Leveraging operations research and management science applications to continuously improve transportation organizations
Zachry Department of Civil Engineering
Texas A&M University
John Walewski, PhD
Zachry Department of Civil Engineering
Texas A&M University
S. Travis Waller, PhD
Evans & Peck Professor of Transport Innovation
Director, Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of New South Wales
Associate Transportation Researcher
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Carlos Martin Chang-Albitres, PhD
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Texas at El Paso
Because of the large number of participants and various financial, environmental, and traffic-related considerations, transportation projects are among the most complex projects. The environment in which state transportation agencies operate has substantially changed, and factors such as expectations regarding transparency and accountability and sensitivity to government spending, constantly challenge transportation agencies to find new tools, methods, and approaches to improve performance. The purpose of this project was to identify high-impact and actionable applications of operations research and management science, and to document the systematic method used to identify such applications. The authors implemented a systematic approach to identify the domains within Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) where Operations Research and Management Science (Or/MS) techniques can lead to substantial organizational and project management improvements.
A comprehensive study of TxDOT’s operations was conducted based on existing documentation, and complemented by a two-step survey of TxDOT personnel. Researchers then used their expertise in OR/MS method to generate functional mappings—general themes that encompass a range of TxDOT activities that share a common set of methods in the OR/MS literature—and represent research avenues that have the largest potential to benefit TxDOT operations. Functional mappings were developed using TxDOT’s strategic goals, organizational structure, and documented expenditures to develop preliminary functional classifications. These functional classifications were then refined using online surveys and follow-up interviews with selected TxDOT personnel. Using the results from surveys and interviews, the most prevalent and important issues were identified and classified according to the preliminary functional classifications. Finally, a systematic procedure was developed for evaluating the feasibility of specific managerial issues as OR/MS research problem statements.
The research team found consistency across both the documented data reviewed and the results from surveys and interviews. Project management best practices, project portfolio management processes, project configuration management, project prioritization for financial allocation, utility accommodation, and right-of-way acquisition management were identified as important issues within the organization, consistent with expenditure outlays. In addition, several issues raised by TxDOT personnel related more to the management of the organization’s staff. Competencies of project managers, workload balancing, and productivity-based compensation were identified as important issues that could have widespread impacts on the organization. In general, improvement areas identified in this study shared three common applications of management science techniques and methods. The first common problem type was standardizing organizational project management practices. Determining allocation of limited resources to demands was also identified as an issue, as was assisting decision-makers to select among mutually exclusive alternatives. These issues are all established areas of research in the OR/MS community; this in turn suggests that OR/MS techniques have a high potential to be actionable in the context of TxDOT operations.
By evaluating the history of OR/MS practices, the authors identified and recommended tools, methods, and best practice standards, and developed a concrete set of problem statements for future research applications. The specific research opportunities identified in this study and the systematic method used to identify such applications, provides TxDOT and other statute transportation agencies with a framework to continuously improve their organizational and project management operations.
Keywords: organizational project management; state transportation agencies; scoping study; management science application
The Texas economy is the second largest in the United States and is one of the fastest growing (Commerce, 2012). However, rapid population growth and the associated increase in traffic congestion have become commonplace. The reality is that transportation issues and congestion are an undeniable throttle for current and future economic prosperity. A recent Texas transportation study estimated that solving the congestion problems in the state’s urban regions would generate more than US$6.50 in economic benefits for every US$1.00 spent (Texas Transportation Commission Committee, 2011). Such highly impacted, constrained environments are conducive for management science (MS) and operations research (OR) applications to achieve critical efficiencies. The application of OR/MS techniques have provided major benefits to public and private sector organizations since gaining identity as a field in the 1950s. Capabilities of OR/MS techniques have grown vastly in recent years as OR/MS knowledge, experience, and technology have grown. The economic importance, complexity, and scale of state transportation agencies are well-suited for OR/MS analytical techniques.
Various management science-related techniques have been pursued by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) during the past 20 years. Past efforts were by individual TxDOT staff or academic researchers on specific projects without programmatic direction or focus. Fiscal constraints compel managers to optimize existing and proposed projects and programs. Research and business practice increasingly support comprehensive views of OR/MS applications. This project employs a thoughtful and structured approach to scoping high impact OR/MS applications for TxDOT and establishes a procedure for continual review.
The research effort focused on a systematic view of the different domains within TxDOT where OR/MS techniques could offer substantial improvements. More specifically, the main objective of the project was to use established references and the experienced opinions of TxDOT personnel to identify improvement areas (e.g., communication, resource allocation, etc.) and specific applications (e.g., project ranking analysis, right-of-way acquisition, forecasting staffing needs, etc.) where increased efficiencies were needed.
The research team adopted a multi-stage procedure to incorporate the knowledge and experience of current TxDOT professionals with the OR/MS knowledgebase to identify the areas and activities of TxDOT that could realistically and significantly be improved with the incorporation of OR/MS techniques. Figure 1 summarizes the research steps and the major objective of each step.
