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This chapter highlights ways that DOTs use performance management to guide their efforts to achieve a balance between engineering integrity, fiscal responsibility, and customer satisfac- tion outcomes. DOT managersâperhaps naturally as engineersâsometimes lean toward the engineering component of this equation, which can weaken an agencyâs efforts to satisfy customers or to be fiscally responsible. DOTs are well equipped, for example, to use life-cycle cost principles for choosing the right construction techniques to build roads that last a long time, but their cus- tomersâ preference for systemwide road surface smoothness may not be met with this model for prioritizing pavement preservation projects. At the same time, customer demands for system performance are growing, often despite flat or declining budgets. When a DOT charts its course without adequate attention to customer satisfaction and engineering integrity, the passage may become stormy. Ignorance about issues important to customersâfrom winter storm readiness to project cost managementâcan foment public dis- content that quickly spawns negative press like âDOT Bungles Response to Ice Stormâ or âNew Highway to Cost 20 Percent Moreâ and draw the scrutiny of reform-minded legislators. Ulti- mately, a DOTâs inadequate regard for customer needs may generate pressure for drastic changes in agency budgets, policies, and procedures. Change can be good, but is there a less painful way to achieve outcomes that benefit DOTs and their customers? Winning over customers and keeping them satisfied necessitates a blend of technical science and tactical art that is inherent to good performance management. Most DOTs already possess or can easily acquire the technical talent to measure factors that influence customersâ percep- tions of performanceâsuch as road smoothness, litter pick-up, incident clearance times, or vis- ibility of traffic markings. In these same DOTs, however, the tactical art of how to interpret and respond to performance data in ways that boost customer satisfaction-related factors is often underdeveloped. Some DOTs are finding ways to marry technical data collecting capabilities with tactically savvy ways to deploy data in decision-making. The customer satisfaction-related benefits they gain trans- late into fewer headlines like âDOT Bungles Response to Ice Stormâ and more success stories like âLegislature Approves Highway Funding Package.â Strategies include aligning performance tar- gets and customer expectations; learning how to better balance constraints in decision-making; and building agency credibility via modest, customer-focused âquick fixes.â 33 C H A P T E R 5 Performance Management Requires a Customer Focus
5.0 Align Performance Targets with Customer Expectations The menu of performance measures that is practical for most DOTs is modest. Numerous studies have concluded that successful DOTs tend to examine the same general set of perfor- mance focus areas using similar metrics. Most DOTs, for example, track safety performance via the absolute number of fatalities or relative fatalities per unit of vehicle miles traveled, or they track bridge conditions via a bridge condition index. Customersâ expectations, however, are often fuzzy. In the area of congestion, for example, customers may care generally about a com- bination of travel speed and trip reliability, but DOTs may lack good information about what customers believe constitutes a satisfactory speed or level of reliability. As a result, even with the right measures in place, DOTs often struggle to set performance targets that match customer expectations. If the agency sets its congestion targets too low, customer satisfaction may fall; but if it sets the targets too high, funds may be spent unnecessarily on achieving less congestion than customers care about. DOTs can address this challenge by making better use of feedback from customers to help set performance targets. Understand how performance correlates with customer satisfaction by using novel tech- niques. Some DOTs, including Kansas, Missouri, and Pennsylvania are using âroad rallyâ tech- niques to get a better picture of their customersâ expectations about factors such as pavement roughness, congestion, or centerline striping visibility. In a road rally, groups of randomly selected interviewees are asked to rate their satisfaction with roadway and traffic conditions as they are driven on preselected stretches of highway. Follow-up analysis of road rally derived sat- isfaction levels can be used to correlate them with a DOTâs own metrics for measuring roadway roughness, congestion, or centerline condition, etc. Armed with this information, the DOT can predict how customer satisfaction levels might change as performance changes for a particular metric. The Pennsylvania DOT, for example, has correlated roadway roughness with customer satisfaction. Link traditional performance metrics with customer satisfaction to set meaningful performance targets. State DOTs can use technical measures like the International Roughness Index (IRI) to gauge whether performance is getting better or worse. Ohio DOT, for example, carefully tracks IRI across every DOT district and uses this information in decisions about giving fund- ing to districts whose pavement condition is worsening. Without âroad rallyâ style information, however, a state DOT is in the dark about whether its per- formance gains or losses are affecting customer satisfaction. In the Kansas DOT, for example, road roughness across the state highway system is at an unprece- dented low. Executive staff is wrestling with difficult decisions about whether to allow a decline in pavement condition and invest preservation funds in other needs. At the heart of this conversation is a concern about whether cus- tomers in Kansas will notice a slight decline in pavement condition. Check on customer satisfaction levels with regular surveys. In many DOTs, customer satisfaction surveys are undertaken irregularly and results are poorly linked to the agencyâs performance management efforts. A well- designed customer survey, however, can help validate information initially developed via a road rally type focus group and translated into technical measure targets. For example, if the road rally points to a cutoff value for centerline nighttime visibility at which customers are satisfied, the DOT can engage in a program for bringing centerline markings up to this standard and can then use the customer survey to validate whether satisfaction levels have in fact improved. 34 Transportation Performance Management: Insight from Practitioners PennDOTâs Customer Focused Ride Quality ResearchâThe PennDOT used road rally style focus groups to identify International Rough- ness Index (IRI) values that coincide with customerâs perceptions of âexcellent,â âgood,â âfair,â and âpoorâ ride conditions. It exam- ined how customersâ acceptable IRI values vary both across interstates, NHS routes and low volume routes, and between rural and urban areas.
