"ABCs" of Process Reviews
A. What is a Process Review?
A process review is an assessment of the functionality and effectiveness of a particular program and the practices and procedures used for carrying out an aspect of an agency's normal business operations. Reviews can also help ensure that operational processes are consistent with established standards and expectations, performing at the most effective and efficient level, and that best practices are captured and made available to others at all levels.
A process review has several characteristics, including that it is:
- Planned: Preparation is done
- Deliberate: There is a defined purpose and scope for the review
- Organized: A method/approach is followed
- Systemic: Look for trends systemwide
- Multi-disciplinary: It is conducted by a representative team
- Action-oriented: Seeks to identify steps that can be taken (if any) to foster improvement and capture best practices.
B. What are the Steps for a Review?
The following steps present a suggested approach for a conducting a process review:
1. Assemble multi-disciplinary team.
In an agency, there are generally several units, teams, or departments responsible for carrying out a program or operation. It is important that these different perspectives are represented in a process review team. A practice that works well for one unit may cause difficulties for the next unit (e.g., decisions made independently by the design unit could make development of effective TMPs or traffic control plans problematic for the traffic engineers). Or a step that is done by one unit might be more effective if done earlier in the process by another unit (e.g., identifying significant projects). The appropriate personnel, who represent the various project development stages and the different offices within the agency, as well as the FHWA and law enforcement, should participate in the process reviews. Non-agency stakeholders should be invited to participate in the reviews, as appropriate. They can provide a useful perspective and may have insights that agency personnel are not in a position to see.
The maximum effective team size is generally around 8 people. If the team is too large, the participation of some members will likely be limited. Other people can support the review, but not be a member of the core review team. For example, the review team may interview other stakeholders on specific topics of interest or make use of data collected by others.
2. Develop a review plan.
Preparing a review plan can be helpful to ensure that all team members have a common understanding and remain focused on the scope of the review. What needs to be considered to plan for a review?
- Scope: Function/processes reviewed
- Expected results
- Information needed
- What do we know now?
- Gaps in information and possible sources
- Team members and roles
- Schedule and resources.
Purpose and Scope: Having a clear purpose and scope for the review and an agreed upon set of objectives is vital to the success of a review. The scope of the review should identify the limits of the review to ensure it remains focused on the key processes, and should specify the timeframe to be covered by the review (e.g., the most recent 2 years). The agency and the FHWA Division Office generally work together to identify the scope of review, based on the Stewardship Agreement and a risk assessment.
Expected results: The process review should have clear and concise goals that define what the review is trying to accomplish and identify the expected results. Base the selection of topics on opportunities for improvement and consider a fairly uniform distribution of review topics among the various program areas.
Information needed: Information for a review can and should come from a variety of sources. After determining the information the review team needs, it should next assess what information is already available and identify what needs to be generated. Information sources may include field data collection, data records (e.g., crash reports), project logs, interviews with key stakeholders, post-construction reports, and other sources. This may include:
- Collection of data including project related information as well as public and stakeholder perception.
- Synthesis and analysis of data at multiple levels (project, local, regional, State, and national) and comparison of findings to performance metrics.
- Application of the analysis results toward continually improving work zone policies and procedures.
Team members and roles: The team members should also know their roles, limitations, and authority.
Schedule and resources: The review team should also identify target dates for conducting the review and presenting the results, as well as the resources available for the review. Resources should include staff time and expertise, data availability, and budget.
3. Conduct review.
This step involves carrying out the review plan developed by the team. The review team leader should make appropriate assignments among the team members to promote active participation by everyone. It is valuable to document the steps taken and information collected during the review to have a good basis for any conclusions reached and recommendations made.
4. Analyze and interpret results.
In this step, the team should compile and analyze the data information collected, and compare the results against the stated goals of the processes and functions being reviewed to identify the gaps and problem areas. If the goals are not being met in certain areas, then the analysis should attempt to identify the "root cause." It is valuable to identify the "root cause(s)" as much as possible, rather than focusing on the symptoms and how to treat them. Symptoms may need to be dealt with, but real change occurs when you address the root causes.
5. Develop inferences, recommendations, and lessons learned.
Once the root causes of problem areas or gaps are identified, the team needs to develop recommended improvements targeting these areas. The team may find it helpful to brainstorm solutions or conduct follow-up interviews to identify or assess alternatives for improvements.
During the review, the team may also identify weaknesses, as well as best practices that should be noted in the findings. Noting best practices is an opportunity to give credit for good things that are discovered, can help build rapport with partners, and may lead to solutions that can be shared.
Recommendations/solutions should be:
6. Prioritize recommendations and lessons learned.
The team should suggest a prioritization to the recommendations based on several considerations, including the amount of influence the recommendation will have on the desired outcomes and ability to implement it.
7. Present the findings from the review.
A close-out meeting should be held with the affected stakeholders to present the findings and receive feedback. The review team should provide a brief overview of the process followed; the information considered; and the basis for each recommendation. The review team should be prepared to support its findings and may encounter the need to defend the recommendations.
8. Apply recommendations and lessons learned.
Based on the team's findings and the feedback during the closeout meeting, the team should develop an action plan that identifies the actions, responsible parties, timeframe for implementation, and expected outcomes. The results of the review and carrying out the action plan should lead to improvements in agency policies and procedures.