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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

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

The Survey States: Pennsylvania

The ROW function in the State of Pennsylvania is carried out using a highly decentralized governance structure. The central office provides support to 11 geographic districts that include 67 counties. Decentralization has led to a wide variety of approaches across the State. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has led the way, along with its partners, in developing, maintaining, and enhancing a seamless system of transportation services and facilities. The primary responsibility of central office is quality assurance, with quality control handled at the district level.

ROW is part of the Bureau of Design (BOD) in Pennsylvania. The ROW division has an annual budget of $21 million and statewide personnel of approximately 125 people. It processes approximately 3,000 parcels per year. The appraisal waiver authorization level in Pennsylvania is set at $10,000, which covers approximately 74 percent of the parcels handled each year. Of the total number of parcels acquired, approximately 23 percent will require a recommendation for condemnation.

The overall PennDOT organization began a significant reengineering initiative in 1995. The reengineering process required the agency's 17 teams, one of which is ROW, to redesign their processes. As a result, benefit options, technology opportunities, and implementation plans were developed. Additionally, PennDot developed six cross-process teams to address reengineering of (1) statewide QA/QC plan model; (2) the FHWA exemption agreement; (3) training and certification; (4) legislative, regulation, and outside agency changes; (5) task database; and (6) policy and procedure changes. The process improvements implemented are expected to save PennDOT $225 million dollars within 8 years of their deployment.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, PennDOT made great strides in upgrading its highways and bridges. In 1995, Governor Tom Ridge, along with an executive committee, developed a transportation strategic agenda for the state called "Moving PennDot Forward: A Handbook." This handbook was prepared for distribution to PennDOT's key stakeholders, management, and employees. The overall transportation policy in Pennsylvania was designed to address eight strategic goals, as follows:

  1. To have a "maintenance first" philosophy for transportation systems and facilities that not only reflects, but anticipates customer expectations;
  2. To create an intermodal transportation system that strengthens Pennsylvania's competitive position and provides convenient, efficient, and environmentally responsible choices for the movement of people and goods;
  3. To promote the delivery of quality products and quality customer service in everything PennDOT does;
  4. To invest strategically so as to achieve a high level of transportation services and economic return;
  5. To identify and implement technological improvements that support the strategic direction of PennDOT and the Commonwealth;
  6. To maximize transportation safety through improved design, enforcement, and educational activities;
  7. To foster ongoing communication with our partners and customers to improve the delivery of services; and
  8. To encourage all members of the organization to move PennDot forward in a team effort to achieve these goals.

As an outgrowth of these strategic goals, PennDOT began developing its continuous improvement system using the Edosomwan-Baldrige-based assessment tool (EBAT). PennDOT selected EBAT, because it wanted a management system that was customer-driven and quality-focused. EBAT, focuses on leadership, offers continuous improvement and learning, values employees, and promotes a quick response to customer needs.

A PennDOT's Baldrige journey was initiated with a cursory assessment. During this cursory assessment each central office bureau, each engineering district, and one county maintenance organization in each district conducted an initial assessment of its organization using the EBAT II,. This assessment entailed forming teams of process owners (employees), customers, suppliers, and union representatives, and allowed team members to identify their organization's strengths and opportunities--or gaps. The teams identified three to seven opportunities, or gaps, forming gap closure teams for each. In summary, the EBAT II, served three purposes: (1) it provided each organization with an introduction to Baldrige criteria and an experience with the gap closure process; (2) it provided each organization with "quick strike" opportunities to address identified gaps; and (3) it provided the necessary time to determine how to apply the Baldrige-based criteria to PennDOT's specific criteria. Dr. Baker-Betz, PennDot's Division Chief of Performance, summarized by saying, "PennDOT's vision was for a strong future with a long-range view to make commitments to customers, to employees, to suppliers, to the public, and to the community. Our long-range view of the future focused on planning for the changes in new business opportunities, customer expectations, technological developments, as well as in regulatory and statutory requirements."

Public Relations

The ROW Division has a number of tools and processes in place that assist the group in meeting the needs of internal and external customers. As in most of the other States studied, the ROW personnel in Pennsylvania commonly attend preliminary design meetings, public hearings, and town meetings, where maps with are rolled out to illustrate the impact of the proposed highway design on individuals. Pamphlets and brochures help staff explain the acquisition process and allow the division to effectively communicate its roles and responsibilities to the affected public.

Bulletin 47, A General Guide to the Relocation Assistance Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, provides information to property owners who will be relocated as a result of a transportation project. It was newly revised in January 1999.

The ROW division and Local Public Agencies (LPA) have clear lines of communication. PennDOT published a guide, "Local Public Agency Acquisition of Right-of-Way"; Publication No. 98, (November 1998) to clarify LPA responsibilities regarding State and Federal policies and procedures.

