good starting place for this information.

4.2. Learn from Other Agencies

The second task goes hand-in-hand with the literature search. This is to learn from the experiences of other agencies, especially those of neighboring States. Concerns and issues in one State may be similar to those of adjacent States. This is not to say that the experience of other States that may be more geographically removed should be excluded, because these agencies may have found solutions to problems that are mutual. Contact these agencies and request information that will provide guidance as to which steps should be taken and which should be avoided when planning the development of the QA specification. Whenever possible, talk to the architect of the specification. Maintain a list of contacts and keep thorough notes of the discussions. Keep this information in a file so that the experiences of these sources can be considered during the specification development and implementation phases. (These issues are discussed in more detail in chapter 3.)

5 Confirm Top Management Interest and Commitment

Once the current best practices have been more fully determined, e.g., the type of the initial QA program has been defined, or the need to improve the QA program through a more equitable payment adjustment plan has been identified, it is prudent to explain this more complete initiative to top management. This then gives top management the opportunity to reconfirm their commitment and support now that they have a fuller understanding of what will be involved in the development and implementation phases. As a generalization, it is important to reconfirm this support at frequent intervals during the development and implementation process to assure that this commitment is maintained throughout the initiative. In addition, top management should periodically be briefed on the progress of the initiative. As previously mentioned, issues facing top management change and these changes may impact the progress of the quality initiative.

6 Establish Industry Contact

It is now time to seek industry acceptance of and participation in the new quality initiative. It is important that the agency has reached consensus on the need for and the benefits of the new specification before presenting it to industry. The basic concepts as well as the potential benefits to both the industry and the agency should first be presented to selected industry leaders. If agency/industry standing committees already exist, they are a good place to start initial industry contact. If such committees do not currently exist, representatives from associations, such as the Associated General Contractors (AGC), paving associations, and aggregate associations, can be used as initial industry task force members. The information presented at this time is conceptual and preliminary. It is presented for the purpose of identifying industry members to serve on the joint task force. It is important to recognize at this point that it is not up to the industry to develop the specification, but that their input is invaluable in the development phase and, particularly, in the implementation phase of the QA initiative. Use the previously discussed benefits to both the agency and the industry to gather support from the industry. Emphasize the benefits that can accrue to both parties to the contract.

6.1. Choose Progressive Industry Leadership

When selecting industry representatives for the joint agency/industry task force, members of existing standing committees may be used for the task force, but be careful to ensure that both management and field personnel from industry who will use the specification are included on the task force. Once again, try to choose members with progressive attitudes, but take care that the task force is not too large.

7 Hold the First Joint Agency/Industry Task Force Meeting

The first joint agency/industry task force meeting should present basic concepts. It should provide the background on the QA initiative and on the specification to be developed. The members should discuss why the new specification is being proposed and what the expected outcome will be.

7.1. Build Consensus Among Task Force Members

It is important to build a consensus for the new specification among the task force members. To do so, reiterate the potential benefits both to the agency and to the industry. Try to generate discussion within the joint task force regarding how the members feel about potential for success, their concerns, potential obstacles or pitfalls, etc.

Review the target date for the initial draft of the QA specification and, if necessary, revise this date with industry input. Determine a firm target date with which everyone on the task force is reasonably comfortable. Assure that there is not a feeling that the process is being rushed.

With the date of the initial draft specification set, establish the schedule for the entire initiative including the development and implementation phases. These dates may be tentative, but this step provides an initial expectation as to when the QA specification will be ready for review, trial, and implementation.

7.2. Establish Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

Establish both short-term and long-term goals and the steps needed to accomplish these goals. Potential goals, which are presented and discussed in detail in chapters 3-7, include:

7.3. Determine if Outside Expertise Is Needed

The task force must determine whether any outside expertise is needed for any of the steps to reach the short-term or long-term goals. Consider whether additional expertise outside the agency and industry is needed for the task force and/or for developing the QA specification. Technical expertise dealing with new technology, materials, construction, specification development, and/or statistics, may be needed. Consider academia as one source of help.

7.4. Set Frequency of Task Force Meetings

The frequency for holding task force meetings must be established. Generally, the meetings should coincide with milestones that will have reached specific goals and, therefore, will contain details upon which progress can be measured or decisions made. Do not meet "just to meet."

7.5. Make Assignments within the Task Force

Make specific assignments for the task force members. Make certain that every step has someone assigned to work on it, keep it on schedule, and report the progress. Develop a procedure to monitor progress to assure the schedule is maintained or to determine the reason that progress is behind schedule.


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