Figure 1. Overview of study steps and objectives
TxDOT Current Planning and Programming Practices
The first step of the research project included a review of current practices of TxDOT. With 25 geographical districts throughout the state, 22 divisions, and six offices, TxDOT is one of the largest departments of transportation in terms of the number of subordinate offices. The multi-functionality aspect of TxDOT is required due to many factors including the physical size of the state, the widely varying climate and soil conditions affecting public roads, and the differing demands (urban vs. suburban vs. rural). Each district, managed by a district engineer, is responsible for the design, location, construction, and maintenance of its area transportation systems. Area offices also exist within districts, and districts also have separate maintenance offices for each county within the district. Divisions and offices headquartered in Austin provide administrative and technical support to the districts.
In an assessment of TxDOT’s organizational structure by Deloitte Consulting, TxDOT was found to have a hybrid organizational structure that combined essentially two types of structures—functional groups and geography—to accomplish its organizational objectives. At the division level, the organization is structured around functional groups, such as Finance, Design, and Construction. TxDOT uses geography to organize itself at the district level, giving the district engineers the autonomy to plan for and react to district-specific circumstances (Deloitte Consulting, 2007). As part of its review of TxDOT, Deloitte found that the dual organizational structure had a host of strengths, but also led to issues at all levels including minimal opportunity for standardization, efficiency, and cross-functional solutions.
As advised by this group, TxDOT implemented a regionalization effort to establish super-regions based on geography. The purpose of this program was to consolidate all specialty engineering functions and allow districts to focus on core project delivery. In this model, districts function as engineering hubs responsible for design, construction, maintenance, and operations. Regions, headed by regional executives, were expected to oversee district operations and would be responsible for planning (programming, innovative finance, multi-model systems, long-range planning), project development (environmental studies, consultant contracts, design review, pavement evaluation, traffic operations engineering, right-of-way, bridge design, bridge inspection, construction support), and support (human resources, safety, purchasing, equipment, accounting, IT, facilities, warehousing) for their respective geographical areas of responsibility.
As far as project management is considered, the vast majority of TxDOT work centers on planning, designing, building, and maintaining roads, highways, and bridges. During the project development phase, a series of activities are performed that normally include: preparing schematics; conducting environmental studies; procuring right-of-way needs; designing and executing relocation plans for utilities; developing detailed engineering plans; construction plan, specifications, and cost estimates (PS&E); and eventually letting the project (Khwaja, 2011). According to Khwaja, for different projects, the development phase might last anywhere from a few brief months to over a decade, and it normally encompasses a series of co-dependent mini-phases aligned within organizational functional and geographic boundaries. In summary, Khwaja noted that project development in TxDOT is decentralized both geographically and functionally and is led by individual offices scattered around the state.
In 2008, TxDOT evaluated project management tools to improve transparency and visibility in project development activities. In 2009, TxDOT undertook implementation of Primavera Professional Project Management, version 6 (P6) to gather project data into a single location for easier external reporting. This system was also intended to support decisions around project selection, portfolio management, project scheduling, and staff utilization based on different funding scenarios. In the same year, TxDOT established an interim project management office (PMO) based on the initial core team established for implementation of this P6 (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010).
A study of the planning, programming, and funding of TxDOT also emphasized the need to eliminate the current funding allocation processes and to establish a new, simpler approach that would provide funds to the strategic priorities and the regional needs in a more predictable, equitable, and understandable manner (Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2001).
Operations Research Applications in Transportation Planning
The research team conducted a comprehensive review of previous studies to identify state-of-the-art applications of OR practices. The literature review indicated that OR/MS is rooted in three fields, namely military operations, economics, and computer science. The military operations have expanded to production planning, distribution planning, and global supply chain planning. The computer platforms have diversified into minicomputers, personal computers, and mobile computing. The economics front has evolved from simple single-firm-single-objective to multi-firm-multi-objective models (Sodhi & Tang, 2010). Generally speaking, the main objective of OR/MS is the maximization of profit and performance (or yield), or the minimization of loss, risk, or cost (Sodhi & Tang, 2010). According to Turban and Meredith (1991), the major characteristics of OR/MS techniques are:
- Focus on managerial decision-making
- Application of scientific approach to decision-making
- Examination of decisions from a broad perspective (application of a systems approach)
- Use of methods and knowledge from several disciplines
- Reliance on formal mathematical models
- Extensive use of electronic computers
OR/MS models are usually categorized based on the scope of the underlying decision process. Traditionally, OR/MS models have been categorized as strategic, tactical, or operational models. Strategic models address decision-making processes at the highest level of an organization. These models are concerned with long-term goals, general direction, and organizational philosophies. Because of their nature, strategic models have the potential to shape the entire future of an organization, and, as such, have tremendous impact. Moreover, because of the time frame and scope of these models, they usually consider big-picture, aggregate level data and forecasts, and are seldom used to generate short-term decisions. Tactical models deal with short to medium range decisions that support a strategic plan. The objective of a tactical plan is to appropriately allocate resources over the life cycle of the project so as to enable efficient day-to-day operations and achieve previously defined strategic goals. Finally, operational models deal with day-to-day operations constrained by the strategic and tactical decisions made by the organization. The objective of operational models is to optimize the use of available resources (Bose, 2005).