Another program implemented by the organization, specific to ROW, is the payment required by State law, to the property owner of up to $500 for a third-party attorney or appraisal expert to give their opinions to the property owner. The ROW division found that investing this money on the front end of the project was effective in lowering the total life cycle cost of land acquisition. The program's success prompted legislative discussions to raise the dollar limit to $2,500; however, this legislative issue did not pass. Of special note are PennDOT's statewide agility meetings, which are a forum for obtaining external input. The citizen's advisory board meetings provide yet another mechanism for public relations and customer input.


PennDOT began its quality initiatives more than 18 years ago. Team involvement over the last 5 years has resulted in the development of an excellent training program. PennDOT uses a top-down training approach and is committed to achieving success in the implementation of its management system. Examples of this commitment include the 7-minute video completed by Secretary Mallary, which describes the PennDOT quality journey and his weekly newsletter on quality issues. In fact, AASHTO recognized PennDOT's level of commitment with a quality award.

PennDOT sponsored a statewide mid-manager training session for 750 mid-level managers in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. This training identifies the tasks necessary for implementing the EBAT,. Thirty-two employees were trained to serve as internal Baldrige examiners. To demonstrate executive staff commitment, this training was followed by two additional 3-day examiner classes, with attendance required for the Secretary, all deputy secretaries, the chief engineer, every bureau director, and all district engineers. PennDOT currently has 125 internal Baldrige examiners and is recruiting an additional 25. With the examiner training completed, 725 mid-managers received training to gain a clear understanding of the EBAT criteria, to reinforce the dependence of success on mid-manager acceptance, and to prepare mid-managers to train the balance of employees on the EBAT criteria.

In addition to the traditional Baldrige training, PennDOT made available a facilitated method called the self-assessment gap analysis (SAGA), but determined that the SAGA process was better suited for county maintenance organizations; whereas, the traditional Baldrige application was more appropriate for the central office bureaus and engineering district offices. The SAGA process is a 3-day workshop where participants assess strengths and opportunities in relation to the EBAT II criteria. This exercise is aimed at encouraging those in attendance to determine the processes they currently have in place, identify the processes that need to be in place to become a world-class organization, prioritize the identified gaps, and create action plans to close the gaps.

The ROW central office, in coordination with the districts, has developed a core curriculum for all ROW positions. Individual training histories are entered into a training database called Tutor, which ROW staff developed in 1997. Since then, they have worked with local universities and consultants to develop and provide the training needed. The PennDOT ROW staff have taken an aggressive approach to training, with a substantial amount of resources and time committed to this endeavor.

Project Management

PennDOT has a unique vision for project management and is in the process of using project management software called Welcom®'s Open Plan. This software was selected by a PennDOT task force, that included personnel from the Bureau of Design, Bureau of Information Systems, Bureau of Construction and Materials, and the districts. The task force invited representation by personnel familiar with design and construction. In February 1999, District 8 ROW staff believed that this software would be implemented in approximately 6 months.

As part of reengineering efforts, 17 teams modernized PennDOT's Engineering Management System (EMS). PennDOT strives for greater integration among design, construction, and maintenance early in the process. A project driven approach allows more delegation of approval and review to districts and provision of a project team. Establishing project teams results in a faster pace for the project with more unity among design, construction, and maintenance functions. This approach has involved a tremendous effort to train the project managers. A project manager at PennDOT has many responsibilities: assembling the project team across all organizational boundaries, including consultants as necessary; conducting the engineering and environmental (E&E) confirming the scope of work; and assembling the project's quality development plan (QDP), which begins with a kick-off meeting for the team. Planning the project entails developing the project schedule, assembling the design team (with assistance from the district functional unit managers), analyzing the risk, and adjusting the project plans accordingly. The third phase involves the actual work of design and plan preparation. The design team provides feedback to the project manager on issues of costs, schedule, and hours.

In the preliminary engineering stage, investigation of utilities and right-of-way issues can help with project scheduling and budgeting. Operating as part of a project-driven team, the project manager is tasked with overall project completion. To test this project management approach, PennDOT's District 8 served as a pilot. District 8, with 300-plus jobs in design, put all 300 jobs through a team process headed by a project manager. There are currently two components of the project: a consultant liaison to manage consultants, including deliverables and plans, and a functional support unit, which includes ROW, soil, utilities, surveys, structures, traffic, maintenance and construction divisions. The assistant district engineer for design establishes 90 percent of the letting dates. The liaison engineer will most likely be the portfolio manager. District 8 is the only district thus far that is requiring consultants to complete training and to use the project management software Welcom®. This requirement enables the consultants to interface more efficiently with PennDOT. Welcom® will be networked within the next 6 months.