5.1 Learn How to Better Balance Multiple Constraints in Decision-Making DOTs do not have the luxury of unlimited funding for transportation. Sound engineering principles, however, still dictate fundamentals that must guide the safe design, construction, and operation of every project. Not only must a DOT balance fiscal responsibility with good engi- neering judgment, but it must find ways to keep customers satisfied. Performance management can help decision-makers generate transportation solutions that harmonize potential tensions among engineering principles, customer expectations, and affordability limits, whether the issue is safety, asset preservation, or congestion. Rely on a broad perspective when making decisions with multiple con- straints. By ensuring that decision-making blends consideration of multiple constraints, some agencies avoid becoming unintentionally focused on a sin- gle decision constraint. In the area of winter storm preparedness, for exam- ple, a broad perspective might include consideration not only of customer expectations about timely snow and ice removal, but materials cost con- straints, and environmental impacts of de-icing chemicals. Multi-criteria thinking helps agencies avoid outcomes that are unnecessarily costly or unre- sponsive to customers. Draw on performance management tools to support multi-criteria decision-making. Sometimes performance management tools can be useful in assisting the process of understanding tradeoffs among engineering needs, fiscal constraints, and customer satisfaction. DOTsâ computerized pavement and bridge management systems, for example, provide powerful scenario- based forecasting capabilities that allow decision-makers to consider the con- sequences of changing spending levels or lowering performance targets. Employ feedback loops between performance results and strategic goals. Every state DOT should engage in a regular feedback loop to check back on the validity of assumptions about the correct balance between constraints by ver- ifying whether customers are satisfied, engineering principles are being met, and budgets are maintained. Missouri DOTâs leaders, for example, pay close attention to an array of data as they work to address a backlog of highway preservation needs that cost the agency significant credibility. Not only do they monitor pavement roughness, which has decreased markedly in recent years, but they track the results of customer surveys, road rallies, and focus groups to verify whether new engineering approaches are making a difference. 5.2 Build Agency Credibility via Modest, Customer-Focused âQuick Fixesâ A DOTâs credibility with stakeholders is a precious asset. It is arguably as essential to building and maintaining transportation infrastructure as concrete, asphalt, and smart employees, because it enables DOTs to work with the public, the business community, and legislative and govern- mental bodies to achieve strategic objectives like securing funds to meet critical transportation needs. Credibility is hard won and easily lost. Performance management helps DOTs identify low-cost/high-value solutions that quickly help boost or restore their credibility: Capitalize on âquick fixâ successes. Some DOTs are learning that they should complement long-term, high-cost performance management strategies like asset management programs with Performance Management Requires a Customer Focus 35 Ohio DOTâs Pavement Condition Performance MeasuresâFor the last decade, Ohio DOT has put a great emphasis on analysis of district-by-district data describing the condition of Ohioâs pavements and the rate of change in pavement condition. It uses this data, in combination with information about funding levels and anticipated preservation projects, to predict pavement con- dition and to allocate available funding among districts to best meet the agencyâs statewide goal of uniform quality in pavement. The Ohio DOT reports a dramatic improvement in pavement condi- tion using this strategy between 1997 and 2005.
âquick fix,â low-cost performance management initiatives; particularly those that help the DOT make strong gains in agency credibility by showing greater responsiveness to customersâ needs that easily can go unmet. By being better equipped to capitalize on âquick fixes,â an agencyâs external credibility grows and internal understanding of why performance management is important increases. For Missouri DOT, any new funding source over $5 million has to be approved by a public referendum, not a legislative vote. One of the key focuses of the Missouri Tracker program, therefore, has been to focus the DOTâs attention on implementing a series of low-cost quick fixesâin areas such as safety and pavement preservationâthat the public can see the benefits of. Seek out performance measures that match customersâ highest priorities. A DOT can easily slip into the trap of measuring what its staff finds simplest to track regardless of whether measures match customersâ concerns. At best, this approach is likely to leave the agencyâs credibility unchanged; more likely, it will take staff time away from focusing on the right issues. At the Kansas DOT, for example, when the agency began its performance measures program, it tracked miles of âdeficientâ shoulders on the state highway system because such data are routinely collected. But Kansas customer surveys showed shoulders on most highways in Kansas are generally considered acceptable by the public and use of the measure has lapsed. Agencies should be unafraid of dropping measures that do not prove effective in decision-making. High-priority topics vary from state to state; in one, project delivery might be the highest priority, and in another, it might be roadway condition. Finding the right topics depends on a blend of intuition and feedback from customers. Use measures that the public can understand. Some performance mea- sures in common use among DOTs do not translate well to a nontechnical audience. Persistent reliance on such measures can hinder efforts to boost credibility. Use of volume-to-capacity ratios to describe congestion, for example, illustrates how a valid engineer- ing approach for quantifying traffic problems means little to nonengineering audiences. In Washington State, the DOT is now using âoperating speedâ as a more meaningful measure of congestion. Operating speed compares the peak-hour actual average operating speed with the desired operating speed to gauge how inefficiently traffic is moving. Speed is a concept that indi- vidual drivers can relate to directly, aiding in communicating performance measure results to the public. Other approaches, such as graphical display of typical traffic patterns to represent volume-to-capacity ratios can be useful as well, though these lack some of the precision of the measure of speed. 36 Transportation Performance Management: Insight from Practitioners Kansas DOT Seeks Right Measure for Road Striping âThe Kansas DOT learned in a 2008 customer survey that a higher than expected share of drivers in Kansas are dissatisfied with the visibility of road markings at night and in bad weather. KDOTâs performance measures for road markings, however, measured their visibility only during the day in dry conditions. KDOT is now seeking ways to better respond to customersâ needs on this topic.