In summary, as structured disciplines, the first problems of study for OR/MS included military logistics and transportation activities. Whereas specific transportation optimization problems are well-studied, minimal research exists that investigates the strategic application of OR/MS to departments of transportation (DOT) organizations and functions (Barnhart & Gilbert, 2006). As for OR/MS applications in transportation planning and management, the literature review found three areas (summarized below) where operation research applications have been widely used.
Inventory control includes the supervision of supplies in order to guarantee an adequate supply without excessive oversupply. The most recent methods of inventory control include the creation of a dynamic model to compute the parameters of an inventory replenishment and outbound dispatch scheduling policy under dynamic demand (Lee, Sila, & Wikrom, 2003), and the use of stochastic models for multi-commodity emergency inventory management (Ozguven & Ozbay, 2012). Transportation planning involves the evaluation and design of transportation facilities in order to improve them. Three different case studies were analyzed in this literature review. Teo and Shu (2004) studied the distribution network design problem by integrating transportation and infinite horizon multi-echelon inventory cost functions. Bierlaire and Crittin (2004) used a least-square model to estimate and predict origin-destination tables. Perakis and Roels (2004) analyzed the derivation of an analytical function of travel time based on the theory of kinematics waves to determine the travel time of a traveler and how it is affected by congestion.
Resource allocation is used to assign available resources in an effective and economical way. In transportation problems, resource allocation has been used for aggregating highway asset performance measures (Dehghanisanij, Flintsch, & Verhoeven, 2012), effecting the congestion threshold on decision-making for transportation investment and resource allocation (Qu & Lomax, 2011), defending transportation networks against random and targeted attacks (Lou & Zhang, 2011), pavement preservation budgeting (Wu, Flintsch, & Chowdhury, 2008), resource investment decision-making (Bish & Wang, 2004), implementing safety-improvement programs using linear programming techniques (Kar & Datta, 2004), and optimizing network-level bridge maintenance programs (Frangopol, Gharaibeh, Kong, & Miyake, 2000). The methods used in these studies include optimization techniques, sensitivity analysis, excel-based logistics, and hierarchical processes.
Research Development Decisions
Research development decisions are the tools used by the decision-makers to make a final selection. The application of OR/MS methods in this area are very broad. Krugler et al. (2010) performed a statistical analysis on historical TxDOT right-of-way acquisition information and developed a simulation and optimization tool for TxDOT right-of-way sections and budget decisionmakers. Gurganus and Gharaibeh (2012) used the analytic hierarchy process and created a multi-criteria decision-making tool for election and prioritization of pavement preservation projects. Kim, Liu, and Chang (2012) developed a multi-criteria decision support tool to assist traffic managers for assessing detour decisions during non-recurrent freeway congestion. Veeraragavan and Krishna (2011) developed a performance prediction model to predict the pavement performance during its design life and to support pavement maintenance decisions. Nathman, McNeil, and Van Dam (2009) made use of a Microsoft Excel workbook-based decision support tool for integrating environmental performance measures into asset and pavement management. Touran, Molenaar, Gransberg, and Ghavamifa (2009) identified a set of 24 pertinent issues that can affect the choice of a project delivery method and proposed a decision support tool to help transit agencies evaluate and choose the most appropriate project delivery method for their capital projects. Mudigonda, Özbay, and Doshi (2008) developed a geographic information system-based (GIS-based) prototype for evaluation and selection of adaptive traffic control strategies on transportation networks. The decision support system proposed by these researchers recommends the best network location for deployment of adaptive traffic control strategies and is capable of exchanging data between the widely used traffic signal optimization and analysis software, Synchro.
High-Impact Improvement Areas in TxDOT
One of the main objectives of this research project was to classify operations and activities performed by TxDOT by type and determine where improvements could have the largest impact. These classifications can subsequently serve as a basic context for the successful implementation of operations research and management science techniques. For this purpose, the research team performed several tasks aimed at gaining a comprehensive understanding of the interests and priorities of TxDOT.
Building off of the literature review, the team identified and collected background material to review and assess TxDOT’s organizational structure by functional classifications. A key starting point for this activity was an analysis of TxDOT’s organizational structure based upon functions. The research team closely studied the mission and function of different divisions within TxDOT, including construction, finance, human resources, transportation, planning and control, aviation, and bridge construction. A total of 21 different divisions were evaluated.
TxDOT’s previous budget expenditures were also assessed and analyzed as to how they align with organization-wide or multifunctional OR/MS models. Using the expenditure data provided by TxDOT, it was possible to identify specific activities which, due to their financial impact, became prime candidates for further analysis. Study of expenditure data indicated that highway construction (39.6% of total expenditures) and contracted maintenance (28% of total expenditures) were two operations within TxDOT that had several desirable properties from an OR/MS perspective:
- High Impact: Each of these activities represents more dollars spent than any other general category of spending (planning, operations, and management).
- Strong OR/MS Literature: Construction and maintenance are two general fields of OR/MS that, due to their importance in both the private and public world, have been well researched, with a variety of models, methods, and tools available.
- Functional Mapping Potential: As the project structure for both construction and maintenance projects share a variety of smaller sub-activities, specific research topics may have far-reaching implications due to these commonalities.
