Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Developing and Sustaining a Transportation Systems Management & Operations Mission for Your Organization: A Primer For Program Planning

Chapter 3. The Evolution and Current Practice of Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning

Over the past decade, the transportation community has advanced different approaches to organizing for and creating a program structure for transportation systems management and operations (TSMO). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Transportation Research Board have developed several TSMO resources designed for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and State departments of transportation (DOT), including guidebooks and reference manuals to share best practices. Through these various efforts, the state of the practice has evolved significantly and provides a context for the key elements of the approach to TSMO program planning identified in this primer.

Strategic Highway Research Program 2: Reliability Research and Self-Assessment Workshops

Research conducted under the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) in the Reliability focus area played a pivotal role in the concept of TSMO program planning by examining both technical and organizational support needed to enhance highway operations and travel time reliability at State DOTs and MPOs. The research developed a capability maturity model (CMM) consisting of six key dimensions to help transportation agencies improve the effectiveness of their TSMO activities (Figure 1).

Circular diagram depicts the six-step capability maturity model for TSMO. Figure 1. Diagram. Capability maturity model for improved transportation systems management and operations effectiveness.

The CMM is used as part of an assessment process by a transportation agency. This capability improvement process begins with a self-evaluation of the agency's current level of capability in the key dimensions, and provides strategies and actions to reach a higher level of capability.

Building on this effort, the FHWA document Creating an Effective Program to Advance Transportation System Management and Operations Primer (January 2012) provided high-level guidance focused on key program, process, and organizational capabilities that are essential to the development of more effective TSMO strategy applications. As shown in Figure 2 below, reaching full TSMO program potential requires that business and technical processes as well as supporting institutional arrangements be put in place and managed.

The Basis of Improvement

Three boxes with upward pointing arrows representing a support framework. From the bottom up, the boxes read "Supporting Institutional Framework," "Processes that support the Program," and "The 'Program'".
  • Identified characteristics of an effective transportation systems management and operations program.
  • Recognized dependence on specific business and technical processes.
  • Identified needed organizational structure and relationships.
Figure 2. Diagram. Relationship among program, processes, and the institutional framework.2

Through the SHRP2 program and with support from FHWA, over 40 States and regions have conducted CMM self-assessment workshops focused on TSMO using the six dimensions of organizational capabilities. As a part of their resulting Action Plans, many have identified the value of developing a structured TSMO program plan to further advance their TSMO programs.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 20-07/345 Program Planning and Development for Transportation Systems Management and Operations in State Departments of Transportation

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-07/345: Program Planning for Transportation System Management and Operations in State Departments of Transportation (June 2014) set out to explore the state of the practice in TSMO program planning and to begin defining alternative approaches to develop and administer a TSMO program plan. Based on an extensive scan of documents, including TSMO-related plans developed by several State DOTs and MPOs, interviews with key personnel, and a workshop with State and regional practitioners, it recommended five interrelated elements for consideration in TSMO program planning (See Table 1).

Table 1. Elements of transportation systems management and operations program planning and development for State departments of transportation.
Component Description
1. Mission, Vision, Goals, Objectives, and Performance Measures The program plan is based on a clear understanding of what the department or agency seeks to accomplish. Transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) goals and objectives and performance measures are visibly aligned with the department's mission and vision. The lead TSMO unit has a clear mission, vision, etc. The department of transportation (DOT) promotes a shared, statewide vision among all TSMO stakeholders.
2. Leadership and Organization Leadership and organizational responsibilities and corresponding authority are well defined, and the program plan addresses topics such as department-wide integration of TSMO, responsibilities of key organizational units, interaction with external stakeholders, and mechanisms for setting priorities and making other leadership decisions.
3. Business Processes The program plan identifies the most important business processes for TSMO success, evaluates each of those processes, and proposes improvements to help ensure TSMO success. Some of the processes are departmental and need to be adapted or have new variations added. In addition some entirely new processes may be needed to support TSMO.
4. Resources (Financial, Human, Infrastructure, and Technology) The available and needed resources are systematically evaluated for all aspects of the TSMO program. Constraints on those resources and the implications for the TSMO program are examined, and the program plan includes strategies to improve both the availability and effective use of key resources.
5. Packages of Services, Projects, and Activities with Related Policies and Guidelines The program plan broadly identifies the packages of TSMO services, projects and activities that are most effective in accomplishing the DOT's mission, vision, goals, and objectives. The program plan enumerates policies and decision-making guidelines for implementation of services, projects, and activities (e.g., warrants, priorities, service levels).
Source: M.E. Baird, Ph.D., P.E. and P. Noyes, National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project Number 20-07/345: Program Planning and Development for Transportation System Management and Operations (TSM&O) in State Departments of Transportation, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (Washington, DC: NCHRP 2014). Available at:

National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 20-07/365: Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning – Experiences from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program Implementation Assistance Program

Most recently, building on the earlier NCHRP study, the NCHRP Project 20-07/365, Transportation System Management and Operations Program Planning – Experiences from the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program (July 2016), documented the experiences, lessons learned, challenges, and best practices in TSMO program planning. This study involved a national survey of transportation agencies and held a workshop of leaders from State DOTs and MPOs in February 2016 to evaluate and validate program planning frameworks from the NCHRP 20-07/345 and CMM efforts. The result was a unified TSMO program planning framework, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Unified transportation systems management and operations program planning framework from NCHRP 20-07/365.
Unified, Agreed-Upon Framework at the End of the Workshop

A. Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives.

B. Performance Measurement.

C. Leadership, Organization, and Staffing.

D. Business Processes and Planning.

E. Resource Positioning and Development.

F. Services and Projects.

G. Roles and Responsibilities.

H. Evaluation and Reassessment.

Source: NCHRP, Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning – Experiences from the SHRP 2 Implementation Assistance Program, NCHRP 20-07 TASK 365 Final Report. Available at:

Leading State and Metropolitan Planning Organization Efforts

Meanwhile, over the past several years, a number of States and MPOs have undertaken efforts to develop TSMO program plans, which provide good examples of effective and emerging practices. For instance, Virginia DOT developed a statewide operations program plan using the TSMO capability improvement approach based on the six dimensions and levels of capability. Similarly, Tennessee DOT developed a TSMO program plan building off of the SHRP2 CMM self-assessment. Some agencies have developed TSMO strategic plans, such as Florida DOT, which developed the Florida TSMO Strategic Plan, completed in 2013, laying out key goals and objectives for its TSMO Program.

At the regional level, MPOs such as Metro in Portland, Oregon, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) in Philadelphia, and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, developed regional TSMO plans. These plans generally identify key TSMO goals and objectives as well as program and project investment priorities for funding.

One notable example of a TSMO program plan, which provides a critical basis for recommendations in this primer, is the plan developed by Iowa DOT in 2015-16. Iowa DOT developed a three-layer TSMO plan (as shown in Figure 3) to improve the capability of the agency to manage the State's transportation system. The three major components of the Iowa TSMO planning effort reflect a tiered approach and include three sets of planning documents:

  1. The Iowa TSMO Strategic Plan, which identifies why TSMO matters, the challenges of congestion, the business case for TSMO, and a TSMO vision, mission, and strategic goals and objectives.
  2. The Iowa TSMO Program Plan, which incorporates the Strategic Plan but expands it to focus on program development within Iowa DOT, including leadership, organization, business processes, performance management, and resources.
  3. TSMO service layer plans that describe in more detail eight specific TSMO areas and the associated services, activities, and projects to be undertaken by the agency.
Diagram illustrates the Iowa transportation systems management and operations plan.
Note: DOT = department of transportation. ITS = intelligent transportation systems.
Figure 3. Diagram. Structure for the Iowa transportation systems management and operations plan.3

Development of this Primer

This primer builds upon the NCHRP 20-07/345 and NCHRP 20-07/365 resource documents, as well as lessons from effective State and MPO practices. It also draws from input gathered through a workshop of representatives from several leading State DOTs, MPOs, and a regional operations organization, convened by FHWA in April 2016 to identify key elements of an effective TSMO program planning process.

Specifically, the primer is designed as a practical, user-friendly resource to help State DOTs, MPOs, and other organizations understand the benefits of and effective practices associated with TSMO program planning. It takes the research-based information from the national survey and unified TSMO program planning framework discussed in the NCHRP 20-07/365 report and organizes the components into three key elements of TSMO program planning: strategic, programmatic, and tactical. The Iowa TSMO Plan, with its three levels of TSMO documents—a strategic plan, program plan, and service layer plans—provided a strong basis for the program planning approach discussed in this document. The validity and applicability of this approach was verified through discussions with leading State DOTs and MPOs, who helped to shape the content into this primer. In addition, the primer provides examples to help agencies advance their practices, and includes questions for consideration to prompt thinking concerning issues to assist agencies in advancing their program planning efforts.

2 Federal Highway Administration, Creating an Effective Program to Advance Transportation System Management and Operations Primer, FHWA-HOP-12-003 (Washington, DC: January 2012). Available at: [ Return to note 2. ]

3 Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Plan, February 2016. Available at: [ Return to note 3. ]

Office of Operations