Production Tools

PennDOT has a number of noteworthy production tools. Over the last 18 years, PennDOT has had systems and processes in place to capture employee ideas, including input from the "Suggestion Connection," the "Ideas Bank" in Harrisburg, and the many different quality teams and committees formed from internal surveys. Given its belief that an organization's success depends on the knowledge, skills, and motivation of its workforce, PennDOT wants to know how its employees perceive their work environment and whether they feel they have the right training and skills.

Internal surveys have contributed to the agency as production tools and have led to process improvements, whether "quick-strike" remedies or efforts led by teams. According to Steven Koscelnak, District 11's quality coordinator, employees are surveyed to obtain their input on the work environment. The Organizational Climate Survey, conducted by the Penn State University, has been distributed for at least the last 3 years. In 1996, PennDOT learned from employee feedback that the survey was too long; it therefore refined and shortened the survey to elicit greater employee response. In 1997, PennDOT received a response rate exceeding 42 percent of employees surveyed. After PennDOT allowed employees to complete the survey during his or her work time, the response rate increased to 60 percent in 1998.

PennDOT realizes it is not the number of completed surveys that is important, but the information shared in them. To make use of this information, PennDOT selected the top 3 issues and assembled 3 teams to address them. In the 1998 survey, employees mentioned teamwork, outlook for change, and decision-making as three areas for work environment improvement. Each team or committee was tasked to come up with three solutions for each issue. Comprised of volunteers, these teams use the six-step approach to problem solving: identify the problem, diagnose the problem, develop problem solutions, select problem solution, determine how to implement the solution, and determine how to evaluate whether the solution will work. The teams consider all policy barriers and, depending on the timeframe and goals, either meet weekly or monthly until they come up with the top three solutions. PennDOT believes employees have always been committed to quality management efforts and that only the type of management system used has changed. In 1997, AASHTO recognized 18 teams, with 2 teams receiving the Exemplary Partner Award. In 1998, 5 teams received this award.

Another production tool is PennDOT's use of internal needs assessments. The agency also uses external feedback received from citizens advisory board meetings, lessons learned by networking between districts, and statewide agility opportunities as tools of change. Pursuing the Baldrige-based management model, PennDOT is also in the process of developing many new customer-input forms for its quality initiative efforts.

An engineering and construction management system (ECMS) is a top-down approach for determining functional implementation priorities. Another AASHTO quality award winner, the ECMS has about 45 concept input modules and allows electronic invoice

submission as well as invoice review and payment. It also seeks opportunities to change regulations, policies, and laws and helps shorten the environmental clearance process. For example, if the focus is on a project-driven document and process, then ECMS will assist the user in developing detailed-designs to address environmental issues, obtaining early agency and public involvement, using the latest technology database, and reducing the size of the clearance document. Using input from across the organization, central office is working extremely diligently to develop ROW job process descriptions and ROW checklists.

PennDOT communication tools include the quarterly In-Road Magazine, distributed statewide; the Secretary Weekly, which illustrates top management commitment to quality; engaging newsletters prepared by the districts, bureaus, and counties; and "Baldrige Round-Ups," which go out with every employee paycheck.

Internal and External Controls

PennDOT recognizes that a key to implementing any successful system is establishing internal and external controls. One is the ECMS. Another is use of a pilot study phase to test the EBAT II criteria. A lesson learned is that processes need to be developed based on the organization's needs. It was apparent that the organizational review package used by central office bureaus and engineering district offices was useful given the multiple functions of these organizations. The counties used a gap analysis tool because it was the best tool for the county organization. This internal control process has brought about information and teams helpful to the agency. Additionally, the Quality Management Manual for Project Development references PennDOT's QC/QA practices and procedures, and the agency's internal surveys serve as excellent internal controls and agents of change.

PennDOT solicits direct feedback from its external customers through citizen's advisory board meetings and a process called "agility." Agility involves the sharing of municipal resources, or trading on a statewide basis, and might include how PennDOT works with or for the LPAs, for example.

Performance Indices

PennDOT has been measuring performance indicators for at least the last 4 years. Penn State University tabulates the employee training courses and provides personnel with employee information based on each employee survey question. Using a statistical trend analysis, PennDOT can evaluate each course and each course instructor based on employee input. Additionally, the involvement of each district's quality coordinator with the surveys allows for modification of course content or instructor based on employee recommendation. Other performance indicators include employee surveys on work environment. Performance indices from a ROW perspective measure projects in terms of whether they were let on time, the number of projects, and the cost of those projects. PennDOT measures the cycle time on the contracting process, the cycle time on reviews (appraisal reviews), the filings of declaration of taking, and the filings of deposits into court. The agency is well on its way to measuring the correct indicators of performance.

Updated: 9/5/2014
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