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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Improving Transportation Systems Management and Operations – Capability Maturity Model Workshop White Paper – Organization and Staffing

3. State of the Practice for the Organization and Staffing Dimension

3.1 The Organization and Staffing Dimension

Organization and Staffing is a critical institutional dimension of TSM&O capability. It incorporates development of an appropriate TSM&O-related organizational structure within and between State DOT headquarters and districts. It also includes the identification, development, and maintenance of essential staff capabilities. The capability level criteria used in the self-assessments for this dimension are shown in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Self-Assessment Workshop Levels of Capability Maturity for Organization and Staffing
Empty Cell. Organization and Staffing Criteria for Level Achievement
Capability Level 1 TSM&O added on to units within existing structure and staffing; dependent on technical champions
Capability Level 2 TSM&O-specific organizational concept developed within/among jurisdictions with core capacity needs identified, collaboration takes place
Capability Level 3 TSM&O managers report directly to top management; job specifications, certification, and training in place for core positions
Capability Level 4 TSM&O senior managers at equivalent level with other jurisdiction services and staff professionalized

Among the 23 workshops, the average self-assessed capability for Organization and Staffing is 2.02, with eight sites at Level 1, nine sites at Level 2, and six sites at Level 3. Figure 3.1 depicts the scoring distribution relative to the other dimensions. Across all workshop locations, Organization and Staffing was included in implementation plans about as often as Performance Measurement and Collaboration, but behind Business Processes, Systems and Technology, and Culture.

Figure 3.1 Graph. Organization and Staffing Compared to Other Dimensions of Capability

Figure 3.1 is a graph that highlights the Organization and Staffing dimension line.

(Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc. and Parsons Brinckerhoff.)

The discussion of the state of the practice regarding the Organization and Staffing dimension below is divided into key elements based on the approach used in the AASHTO Guide to Transportation Systems Management and Operations:

  • Program Status
  • Organizational Structure
  • Staff Development
  • Recruitment and Retention

The material that follows discusses the current state of play in each key element.

3.2 Program Status

The role of TSM&O in transportation agency activities – as measured by the importance placed on implementing TSM&O strategies as a key part of the agency mission; the priority given in a sequence of programming; and the level of funding and staffing – is determined substantially by whether TSM&O is seen as a set of unrelated activities, a coordinated group of activities, a subpart of another program, or a program in its own right.

  • TSM&O organized as a program. In State DOTs, TSM&O typically has not yet been accorded formal program status equivalent to construction, project development, maintenance, or safety. This is reflected in agency organizational structure at both the headquarters and district/regional level (in addition to agency policy, planning, and programs). In the workshops there has been discussion within a few States as to whether TSM&O should be a stand-alone activity with a separate program with its own management, and organizational structure, or whether TSM&O functions should remain part of other functional units with coordination from a central office unit. In the latter case, a heightened understanding of TSM&O’s relevance to other functions would allow for TSM&O considerations to be integrated into routines associated with capacity project development, maintenance, and safety, especially at the district/regional project delivery level. The consensus from most workshops, however, has been that given its early state of development as a set of coordinated activities, TSM&O should be established with a separate and more visible identity, with leadership at an appropriate level of influence and with dedicated funding to support TSM&O program initiatives.

3.3 Organizational Structure

Organizational structure is closely related to the stature and visibility of TSM&O in the program, including the flow of accountability for achievement of relevant objectives and the consolidation of authority over activities that may be essential to strategy effectiveness. Key issues include where the senior manager with TSM&O responsibilities is located in the central office hierarchy (division, branch, unit, etc.), where the TSM&O responsibility is within districts (first, second, or third level), and the reporting/accountability for TSM&O between the central office and districts. This distribution of responsibility and authority within an agency headquarters, between headquarters and field (in districts or transportation management centers), and within districts has a major impact on an agency’s ability to produce effective strategies.

