Define roles and responsibilities clearly in a public/private project to reduce delays.

Institutional lessons from a test of a wide-area network to communicate traffic conditions in the Seattle area.

Date Posted

Seattle Wide-area Information For Travelers, Institutional Issues Study

Summary Information

The Seattle Wide-area Information For Travelers (SWIFT) project was an intelligent transportation systems (ITS) Field Operational Test (FOT) conducted over a four-year period from 1993 to 1997. The purpose of the project was to test the efficacy of a high speed data system (HSDS), or FM sub-carrier, to disseminate incident, bus, and speed/congestion information via three different end-user devices: pager watch, portable computer, and in-vehicle navigation device. Six hundred commuters, many with route or mode options, participated in the FOT and provided user-acceptance evaluations.

This lesson is based on findings from the SWIFT Evaluation Report completed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in January 1999, with additional input from WSDOT staff involved in the project.

During the SWIFT project, a number of institutional issues were encountered that affected deployment of the project. One issue was confusion about the responsibilities and roles of team members. This problem was overcome in part as a result of the public/private project team’s ability to communicate, thus creating long-term interest in ITS and commitment from the organizations involved.

The communication lessons learned during the SWIFT project were as follows:

  • Ensure that the team members are capable and committed to the project from the onset. The evaluation team suggested that a team building experience or an independent system integrator may have helped different sides understand each other and pull together.
  • Clearly define the roles of the team members in the project. All entities should agree on the course of action to be taken.

During the SWIFT project, confusion about responsibilities and roles affected the project development process. Early on, for instance, differences in how some organizations perceived their involvement in the SWIFT project caused some to view certain development activities as being a waste of time. Others didn’t understand and/or misinterpreted their role in the project, which did cause them to waste time. Some organizations viewed the SWIFT project as being a “research and development” project rather than a “demonstration” or actual implementation project. As a result, some organizations exhibited a greater sense of urgency in completing their assigned tasks, or in building the SWIFT system, than did others. Some team members eventually performed activities that were outside, or in addition to, their responsibilities when they started the project. This problem produced some hard feelings among the team members, but it was generally conceded that some “picked up the slack” for those who didn’t clearly understand their responsibilities and roles.

During the SWIFT project these differing expectations about roles and responsibilities caused project delays. Fortunately, good communications and commitment to the project minimized their impact. One critical organizational element was the weekly teleconference. This simple yet cost-effective method of managing and discussing the technical issues involved with the project was deemed by many of the SWIFT team members as a primary instrument of the project’s success. In particular, the SWIFT teleconferences enabled the representatives of each organization to keep abreast of the developmental status of the project, to brainstorm solutions to encountered problems, and to develop scheduling that would see the project through to the end. Others simply enjoyed the “camaraderie” that was exhibited by the teleconferences and felt that these discussions cemented their commitment to each other.

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