In addition to using expenditure breakdown for identifying high impact areas, TxDOT’s Strategic Plan for the 2011-2015 period was assessed and the following goals and objectives as determined by TxDOT were reviewed:
Goal 1 - Organizational structure and strategies
- Performance-driven and transportation prioritization and selection process
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Goal 2 - Safety: Strategic highway safety plan
- Fatalities and injuries
- Disasters and emergencies
- Work-zone safety
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Goal 3 - Maintenance: Pavement management maintenance plan
- Asset management program
- Emergency maintenance
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Goal 4 - Congestion reliefs: Congestion management plan
- Multimodal infrastructure, technological, operational, and technological solutions
- Congested elements of the transportation system
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Goal 5 - System connectivity: Transportation improvement program
- Prioritization of connectivity improvements for Texas industries, population, recreational, and cultural centers
- Mobility, economic, environmental and social costs, benefits, and impacts
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Goal 6 - Multimodal funding strategies
- Mobility, safety, system condition, economic development, environmental impacts
- Budgetary and non-budgetary performance measures
Finally, recommendations made by TxDOT’s Restructuring Council were also reviewed and the following major areas of improvement, as well as specific improvement recommendations, were identified. The Restructuring Council was formed July 2010 by the Texas Transportation Commission to examine numerous reports and audits on TxDOT’s operations and identify recommendations for the reform and modernization of TxDOT. Potential functional classification areas per the Restructuring Council recommendations identified by the team included:
- Financial management (financial controls and oversight)
- Information technology
- Human resources as a strategic function
- Comprehensive communications policy with stakeholder groups
- Plan, design, build (planning process improvements, environmental planning, rural planning organizations, right-of-way, acquisition engineering, workforce analysis, field operations staffing)
- Procurement (centralize oversight and develop consistent process and procedures)
In summary, the information gathered as part of the functional mapping task was valuable in defining a comprehensible picture with regards to the activities and objectives important to TxDOT. In turn, this is paramount in identifying applications of OR/MS that can both be actionable, as well as desirable from TxDOT’s standpoint. By analyzing the department from a financial, organizational, and strategic cross-functional standpoint, the research team obtained a better understanding of the issues at hand. Furthermore, this information formed the basis for the survey script as discussed in the following section, as well as the contact list for survey distribution.
Survey and Interviews
After identifying potential functional classifications based on existing documentation, the objective of this step was to identify areas within TxDOT that faced potential problem types. To achieve this objective, a survey and interview protocol were developed that focused on identifying the most pressing issues from TxDOT’s standpoint that were also high impact, as well as any discrepancies between TxDOT’s goals and the way they were perceived by TxDOT professionals. The project team obtained permission to conduct the study by the Human Subjects’ Protection Program and the Institutional Review Board at Texas A&M University. The survey draft and interview protocols were thoroughly reviewed by the members of the Project Monitoring Committee formed by TxDOT for accuracy and content validity. Participants were asked to identify any content deficiencies within the questionnaire. Based on the comments provided by the review panel, minor adjustments were made, and the pilot-test of the online survey verified its usability.
The survey was developed around four major sections. The first part of the survey addressed demographic and descriptive information of survey participants, including their role and position in the organization, education, and factors influencing work experience. This information helped the research team identify the participants and divisions for follow-up interviews. The next section of the survey focused on the extent to which scientific approaches for decision-making were being used by the organization. To classify focus areas, this section of the survey used the six organizational goals from the TxDOT strategic plan for fiscal years 2011-2015. Identifying improvement areas was the major focus of the third section of the survey. Questions aimed to gather information on specific managerial challenges and capture respondents’ evaluations of the organizational effort and efficiency within the context of each of the six major goals. The last section of the survey focused on participants’ recommendations as to what specific managerial solutions might be used to help TxDOT achieve its long-term goals. The survey also included several open-ended questions for respondents to describe their answers and provide further explanations.
Survey questions sought out improvement actions to enhance overall efficiency at division and organizational levels. Several questions addressed the allocation of the organization’s financial resources within four main groups of managerial activities: planning, building, maintaining, and other activities. The questions intended to identify the difference between the current allocation and what respondents thought should be allocated. This information helped the research team in prioritizing management solutions identified in the previous tasks of the project.
The research team gathered a list of TxDOT personnel that would be ideal candidates to complete the surveys. An initial list of potential survey recipients was created from an evaluation of TxDOT’s current organization chart using the results from the previous step. The initial list was reassessed after the creation of a catalog of TxDOT job types related to management functions. The potential list of survey takers was then provided to the project monitoring committee for review and evaluation. The approximate number and type of participants was determined by evaluating the database of TxDOT job classifications, budget expenditures, and the outcome of the literature review. The survey was anonymous and participation was entirely voluntary. Survey participants were selected based on their job title, organizational unit, tenure, and familiarity with OR/MS applications so that they could provide the most useful information. A total of 60 individuals received the survey invitation letter.
A cover letter was developed to be sent along with an invitation to complete the survey online via Survey Monkey® in the spring of 2011. The chair of the project monitoring committee emailed the approved list of potential survey participants, inviting them to complete the online survey. A PDF version of the survey was also available for distribution in case the participant wished to complete the survey over an extended period of time. Completed survey responses were then manually entered into the online database.
