City implements continuous process improvement in roadways section

Jeff Jorgenson, Manager Roadways Section, Public Works Department, City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Raymond J. Gerke, P.E., CEO, VEMAX Management Inc., Edmonton, Alberta

This article discusses the implementation of an objective continuous process improvement methodology by the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Roadways Branch last year. The project commenced in fall 2002. The article focuses on the critical success factors and the major initiatives within the project.

In implementing continuous process improvement techniques the goal of the city is "to improve the long-term performance of the organization by identifying and implementing best practices."

As background the City of Saskatoon has been using Maintenance Management Systems (MMS) to plan and track work on the street network for a number of years. As a result of this detailed work tracking there is now sufficient information to enable productive and efficient practices to be identified. There is also sufficient information to enable variability of crew productivity to be identified objectively. A key to succeeding was to develop a method to analyze the data and to enable crew members to participate in the analysis. This would lead to maximum reality being applied to any changes in work methods that would come out of any analysis.

The city decided to engage VEMAX Management Inc. to implement continuous process improvement techniques at the crew and crew supervisor levels. VEMAX has implemented processes for continuous process improvement in other agencies in Canada. The project built on what Saskatoon had already done with existing "Close Out" reports and with "Continual Improvement Audits."

The project involved:

  • Developing a business process for improving work methods. The business process describes the steps from identifying the activity to be studied, selecting the study team and how they operate, and how the study team's recommendations are to be reviewed and implemented.

  • Validating the process using actual City of Saskatoon MMS data.

  • Preparing a Continuous Process Improvement Training Package and training session using actual City data. The training is to be used to train each study team in objective analysis techniques prior to them commencing a study.
Study teams usually consist of three to five people. The study team typically consists of supervisors, equipment operators and laborers. At the completion of training each study teams starts their study. They quickly migrate from the training data to the data for their particular study. The study typically takes from one to two days to complete after the training.

The activity studied is selected by management based on:

  • Relative cost of an activity;
  • Consistency between crews in performing an activity;
  • Impact that the activity has on the program; and
  • Time since the activity was last reviewed.
The output of this process is a study report including an implementation plan outlining any changes required in carrying out the activity. The study team performs their task as per the business process, and presents recommendations to the Section Manager. The group will also discuss implementation options. If any recommendations are not approved or are deferred, a written explanation will be provided to the study team. Within the City of Saskatoon the Section Manager is responsible to ensure that all approved recommendations are implemented.

Since the introduction of controlled continual improvement processes, four work activities have been studied in detail including:

  1. Concrete Sidewalk Replacement
  2. Pothole Patching
  3. Snow Loading and Removal
  4. Maintenance of Utility Cuts
Each review was conducted by a team of people that is directly involved in the supervision or carrying out of the work activity being studied. Specific study objectives were established at the beginning of each review, and the team followed a methodical process to review the facts pertaining to past performance of the activity.

After assessing the facts through this process, teams combined this knowledge with their working experience of the work activity to develop recommended changes to how the City carries out this work. In total, more than 20 recommendations were developed by the teams and all were accepted by operations managers as-is or, following discussions, were modified to the mutual consent of all involved.

The success of these teams was due to strong, positive-thinking leaders as well as knowledgeable, willing team participants following a methodological process. The main leaders in these first four studies were Luanne Sirota, Ed Hildebrandt, Gaston Gourdeau, and Craig Bird.

The beauty of this process is that the majority of the recommendations made were relatively easy to implement, yet their implementation will be extremely beneficial to the City. Experienced people following a methodological, fact-based process delivered common-sense solutions and, as expected, the results will have a near instantaneous payback to the City of Saskatoon.

Jeff Jorgenson can be reached at (306) 975-2869; Ray Gerke can be reached at (403) 463-9501 or at ray.gerke@vemax.com.