  • TSM&O in the DOT hierarchy. At the central office level, TSM&O top program management is usually a branch of one or more divisions, most often a subpart of an “Operations” division that can also include right-of-way, safety, traffic engineering, design, equipment, management, etc.; in other cases, TSM&O is part of a maintenance division. As a result, managers responsible for various TSM&O-related statewide activities are distributed at a level three to four levels down from top leadership, which inhibits both a comprehensive view of TSM&O as an activity and limits the representation of TSM&O in agency decision making. The same situation exists at the district and regional level, where TSM&O activity managers typically report to the district managers of operations or maintenance. In larger metropolitan districts, TSM&O is sometimes organized around transportation management centers (TMCs), which may have a matrix reporting relationship to both headquarters and district levels. This lack of separate program status means that TSM&O program needs are considered a subpart of some other activity without separate programmatic or budgetary presence. Workshop participants noted that this subsidiary status in organization, management, and budgeting impairs their ability to obtain needed resources.
  • Centralization/decentralization. TSM&O functions include both real-time service delivery activities and administrative functions such as planning and programming. In almost all states, service delivery takes place at the district level where there is often a district senior manager with TSM&O responsibility (often coupled with maintenance responsibility in smaller states). This person works closely with other district staff related to traffic engineering, safety, and other disciplines, as well as a TMCs manager with a focus on much of the real-time activities and potentially co-located public safety and local government partners. In all but the largest states with significant metro areas, most of the administrative functions are located in a central office unit, although a few of the larger states also have administrative, systems engineering, and planning responsibilities at the district level. In a few small states where the capital city is also a metro area, the central office may also oversee the local TMCs and related TSM&O programs. There are a few states with a start-up program that have a single TMCs serving multiple metro areas or rural regions. In rural districts (usually without TMCs) TSM&O functions are likely to be the responsibility of a traffic or maintenance group without a separate staff. At the district/regional level, TSM&O responsibility – especially TMCs – are not always coincident with districts and may encompass more than one or be located to account for special corridor needs.
  • Siloing and responsibility versus authority. In many cases, TSM&O duties are split between groups in engineering/project development units and system operations/management units, each with separate upward reporting relationships. This “siloing” often hampers cooperation when real-time cooperation is required, such as for incident management, traveler information, and safety service patrol. Upward reporting requirements often separate engineering functions (such as systems engineering) from the actual users of the systems. In most State DOTs, there is no one manager with regular involvement in aspects of TSM&O who has responsibility for all functions as part of a single program. Individual activity managers (TMCs, incident management, ITS systems) thus have a limited authority regarding activities in other branches that may be critical to their success or advancement. There also are cases in which there are different roles/titles for district/region level staff versus headquarters level staff, as well as inconsistent role definition among or between districts or regions.
  • Reorganization. Some workshop participants noted that the combination of the pressure for agency-wide increased staff efficiency and an improved understanding of potential synergies have been leading to considerable reorganization and consolidation. These reorganization efforts often have focused on adjusting the reporting relationships among headquarters and larger district units responsible for both real-time operational activities (TMCs, safety service patrol, incident management, traveler information/511) and the engineering functions (systems engineering, design, ITS device procurement, and maintenance). During the course of the CMM workshop program, several State DOTs have undertaken some consolidation of TSM&O-related units and clarified reporting relationships, although stopping short of creating a new top-level division.

3.4 Staff Development

Since TSM&O is not yet a formal “discipline” with a distinct educational and training focus, TSM&O staff typically come from other backgrounds from within DOTs, such as planning, maintenance, and traffic engineering and learn by on-the-job training and informal mentoring. Workshop participants indicated that minimal program expansion, largely static staffing, and the absence of strategic planning for TSM&O have provided little impetus or resources for formal training activities beyond those sponsored by FHWA.