Whereas the intent of the online survey was to depict the general picture of potential problems TxDOT faces as an organization, the focus of the follow-up interviews was to hone in and further refine the opinions of specific TxDOT decision-makers and identify clear opportunities for OR/MS applications. Although the survey was anonymous, respondents were asked to indicate whether they would be willing to participate in the detailed follow-up interviews. Based on the responses gathered from the survey, the research team contacted select personnel for follow-up interviews to clarify understanding of responses and identify any additional potential problem areas. The research team also created a separate list of potential interview participants from individuals at the senior management level. The research team emailed 20 potential interviewees and invited them to schedule an interview appointment. These participants were scheduled for an appointment time and were contacted via telephone by the research team for the interview in the summer of 2011. The following six questions were the focus during the follow-up interviews:
- What three issues or questions relating to your area need (more) analytical research?
- Likewise, for the department as a whole, what three issues/questions most deserve analytical research?
- What specific areas within your division/office would gain the most from an improvement in operational efficiency?
- What part of the TxDOT organization-at-large needs to be improved the most in terms of efficiency? Why?
- What are some of the expenditures that TxDOT is making that could be more optimally allocated?
- Anything else you would suggest to improve your own and/or TxDOT’s performance?
The survey link was accessible for a period of two weeks. The research team collected nine responses. Although the response rate was relatively low (20%), the research team did not send reminder emails because of time constraints. It is also important to note that the purpose of the online survey was to capture the collective knowledge and opinion of those with the highest possible level of expertise and experience regarding the application of OR/MS methods, and the research team did not intended to perform a quantitative analysis of survey results. Given the qualitative and exploratory nature of this step, the research team and the project monitoring committee decided that analyzing and synthesizing information submitted by nine respondents would provide adequate direction for proceeding to the next step, and that additional information obtained through follow-up interviews would be sufficient for achieving the objectives of this study. Important findings from the survey are summarized next.
There were nine participants who completed the survey: seven males, one female, and one blank response. Except for one blank response, participants were split between two age groups: four 40-49 and four 50-59. Education backgrounds were mostly bachelors, with one masters, and one doctorate. Six participants were senior district engineers, two were division directors, and one was a blank response. Of the participants who responded, 100% have worked for TxDOT for more than 10 years. Survey responses were downloaded from the Survey Monkey® database and analyzed using Microsoft Excel when applicable to tabulate results. Open-ended responses were summarized in paragraph or tabular form and were analyzed as well.
Current State of Organization
The purpose of these questions was to ascertain if any management science principles are currently being used at TxDOT. The first question asked participants if their division has conducted any efforts in the management sciences with respect to the six main TxDOT strategic goals. The majority of respondents indicated that efforts in their division were directed toward Goals 1, 2, 3, and 5. Respondents were asked, “Do internal procedures exist to systematically evaluate methods to optimize your division’s/office’s performance?”. Six responded yes and three responded no.
Survey participants were asked who is responsible for operational efficiency or change within their division. Common responses included the district engineer, division directors, and themselves (all employees). The final question of this section asked participants which units within TxDOT (any or all) have the highest influence on the achievement of the six strategic goals. The units listed for consideration were: (1) Finance, (2) Strategic policy and performance management, (3) Field and district operations, (4) Engineering operations, and (5) Support operations.
Opinions of Current State
In summary, respondents felt that TxDOT, in general, operates with above-average efficiency, but there are several areas that could be improved upon. Recurring ideas consisted of improving the project prioritization process so that projects are funded based on need and are using TxDOT’s financial resources in an effective and optimal way. Personnel cross-training was mentioned several times. Participants also indicated that with significant staff turnover and expertise within a job function, the need to pass along that knowledge is vital to the on-going success of the organization. Job-sharing functions could be considered as part of employee training or exodus. Financial and material resource allocation should be carefully scrutinized to ensure appropriate projects and maintenance activities are being addressed across the state.
Consistent and clear communication from a top-down chain of command was also identified as a necessity to keep all employees moving toward the same strategic goals.
The last section of the survey focused on participants’ recommendations as to what specific managerial solutions might be used to help the organization achieve its long-term goals. In general, improving communication in a cost-effective way was one effort mentioned, especially since managers are located remotely from subordinate personnel. A desire for increased flexibility to make better business decisions was also mentioned. Improving the way staff within a division spend their time was addressed. A recurrent theme throughout the survey—project prioritization—was brought up again in the context of developing a way to analyze the return on investment during the project selection process.
In conclusion, section four of the survey indicated that the way TxDOT currently allocates financial resources should be checked for optimality. On average, respondents were fairly close in speculating how TxDOT currently allocates its funds, but their recommendations for financial allocation were dissimilar. With regards to the six strategic goals, results indicated that the four expenditure categories all play a part in achieving these goals, but respondents indicated it should be verified whether they are properly proportioned. Similarly, it should be determined where the organizational responsibility lies for achieving these goals within the various units of TxDOT.
