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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 4. The Key Elements of Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning

Transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program planning should reflect the roles and responsibilities of the organization undertaking the development of the program. Typically, TSMO program planning should be an iterative process within the context of other agency plans and initiatives and should reflect relationships with TSMO partners and stakeholders. No single set of instructions for each step in a program planning process addresses the variations in responsibilities among State departments of transportation (DOT), metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), regional coalitions, or other organizations. However, several key considerations and principles should be addressed by all agencies undertaking TSMO program planning to ensure that the program and resulting plan are comprehensive.

A robust TSMO program plan supports a sustainable and responsive program that reflects the vision and mission of the organization and responds to changing demographics, technology, and external pressures. The resulting TSMO program plan itself provides an opportunity to document and formalize programmatic policies, procedures, and structures to guide an effective and sustainable program.

Three Key Elements: Strategic, Programmatic, and Tactical

A model approach for TSMO program planning includes three key elements, as shown in Figure 4:

  1. Strategic elements: Strategic thinking is a foundation for developing a TSMO program and involves clearly defining the relationship of TSMO to the agency mission or regional vision. The strategic aspect of TSMO program planning provides answers to questions of "why" TSMO is important, and a high-level vision of "what" the agency seeks to achieve, along with strategic goals and objectives.
  2. Programmatic elements: The programmatic elements of TSMO program planning addresses issues surrounding organizational structure and business processes for implementing TSMO activities. This level of planning addresses "how" the program operates, resource and workforce needs, and internal and external coordination and collaboration. It identifies responsibilities of organizational units for specific TSMO services, projects, and activities, as well as use of analysis tools to guide investment decision-making.
  3. Tactical elements: The tactical elements step down from the broad institutional and organizational issues to address specific services, programs, and priorities.

TSMO program planning is an ongoing, iterative process, connected to other plans and initiatives of the organization and stakeholders. As a result, monitoring and evaluation is an important part of the process to provide feedback on whether goals and objectives are being achieved and whether strategies are being implemented. Monitoring and evaluation informs subsequent TSMO planning by identifying opportunities for improving the process and affirming successful approaches. Consequently, while the product of TSMO program planning is a TSMO program plan, the process should continue on a regular cycle to sustain and evolve the program and its role within the organization over time.

Illustration of the three elements of program planning, including: Strategic (The Business Case for TSMO, Vision and Program Mission, Strategic Goals and Performance Objectives, and Strategic Focus Areas or Priority Functions), Programmatic (Leadership and Organizational Structure, Programmatic Objectives, Staffing and Workforce Needs, Business Processes and Mgmt. Strategies, TSMO Culture in the Agency, and Financial Resource Mgmt) and Tactical (Prioritized Services, Activities, and Projects, Implementation Policies and Guidelines, Multi-year Investment Plan, and Performance Assessment).
Note: TSMO = transportation systems management and operations
Figure 4. Diagram. Building and sustaining a transportation systems management and operations mission: three elements of program planning.

Many agencies currently engaged in TSMO planning focus on the first and third components, with less consideration of the programmatic structure needed to translate the strategic vision into delivery of projects and services. Establishing an effective TSMO program requires that the programmatic component involving organizational structure, resources, processes, and business functions needed to deliver the vision be addressed. The programmatic component plays a critical role in integrating TSMO into the culture of the agency and its structure. In this component, the agency and partners identify the organizational structure for the program, including roles, responsibilities, and relationships with other core business functions of the agency.

Note that some issues, such as performance management and financial planning, occur across all components, but with a different focus, as shown in Table 3. For instance, in strategic planning, the organization defines performance objectives to address strategic goals focused on outcomes for the transportation system and system users (e.g., congestion, reliability, access to traveler information). In the programmatic component, the organization defines programmatic objectives and performance measures focused on internal processes and activities. In the tactical component, program monitoring and performance evaluation efforts help inform specific actions and deployments. Monitoring and evaluating outcomes serves as the feedback loop for all elements by informing participating organizations and agencies about how well strategic goals and objectives, as well as programmatic objectives, are achieved.

Similarly, there are financial considerations for each aspect of TSMO planning. The strategic element sets agency priorities relative to the financial resources and constraints of the organization and its partners. The programmatic element addresses staffing and resource needs to support the TSMO program and procedures for ensuring sustainable funding. The tactical element may connect specific services, activities, or projects with identified funding sources.

