Michigan DOT Partners with Robbins Gioia and Delivers Highway Programs on Time and on Budget

For more than 20 years, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has partnered with Robbins Gioia (RG) to meet MDOT's changing priorities and manage complex operational activities.

What began with a project to combat increased workloads, reduced staff levels, and an outdated information system, allowed MDOT to redesign its scheduling process and meet critical business goals.

Today, RG remains an active member within the MDOT team, developing requirements for a new P/PMS software solution.

Study Uncovers Both Long- and Short-Term Needs

Two decades ago, MDOT undertook an in-depth study of the highway program. It structured the study to reflect long- and short-term perspectives:

  • It derived long-term projects from priorities established by the state transportation plan. MDOT incorporated these into a core list of major approved projects slated for funding under the investment plan, which is based on estimated federal, state, and local revenues over a rolling 10-year period.
  • The short-term perspective or annual program balanced highway needs with constraints placed on fund usage by state or federal regulations.

Further, to facilitate long- and short-term objectives, the highway program includes three major categories:

  1. System preservation includes reconstruction, resurfacing, rehabilitation, and minor widening of existing highways.
  2. System improvement covers improvements, taken from the core list, that increase roadway capacity.
  3. System expansion projects, also on the core list, cover highway system expansion.

Program/Project Management System Offers Control

The business process analysis team began its work by identifying and listing every activity related to preconstruction planning and scheduling. The team then developed a network that included about 80 discrete tasks. Organizational units typically involved in each job might include engineering services, finance, administrative, planning, highway operations, materials and technology, program administration, engineering and design, real estate, traffic and safety, and transportation systems. Given the complexity and number of jobs in the system at a given time—ranging from 800 to 1000—the existing scheduling and management system grew too complicated, time-consuming, and unwieldy.

MDOT determined the way forward was to develop and implement a Program/Project Management System (P/PMS) to enable managers to plan, schedule, monitor, and control long- and short-term programs, projects, and resources within the highway program. Such a system would make it possible for project managers to standardize the procedures involved in initiating, reviewing, and approving projects before they actually programmed and scheduled them.

Supporting objectives for the P/PMS included more timely and effective allocation of available funds, improved success in meeting project schedules and completion dates, and optimum use of available resources, labor, and professional expertise to maintain a balanced program and ensure high-quality delivery.

System Provides Accurate Information and More

When the team completed the conceptual design, the plan described a system that would provide:

  • Summary level information on all projects and programs
  • Accurate resource requirements and availability data for reality-based scheduling
  • Proactive monitoring and control capabilities to accurately track project status and costs
  • Standardized job network templates, capable of customized editing, to enable faster, easier creation of project schedules based on Critical Path Method activity analysis
  • Fast, easy updating, with the ability to retrieve or generate reports based on a wide variety of select and sort options
  • Open communication that allowed for identifying and resolving problems as early in the process as possible

The new P/PMS also had to have sufficient capacity to handle data volumes for at least 2,000 active projects, along with the power to perform a multi-project schedule analysis for all projects simultaneously, using either resource or time constraints. This need required at least 20 standard network types (model templates), each to include at least 80 tasks and 20 summary or milestone activities.

Finally, the P/PMS had to offer design modularity and flexibility to provide a clear upgrade path. It had to interface transparently with MDOT's Michigan Architectural Project (MAP), a centralized database, and a planned executive information system. By integrating with MAP, P/PMS could exchange data with many of MDOT's other strategic systems.

MDOT Finds What It's Looking for in Robbins Gioia

MDOT was ready to develop and implement the P/PMS and began the search for a suitable partner. After an in-depth review of approaches and qualifications, in June of 1993, MDOT awarded the contract to RG.

RG quickly assigned a team of key people to work onsite. For the next 12 months, alongside the MDOT team, they developed and tested the software, managed the implementation, and trained the P/PMS core group and many end users. As the implementation progressed, MDOT recognized the need to upgrade its enterprise-wide IT system. The legacy system, developed in the late 1960s and anchored in a mainframe and two minicomputers, had become increasingly difficult to use and manage and expensive to maintain.

Because the P/PMS would decentralize MDOT's preconstruction processes and procedures, the team selected a UNIX-based client/server system consisting of a Sun Microsystems SunSparc server and PC workstations. The migration to client/server technology, which is rooted in a powerful relational database, would ensure more accurate and up-to-date information to all users, enabling them to streamline workloads by minimizing duplication of effort, human error, and administrative roadblocks. It would also provide a global view of the status of all programmed projects.

RG helped MDOT to complete P/PMS and put it in production use just 15 months after contract award. The then MDOT Program Manager stated, "The contract called for one year to design and implement the P/PMS, and Robbins Gioia delivered on time and within budget." Primary users of P/PMS are project managers and statewide transportation planning division employees who plan, monitor, and manage project work efforts and associated costs. Other users include program managers and support unit managers. In all, P/PMS users to date number close to 400 out of 3,700 MDOT employees.

MDOT determined along with its partner RG, that a system such as P/PMS is a dynamic tool, and to maximize the benefits of P/PMS on going professional support would be an investment with a high return. RG has provided a team of on-site professionals to MDOT for over 20 years. This dedicated team applied proven, yet innovative techniques to improve the performance of the P/PMS to not only enhance the quality of data, monitor performance, adapt to changing regulatory requirements, and make changes based on departmental re-alignment, but to enhance predictive capabilities as well, ensuring that MDOT meets its goals and objectives.

Stability and Reduced Time Required to Process

The P/PMS's standardized approach to planning, scheduling, reporting, and tracking work provides newfound stability as well as reduced time required to process.

Where it previously might have taken a project manager up to two days to develop a good project schedule, with network templates and the network generator, the project manager was able to perform the task in a matter of minutes. MDOT estimates that the P/PMS program saved the state approximately $850,000 in the first several years of the program.

The P/PMS tool allows for more effective tracking and measuring of multiple tasks. The team could forecast completion dates based on reality, job characteristics and all available resources.

Long-Term Benefits include 'What-if' Analyses

The P/PMS is also changing the way MDOT does its work and accomplishes it goals, and the best is yet to come. The P/PMS is a total resource management tool that is used to project "what-if" analyses, spot trends early, and detect overloads and under loads that will help optimize scheduling and resources. The P/PMS has played a major role in balancing all the factors that help MDOT complete jobs, large and small, in the most effective, time-sensitive, and cost effective way possible.

The Future is Bright at MDOT

Currently, RG is an active team member with the MDOT team in the development of requirements of a new P/PMS software solution to replace the current system that has given the state over 20 years of service. The new system is scheduled for deployment in 2016.

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