Follow-Up Interviews Results
Out of 20 individuals who received interview requests, 14 (eight directors and six senior analysts) accepted to participate in the follow-up interviews. The research team summarized, and subsequently grouped, the responses based on OR/MS general themes. Members of the research team who conducted the follow-up interviews developed a one-page summary highlighting important findings. The research team thoroughly discussed interview notes to synthesize the interview findings. Using the literature review findings and results from the survey, the research team grouped concerns raised by different respondents into a more manageable number of categories, where each category represented one general group of organizational challenges that can benefit from an improved OR/MS analysis. Table 1 shows the category of problems and a summary of improvement areas identified through interviews.
|Category of Problems||Improvement Areas|
|Standardized planning/design/project management practices||Analyze and quantify potential savings through improved procedures regarding eligible utility accommodations Management of design and planning processes (schematic design and advanced planning, detailed design) Forecasting utility costs when it comes to right-of-way Forecasting average time in-process for components of right-of-way acquisition services Forecasting and controlling times and cost of schematic design and advanced planning phases Determination of a defined scope before going into detailed design Tie long range advanced planning with corridor to project-level decisions|
|Financial allocation and cost-tracking (organization-wide policies)||Allocating transportation dollars in areas where really needed Portfolio management on an enterprise level to optimize project funding Prioritizing projects for maintenance|
|HR forecasting methods||Forecasting staffing needs at the managerial level based on productivity Forecasting overall staffing needs based on projected budgets,rate of turnover, and retirements Workload analysis of core activities (construction, maintenance, design, etc.) to understand how many hours each task needs|
|Workload imbalances||Analyzing staff efficiency for aligning the number of people to the functions they perform. Statistical models to identify pay discrepancies Whole organization performance assessment to establish defined levels of performance for different jobs classifications|
|Communication (internal)||Improve collaborative project management solutions Streamlining work processes as well as adopting new technologies|
Table 1. Summary of interview findings
Identifying Improvement Areas
The goal of categorizing the issues identified in the surveys and interviews was to develop a priority-based set of problems and also give consideration to addressing multiple issues simultaneously. Of interest to TxDOT was identifying potential future topics that could be investigated as future research projects that begin as problem statements. The general set of problems considered was identified based on the responses to the follow-up interviews which are summarized in Table 1. Once a general issue was identified, the research team used a set of criteria in order to identify problems that could produce high-impact, actionable research problem statements. Table 2 shows evaluation criteria and assessment by the research team regarding the possibility that addressing internal communication issues would result in significant improvements for TxDOT. Because a focus of the research project was to identify high-impact opportunities, the focus of the procedure for evaluating specific managerial issues was less about the specifics of the impacts, but rather on the order of magnitude of the expected benefit of improvement in that area.
|Can the benefits of addressing the issue at hand be easily quantified?||As an organization consisting of 25 districts, 21 divisions, and over 12,000 employees, internal communication is critical in the achievement of TxDOT’s goals. The TxDOT staff is clearly its biggest asset; and making more efficient use of its workforce by minimizing the amount of time and effort wasted can result in incredible time savings and increases in productivity. More investigation is needed to quantify the benefits of improvement in the case of internal communication issues.|
|Will the benefits of addressing the issue at hand affect multiple areas in TxDOT?||Improving internal communication has the potential to affect every area of TxDOT, as all activities within the organization hinge on efficient and timely communication.|
|Will the benefits of addressing the issue at hand have positive effects for a long period of time?||It is clear that improved internal communications would have a long lasting positive effect in the organization.|
|Is there evidence of successful implementations of OR/MS within TxDOT to address the issue at hand?||As mentioned by one of the respondents, (although at a smaller scale), successful implementation of handheld devices for more efficient communication had very positive results.|
|Is there evidence of situations where the issue at hand has had a negative impact?||While individual events could be pinpointed, it is not necessary as internal communication issues can have a part in a great number of operational issues.|
Table 2. Evaluation criteria for determining high-impact improvement areas
Having answered these questions, it becomes clear that the problem of streamlining and improving internal communications can have far-reaching and significant implications, and as such, should be considered as a potential research problem statement. Based on the review and assessment of TxDOT using a structured approach to scoping high-impact management science applications, the following areas of focus were identified.
Standardize Project Management Practices and Develop a Project Management Manual
As noted in previous TxDOT studies, from 2007 to 2009, TxDOT completed only 43% of projects within 5% the original schedule, and 63% of projects within 5% of the original award amount, mainly as a result of requesting additional work by TxDOT (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010). P6 has been implemented to help districts manage project timelines and track resource utilization across the state. However, P6 is just a tool and TxDOT still needs to focus on a strong project management methodology to standardize and institute consistency in how projects are managed across districts, specifically with respect to scope, cost, and time. One of the issues frequently noted during interviews was the fragmented advanced planning, design, and development activities and a failure to follow consistent and disciplined management practices. Improvement in this area should include developing a project management methodology for the design and development phase with emphasis on integrated management of design activities, which will, in turn, result in improvement of design decision-making. Survey and interview participants specifically indicated that clear, accurate, and standardized procedures are needed to assist in completing projects on time, on budget and to quality specifications. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is a widely accepted standard for managing projects (PMI, 2013) and should be considered for extracting project management best practices.