Table 3. Aspects of performance management and financial management across all elements..
Element of TSMO Program Planning Performance Management Financial Management
  • Strategic goals and performance objectives.
  • Uses measures focused on outcomes for system users (e.g., congestion, reliability, access to information).
  • Considers financial resources in developing the strategy and performance objectives.
  • Programmatic objectives.
  • Uses measures focused on internal processes and activities (e.g., development of plans, analytical tools, data collection).
  • Identifies staffing and resources needed for the TSMO program.
  • Identifies sustainable funding sources or approaches for the TSMO program, including public and private sector sources, innovative finance mechanisms, and partnerships.
  • On-going program monitoring and evaluation to assess performance in relation to strategic and programmatic objectives.
  • Uses data to inform specific actions and deployments.
  • Develops near-term (e.g., 5-year) investment plan, including specific actions or projects, along with funding sources.
Note: TSMO = transportation systems management and operations.

Most agencies do not start from scratch in TSMO program planning. An organization may already have defined strategic goals and objectives, and may need to focus attention on the programmatic or tactical aspects. Another organization may be executing TSMO projects and activities but not have clearly defined overall goals and performance targets for its agency and the transportation system to guide its efforts. Not every agency or organization will include every item associated with each of the three components. However, agencies should explore the issues identified in this primer and consider how they should be addressed in their TSMO program planning efforts. The process of examining the elements and how they may support and advance the TSMO program is important in developing a mature, comprehensive program.

Making the Key Elements Work Together: The Resulting Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Plan

Ultimately, a TSMO program plan is an important document (or set of documents) that results from the program planning effort and serves as a guidepost for TSMO in the organization. The TSMO program plan identifies and incorporates the three key elements of program planning: strategic goals and objectives, programmatic structure, and key tactics, programs, or priorities.

The transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program plan could be a single document, or may be in the form of a series of products that work together, such as:
  • A TSMO strategy document or strategic plan.
  • A document laying out the programmatic structure of TSMO within the agency.
  • One or more TSMO service deployment plans.

This three-tiered document approach has been applied in States like Iowa, with its three TSMO planning documents. In some States and regions, the strategic elements of program planning may already be documented in a TSMO strategic plan, agency business plan, or even long-range transportation plan. The approach to TSMO program planning presented in this primer, however, emphasizes that to mature their implementation of TSMO, agencies should also focus on the programmatic aspects of organizational structure, staffing, and business processes for TSMO in their agencies and among partners, and the tactical aspects of defining priority services, activities, and projects. They also should document this information in a TSMO program plan to sustain and institutionalize the TSMO mission.

Below is a sample table of contents for a TSMO program plan. It is intended to illustrate how a TSMO program plan may be structured, demonstrating the integration of the three key elements of TSMO program planning into the program plan document itself. For instance, the document ideally should start with a discussion of the purpose of the TSMO program plan, the business case for TSMO, the relationship of TSMO to the agency's vision and mission, and strategic goals and objectives (strategic elements). The document then should contain a section or sections addressing program objectives, the organizational structure for implementation, business processes, resources, and communications (programmatic elements). Finally, the TSMO program plan should contain a section or refer to supporting documents that discuss TSMO services, projects, and activities, implementation policies, and priorities. The sample table of contents references relevant sections of this primer that contain helpful information.

The following sections of the primer describe each of the three key elements of TSMO program planning—strategic, programmatic, and tactical—and key considerations for each component.

  1. Strategic Foundations – See Chapter 5 on Strategic Elements
    1. Why Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) Matters
    2. TSMO Plan Purpose
    3. TSMO Vision and Mission
    4. Strategic Goals and Objectives
  1. The TSMO Program – See Chapter 6 on Programmatic Elements
    1. TSMO Program Objectives
    2. Organizational Structure
      1. Program Structure
      2. Inter- and Intra-agency Integration
    3. Business Processes
      1. Budgeting and Accounting
      2. Procurement and Contract Management
      3. Administrative Processes
      4. Quality Management and Continuous Improvement
      5. Systems Engineering
      6. Performance Management, including data management and decision support
    4. Resources
      1. Staffing and Workforce Development
      2. Resource Inventories and Asset Management
      3. Financial
      4. Research and Development
    5. Communication and Collaboration
      1. Internal Collaboration
      2. Collaboration with External Partners
      3. Communications, Marketing and Outreach with Users
  1. Implementation and Deployment – See Chapter 7 on Tactical Elements
    1. TSMO Services, Projects, and Activities
    2. Annualized Actions and Deployment
    3. Implementation Policies and Guidelines
    4. d. Performance Assessment
Figure 5. Illustration. Sample table of contents for a transportation systems management and operations program plan and references to primer.
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