  • Staffing levels. The overwhelming staffing reality in most State DOTs is that they are operating with a staff freeze in place or even a reduction in force. Within the TSM&O arena, exceptions are found where a few State DOTs who had experienced major external events, such as a major weather incident, a national sports event, or new leadership. These events sometimes call special attention to TSM&O program needs or shortcomings and therefore top-down directives for program improvement, often with additional resources. Workshop participants indicated that staffing constraints made initiatives focused on expanding and improving programs unrealistic because they would require additional staff resources. As a result of staffing constraints, the few states with significant program expansion were relying on contractors or consultants. The prevailing lack of resource availability was clearly a major influence on the overall tenor of workshops, undercutting any presumption that activities requiring additional staffing (planning, systems engineering, and performance measurement) could be undertaken.
  • Champion dependency. Without formal programming and budgeting status and given the reliance on on-the-job training, the effectiveness of agency TSM&O activities is typically reliant on a small, dedicated, hard-working staff. Often these efforts are energized by a highly committed individual who is able to overcome lack of formal authority or dedicated resources through knowledge of the agency, strong personal relationships, and personal persuasiveness. These “champions” appear to be able to cut deals on an ad hoc basis with other program and project managers to access resources and initiate project development. The effectiveness with which key TSM&O functions are developed and conducted often relies as much on informal “dotted line” connections as formal organization charts. However, such informal leadership is fragile: workshop participants noted that retirement or relocation of these key staff can significantly undercut the momentum and priority of TSM&O initiatives and program development within an agency.
  • Core capacities, mentoring and succession. Workshop discussion reflected an increasing recognition of the need for specialized technical and managerial staff capacities to sustain an effective TSM&O program. This is reflected in the job specifications for TSM&O positions developed by several states, including TSM&O-specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). At present however, most of the staff has come from other parts of the agency, especially from traffic engineering, maintenance, and safety. New hires or transfers are limited, reflecting the lack of available staffing slots and the difficulty in competing for needed skills among other agencies and the private sector. Given the relatively small staffs who themselves have developed their KSAs on the job, there is rarely a formal approach to mentoring or succession planning. Furthermore, in some States, civil service and union practices inhibit the ability to develop succession plans and targeted training and constrain the hiring of staff with special technical qualifications. There were several instances when departure of key staff left major holes in agency capacity.
  • Training. As new technology emerges in TSM&O, lack of staff development is becoming a more serious challenge, especially in areas requiring special technical expertise (systems engineering, communication, data management, and automation) as well as in general knowledge of TSM&O applications. Formal in-house training with a TSM&O focus is limited, supplied largely through SHRP 2-based programs that have provided important onsite training in incident management, planning and programming, performance management, data, and freight planning. FHWA, AASHTO, ITE, and CITE courses are also providing information about specialized topics via webinars. In addition, some workshop participants have attended the National Operations Academy™ and Regional Operations Forums, which provide a wide range of professional capacity building support. Nevertheless, most of the relevant KSAs are acquired via on-the-job training or trial-and-error. While most State DOTs offer support for technical coursework, this opportunity has limited impact due to the lack of university-based training curricula in TSM&O, which by and large remain focused on traditional civil engineering skills.
  • Outsourcing. The lack of specialized staff capacity and staff slot limitations encourage the outsourcing of technical services such as planning, systems engineering, and data management to private technology and service suppliers where the need for expertise is episodic. In addition to consultants, some of the outsourcing is to research and academic entities which have close supporting relationships with State DOTs. In addition, hiring constraints, costs, and recruiting requirements and timeframes also lead to outsourcing in nonprofessional support areas like TMCs staff and device maintenance. Most State DOTs that participated in the workshops outsource two or more activities and several outsource five or six. In many cases, the outsourcing is managed by different units within the agency. Uniform performance management of outsourced activities is becoming a new challenge.

3.5 Recruitment and Retention

TSM&O is a new activity area and, in some cases, does not provide career options with clear potential. At the same time, the relatively static or declining staffing levels in State DOTs overall, and the reliance on consultants for special expertise or functions, has not made recruitment a major issue.

  • Recruitment and retention. As noted under the staffing discussion above, given generally static or declining staff levels among State DOTs, there is limited recruitment experience. Most of the existing State DOT TSM&O staff comes from within the agencies transferring from other units. As a result, special technical capacity needs are substantially met through the use of consultants, contract employees, or academic support. Permanent staff recruitment from outside appears rare. In part this appears to reflect the fact that some of the needed skills (systems engineering, information and communications) are generated in educational institutions with little contact with the transportation sector. The hiring processes, internal staff job preferences, relative compensation, and union constraints appear to discourage external hires. At the same time, some States report retention challenges as younger staff (Millennials) value career flexibility and varied opportunities over long term institutional career commitments, especially if they have developed technical skills of value in the private sector.
  • Career attractiveness. State DOT careers have traditionally been built on civil engineering and project development backgrounds. These types of expertise are easily recognizable by top management, as reflected in career opportunities. The upward career vector is typically unclear for staff specializing in operations and usually lacking PE qualifications. With very few exceptions, TSM&O is not seen as part of the traditional career track to senior DOT management at either the central office or district level, where senior roles historically have been rooted in engineering and planning and district or division management. Furthermore, the real-time nature of TSM&O brings with it a lifestyle at odds with the 9-to-5 civil engineering office culture and one that requires reacting to events, improvising solutions, and working closely with outside collaborators, all without any special recognition in compensation. State DOTs report entry level staff with relevant technical backgrounds often use department employment as a stepping stone to more lucrative and mobile career options such as in the private sector. Lack of a defined TSM&O career path within an agency was noted as a challenge.
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