Implement a Standardized Portfolio Management System
Projects within TxDOT normally encompass a series of phases and are led by individual offices scattered around the state. Each project is managed, controlled, and supervised at different levels in the organization, such as area offices, district offices, and the construction division. These managerial efforts might be uncoordinated and not tracked or consolidated in a single location. Given the lack of coordination, managers at different levels might each look at the same project while leaving other areas or aspects untouched. Implementing P6 and establishing the project management office (PMO) aimed to address the need for a portfolio management system. The role of PMO provides program management policy, guidance, and tools; subject matter experts for project management training; project delivery assistance and project management expertise for districts; P6 subject matter experts; and schedule management (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010). As highlighted in previous studies (Khwaja, 2011), the benefits of the portfolio management system should continuously communicate vertically and horizontally across TxDOT. As discussed previously, study participants highlighted the need for clear, accurate, and standardized procedures which are needed to institute consistency in the way projects are managed across the organization and at different levels. In line with the discussion regarding accepted managerial best practices, PMI offers The Standard for Program Management – Third Edition (2013c) and The Standard for Portfolio Management – Third Edition (2013b), which should be considered.
Provide Project Management Training
Previous studies reported that TxDOT has a strong engineering bias and is led almost exclusively by engineers (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010). In addition to implementing standardized project and portfolio management practices, engineers involved in managing projects should receive training on processes and procedures required for a successful implementation of best practices. As stated previously, one of the responsibilities of the PMO is to provide subject matter experts for project management training. However, the PMO has been established by individuals involved in developing the P6 tool, not personnel with project management expertise (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010). Certification programs, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification for the members of a PMO and project managers is recommended to enhance employees’ qualifications and increase their skills in the area of project management. TxDOT has started listing PMP certification and knowledge of the PMBOK® Guide as preferred qualifications for new employees to be hired for project management-related positions (Texas Department of Transportation, 2013c). Moreover, several project management courses based on principles of the PMBOK® Guide have been provided to individuals responsible for oversight or actual management of projects (Texas Department of Transportation, 2013b). However, analysis of survey and interview data indicated that, in addition to technical knowledge, skills, and abilities, training programs should also cover personal and behavioral competencies of project managers. To address this need, the authors recommend the Project Manager Competency Development Framework – Second Edition, developed by PMI, in which a general context for the definition, assessment, and development of project manager competency is provided (PMI, 2007).
Develop a Project Configuration Management System
In 2013, TxDOT had 2,970 construction and maintenance contracts underway, with the total value about US$700 million (Texas Department of Transportation, 2013a). In addition to various offices and divisions at different levels within TxDOT, numerous organizations with different roles (general contractors, subcontractors, consultant, vendor, and supplier) are involved with each project. The large number of participants and various constraints that need to be met in each project (environmental conditions, rOw issues, utility relocation, traffic management, etc.) requires documenting a large amount of details to identify and track possible changes during the project lifecycle. Although TxDOT has started implementing solutions to modernize the information technology (IT) environment and IT processes, (including implementing P6 and management information systems for pavement and maintenance management activities), study participants indicated a crucial need for improving the communication among project participants. A standardized system for collecting, storing, and keeping track of all information associated with all project products is recommended to make sure work performed by different organizations and individuals involved with a project is consistent and compatible. The Handbook of Configuration Management for Transportation Management Systems published by Federal Highway Administration (2003) and the Practice Standard for Project Configuration Management published by PMI (2007) are recommended for extracting the processes, activities, tools, and methods for configuration management in TxDOT.
Prioritize Project for Financial Allocation
In prioritizing projects, owner organizations have to consider different kinds of benefits that candidate projects would provide to the wide range of stakeholders. Previous studies of TxDOT have indicated that the basis for decision-making about which projects are selected for further considerations are not transparent inside TxDOT or to external stakeholders (Grant Thornton LLP, 2010). Survey participants indicated that TxDOT should ensure that financial resources are allocated in areas that have documented needs as opposed to ad-hoc criteria. Improvement in this area includes developing a decision-making tool for project prioritization. This tool should improve the effective use of information that filters through different departments which need to be processed at different levels of the organization. It is important to note that, in addition to benefit-to-cost analysis, ranking analysis should also include the quantifiable measures established by the strategic plan goals. Accordingly, for each project, information regarding its objectives, stakeholders’ feedback on objectives, and organizational objectives should be collected from external sources (public) and internal sources at different levels of the organization. Moreover, different types of projects (e.g., construction vs. maintenance), as well as organizational improvement actions conducted within the organization should be considered in the allocation of funds.
Develop Performance Metrics to Assess Productivity and Forecast Staffing Needs
TxDOT manages a limited budget and there is a need to allocate financial resources in a more effective manner. Improvement in this area will significantly help TxDOT in best allocating resources and forecasting staffing needs based on performance metrics for productivity. The model should include a manpower analysis of TxDOT’s core activities including design, construction, and maintenance. Improvement in this area needs complete documentation of work performed, methods used, results achieved, and budget used. A methodology to formulate a payment compensation system based on performance should be included as well.
