by Mary E. Peters and Larry S. Bonine
Public-sector organizations are today facing unprecedented demands, often coupled with declining revenues. New demands are constantly placed on highway maintenance, while revenues fail to keep pace with current requirements. In response to these continuing phenomena, they need better, smarter ways of doing business. Enlisting the involvement and assistance of front-line employees is crucial to meeting these goals.
At times referred to as "angels in orange shirts" for their emergency roadside assistance to stranded motorists, highway maintenance workers in Arizona are making substantial improvements in key work processes associated with maintaining highways. These public servants, by virtue of the many duties they perform, have the closest contact with the public. As they maintain and repair Arizona's 6,000-mile highway system, plow snow on mountain roads or assist in clearing accidents, they affect every motorist in the state.
The Arizona Department of Transportation began its continuous improvement efforts in 1992, with the goal of creating an environment which recognizes that those closest to the work are best equipped to improve it. As ADOT's quality initiative matured and evolved over the past four years, the department encountered classic obstacles and made some of the same mistakes many other organizations made in facilitating the major cultural change required to reach this goal.
ADOT incorporated the prerequisite acronyms into its language -- QPI, TQM, CPI -- and even had a few of its people write a quality theme song. ADOT mandated that everyone be a member of a "team," to the confusion of those who thought they already were, and that they must measure when they didn't understand what was to be measured or why. Perhaps these struggles are important -- part of the learning and growing process that organizations must go through to truly achieve the results they want -- quality customer service. ADOT has certainly had its share of challenges in its quality journey.
After four years, ADOT's efforts have brought it back to the basics: providing training and an environment where those who do the work are defining ways to improve it. In truth, they are the only ones who can effect meaningful, long-term change. ADOT recognized that quality is not the "what" but the "how" -- the method by which organizations can achieve customer astonishment.
ADOT recognized that
quality is not the "what" but the "how"
-- the method by which organizations can achieve
While strong, visionary leadership is essential to any quality effort, it only becomes internalized and sustaining when the work force, at the point where the customer is touched, is truly transformed and involved. This is especially true in the public sector, where senior management is, at best, transitory. Meaningful, long-term change can only occur when every employee in the organization is enrolled and involved.
ADOT is fortunate to have many such employees, and nowhere is it more apparent than in our highway maintenance forces. These exceptional employees have demonstrated the ability to grasp the concepts of customer service in an impressive manner.
Three years ago, ADOT restructured its four large engineering districts into 10 community-based districts, encompassing 45 maintenance yards. This was done to move the work force closer to customers. Maintenance teams within these districts formed Divisional Unit Improvement Teams and began to apply the concepts they learned in quality training to better meet the needs of their customers.
In the White Mountain area of Show Low, snowplowing was traditionally done on 12-hour shifts, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. The morning work unit recognized that they were changing shifts while school buses were out trying to pick up children and people were trying to get to work. They suggested that their shifts begin at 12 noon and 12 midnight instead, so they could be sure the roads were cleared at those crucial times.
Did some "boss" tell them to do this? No, they recognized the opportunity to improve customer service and took it upon themselves to make the change.
In the town of Springerville, the maintenance team began to examine their budget to determine if they were spending their limited resources in the best manner to provide quality customer service. Using Pareto charts, they learned that the largest portion of their budget went to equipment-related services.
Through further examination of these expenses, they analyzed depreciation rates on equipment, fuel costs and service requirements. One of the most impressive events of the quality journey occurred when an absolutely passionate highway maintenance worker gave a comprehensive presentation on equipment depreciation rates to his fellow employees at an annual maintenance conference. This team took the dinosaur by the tail and defined ways to save money and reallocate it to better perform their duties.
ADOT also recognized that the organizational structure must support these teams and provide feedback and recognition mechanisms to internalize the team-based environment. In response to this need, ADOT has incorporated a 360-degree performance appraisal and hiring process in which the team participates in hiring their co-workers and supervisors.
As the process matured, highway maintenance teams have taken further steps toward improving the use of scarce maintenance funds, which ultimately translates to better customer service. Using Pareto principles, they identified the 10 maintenance activities that use the highest number of labor-hours throughout the state. They then created a productivity index, which is mathematically weighted to level the impact of any activity in relation to others.
Baselines were developed using data from fiscal years 1993, 1994 and 1995, and they established a goal of 5-percent improvement on the overall productivity index by fiscal year 1997. Each of the 10 districts chose one activity. Cross-functional teams, using quality tools, are now working to improve productivity in these areas. They will then develop a strategy to spread the results of their improvement efforts to the other districts.
The Yuma district is working to improve the road surface overlay process, using a flowchart of the activities, identifying opportunities for improving the process and developing cost comparisons between current and recommended methods.
In Prescott, the team is examining fence repair, using tools that include flowcharts and cause-and-effect diagrams. They identified damage from elk attempting to jump fences as a major cause of fence repair and designed an elk jump as part of their improvement efforts.
Through the efforts of Arizona State Sen. John Huppenthal, maintenance teams will have the opportunity to share in the cost savings generated by these improvements through a statewide maintenance incentive program.
The Prescott district has begun a pilot incentive program following concurrence by all work units in the area. The group has already identified nearly $300,000 in cost savings from examining just three areas: fuel cost, equipment use and equipment scheduling.
Using a rating matrix consisting of team productivity and quality measures, employee feedback measures and customer feedback, these maintenance workers will measure progress and have an opportunity to earn up to $100 per month in incentive pay. While this may not seem like a substantial amount of money, the incentive program has provided a unique opportunity to reward highway maintenance employees for employing innovation and creativity in improving their work products and customer service. The program also has had a very positive effect on employee morale.
As with all such endeavors, ADOT realizes that quality is a journey, not a destination. The progress realized by highway maintenance workers in improving how they do business and serve their customers is indicative of the efforts of ADOT as it embarks on this difficult but rewarding path. ADOT's "angels in orange shirts" now recognize that they can influence how this public sector agency does business in a substantial way.
About the authors
Mary E. Peters is deputy director and chief operating officer for the Arizona Department of Transportation. ADOT has a staff of about 4,800 employees.
Peters has worked for ADOT for 10 years. Prior to her current position, she was contracts administrator for Engineering Consultants Services at the agency. In that capacity, she was responsible for professional engineering and architectural services contracts and agreements valued at nearly $1 billion.
Larry S. Bonine was appointed director of the Arizona Department of Transportation on March 1, 1993, by Gov. Fife Symington. Prior to joining ADOT, he was with the joint venture of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, where he served as projectwide area construction manager and partnering champion for the Massachusetts Highway Department's Central Artery/Tunnel Project, the largest construction project of its kind in the United States today.
Bonine is a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He is one of the pioneers of public sector partnering and is a strong proponent of total quality management. Bonine served as district engineer of both the U.S. Army Engineer District in Mobile, Alabama, and the Little Rock District in Arkansas. While in Mobile, he oversaw an engineering and construction program in excess of $1 billion that spanned the Southeastern United States and Latin America, and provided leadership to more than 2,000 federal employees.