Maine Trails, August - September '14
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Maine DOT View

Performance measurement pays off

By Bill Pulver, P.E., MaineDOT Director of Project Development
 
Knowing what to expect is a good thing. In the business world, it’s a matter of survival. When it comes to road and bridge construction, MaineDOT drives that economy: 60 percent of our budget goes right back out the door in the form of contracts to private companies. These companies need to know what to expect and what’s coming down the pike, so they can plan accordingly. They need predictability.
 
Since 2010, when MaineDOT set its measurement targets and began publishing results, we have increased our performance significantly over the 80 percent target. This is a dramatic improvement over the department’s historic experience. MaineDOT has been on a journey to improve the predictability for capital projects being delivered to physical construction.
 
Developing public infrastructure projects in a predictable manner through the pre-construction phase is sometimes challenging with many unknowns that can develop, such as special permitting requirements, endangered species considerations, historic preservation reviews, property transactions, utility modifications, etc. However, with effective project management and scheduling accompanied by organizational focus and support, and good tracking and reporting tools, a predictable annual project delivery plan is achievable.
 
MaineDOT measures schedule performance at two important milestones. The first is our Plans, Specifications and Estimate completion milestone, or PS&E, which concludes the design phase of a project. The second is our Advertise milestone, which is the date we advertise the project for bids. While the two milestones are close to each other, the PS&E measurement allows us to capture our design phase performance for projects that are not yet funded for construction, in case financial constraints affect our ability to advertise for bids.
 
Simply establishing a performance measure and setting a performance target is certainly the first step, Yet there have been several other factors that have greatly contributed to our recent success in this area. Here are some of those factors:
 
Emphasis, expectation from the top – The commissioner’s office has not only emphasized our goal to deliver “on-time”, but more importantly has articulated the benefits of success in this area, basically building a reputation of integrity and trust for our organization. Broad emphasis from the top gets all organizational units involved in project delivery flying in formation toward a common goal.
 
A clear definition of the measure – A unified understanding of the measure, and the target, throughout the organization is necessary. Keeping the measure simple has also eased implementation. A project is considered on time if the milestone has been achieved within 30 days of the date set at the beginning of the calendar year. Our performance target for both milestones is 80 percent on-time.
 
In-it-together philosophy – An atmosphere that the annual result is a measure of MaineDOT’s delivery processes, rather than the performance of a specific project manager or delivery unit, eliminates finger pointing and further promotes focus on timely delivery in all areas.
 
Management support and troubleshooting – Managers overseeing the project teams or the various activities to be performed for the project must re-emphasize goals, monitor results, look ahead and, most importantly, be willing to roll up the sleeves to troubleshoot significant issues or clear obstacles to keep the team’s project on track. Managers attend monthly production meetings to review the status of the measure and to discuss any projects that appear to be in jeopardy of not meeting the target.
 
Effective reporting and tracking system – MaineDOT’s information “Dashboard” provides real time, easily accessible performance information and project status tracking. The current status and year-end projection of the performance measure is available to all. Also, changes in project schedules are highlighted, which triggers reaction.
 
Good ole’ competition – The natural competitive spirit between project teams and units has had more of a positive influence than expected on our on-time results. Program and project managers strive to get the best numbers, rather than just meet the target.
 
Our on-time measure led to significant improvement in the predictability of project delivery and given stakeholders increased confidence in our published annual schedule; moreover, the focus on this measure has also led to other positive improvements that are paying off in other ways. Progressively, we have experienced better communication, better planning of activities, improved teamwork, less chaos, improved efficiency and production and a better understanding of each other’s work. However, even though we have been above target, there are still plenty of areas to improve on and plenty of things that can cause a hiccup in the annual plan.
 
At MaineDOT, our core values are integrity, competence, and service. We are continuously striving to be the most trusted organization in Maine.
 
Saying what we are going to do, then doing what we say is a key aspect of obtaining that goal, and one we will never stop perfecting. 

 

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