Implement an Optimization–Based Pavement Management System
Surveys and interviews indicated that allocating scarce funds to maintain Texas roads and highways was one of TxDOT’s most pressing problems, especially in the current environment of shrinking budgets. Improvements in this area have great potential for improving road network quality at minimum cost, and are probably the highest priority improvement area among those considered in this project. Previous studies indicated that using an optimization-based Pavement Management Systems (PMS) was anticipated to result in as much as US$72 million (discounted) in annual savings. Improvement in this area includes development of a decision-support tool to better allocate maintenance funds across the entire road network, using multi-year planning horizons.
Predictive Right-of-Way Acquisition
The most expensive part of many transportation projects, especially roadway expansions, is acquiring the right-of-way. TxDOT has deployed a host of tools and techniques to decrease these costs including advanced acquisition and an online system to document and track the right-of-way acquisition process. A model for predicting the total right-of-way acquisition duration, from right-of-way release to possession, using inherent factors has also been developed with TxDOT research project 0-5478. Whereas advanced acquisition may be a strategic tool in certain cases, there is a need for a more detailed analysis that would look at the overall right-of-way process. Improvement in this area requires a comprehensive analysis of current right-of-way acquisition procedures and practices and an assessment to optimize the detection of which parcels are most likely to go to condemnation. Moreover, the process of estimating right-of-way costs should be improved in order to increase the accuracy of the estimates. An enhanced understanding of factors affecting right-of-way acquisition time and cost would be highly useful for TxDOT in improving planning and acquisition decisions.
Determine Eligible Utility Accommodation Reimbursements
Utility accommodation is an integral factor in road construction and design. While the overall process for determining eligible utility accommodations and reimbursements exists, there is not any precise method to analyze and quantify the potential savings that these procedures provide. For example, according to TxDOT rules, local utility procedures can be used in place of TxDOT procedures. Few eligible utility accommodation reimbursements have been assessed, and little has been done to determine the most efficient and effective process. Findings from interviews and surveys indicated that application and oversight of the current TxDOT utility accommodation process varies from district to district, project to project, and utility to utility. Improvements in this area include an optimization of the process for reimbursement of eligible utility accommodations. An independent study should be conducted to analyze the utility accommodation procedure with an emphasis on optimization of utility accommodation decisions.
Generally speaking, the majority of improvement areas identified in this study shared two common uses of management science techniques. The first common problem type was determining allocation of a class of resources to service demands, such as allocation of maintenance resources to roadways of varying conditions and travel demands. The second common problem type was helping decision-makers choose among a number of potentially attractive, but mutually exclusive alternatives, such as allocation of budgets across different regions that have varying constituencies, travel demands, existing infrastructure, and maintenance needs. A variety of management science techniques have been developed to address these problems. The literature review conducted for this study identified state-of-the-art applications of such techniques in transportation planning and management. To determine the potential impact of OR/MS applications, future studies should focus on evaluating the history of practices, the number of affected parties, and the time period over which the benefits will be reaped.
In this study, researchers implemented a systematic approach to identify the domains within Texas Department of Transportation where operations research and management science techniques can lead to substantial improvements. The method focused on close collaboration with TxDOT personnel, utilizing the collective expertise of the research team to identify general themes encompassing a range of TxDOT activities that share common modeling characteristics.
The research team performed a comprehensive study of TxDOT’s operations based on existing documentation, and complemented that with a two-step survey of TxDOT personnel. Researchers used their expertise in operations research and management science techniques and defined improvement areas based on survey responses. Improvement areas found in this study are common across a wide range of TxDOT organizational substructures, share a set of methods in the operations research and management science literature, and represent research avenues with the largest potential to benefit TxDOT operations.
Generally speaking, the majority of improvement areas identified in this study share three common uses of management science techniques. The first common problem type is standardizing project management practices across the organization and providing project management training to engineers involved in managing projects. The second common problem type is determining allocation of a class of resources to service demands, such as allocation of maintenance resources to roadways of varying conditions and travel demands. Finally, the third common problem type is helping decision-makers choose among a number of potentially attractive, but mutually exclusive alternatives, such as allocation of budgets across different regions that have varying constituencies, travel demands, existing infrastructure, and maintenance needs. A variety of management science techniques have been developed to address these problems and the research team listed state-of-the-art applications of such approaches and techniques in transportation planning and management.
Transportation projects are among the most complex type of projects with respect to the large number of participants and stringent financial and environmental regulations. Only few studies have investigated the strategic application of OR/MS to state transportation agencies. Findings of the current study conducted for one of the largest transportation agencies in the United States, TxDOT, provides direction for future studies to fully examine the strategic application of OR/MS techniques to transportation organizations. Future studies should focus on evaluating the history of practices, the number of affected parties, and the time period over which the benefits will be reaped.
This paper is based on research sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The research was performed as a cooperative effort by the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The contents of this paper reflect the views of the authors, who are responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of TxDOT.
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Hessam Sadatsafavi is a Civil Engineering doctoral student at Texas A&M University in the Construction, Engineering, and Management program. His research and professional experience covers a wide range of topics related to engineering project management and sustainability in the design, construction, and operations of healthcare facilities. During his PhD studies, Mr. Sadatsafavi has been involved with three major management science research projects conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). He has also been involved with several projects devoted to implementing management best practices and organizational improvement approaches which focus on organization-wide systems and project management processes.
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