Project managers implementing ITS technologies face significant challenges because these projects are often complex in nature and involve multiple disciplines. There are typically two types of transit ITS project managers — those with information technology backgrounds, and those with transit backgrounds. Transit ITS implementation experience in Washoe County, Nevada, provides valuable lessons learned for project managers from non-information technology disciplines.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Nevada (RTC) received discretionary funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to implement a transit ITS project. An Investment Plan was developed in 2000 to ensure that RTC purchased the most suitable technologies. As a result, RTC entered into an agreement with a systems integration vendor in February 2002 to implement transit ITS technologies. The project scope includes 70 fixed-route buses, 43 paratransit vans, and 13 supervisory and maintenance vehicles. The scope called for the replacement of computer aided dispatching (CAD) software, installation of automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems, utilizing global positioning system (GPS) technology, automated onboard announcements, automated passenger counter (APC) capabilities, and transit signal priority (TSP) technology.
For this RTC project, the project managers learned the importance of being strategic thinkers and seeing "the big picture." They learned that delivering a successful project is always the number one goal for any project manager.
- Make delivering a successful project the main goal. Project completion is not a measure of success in itself. For a project to be qualified as "successful," the project must meet the key stakeholders' needs and expectations. It is easier to measure success with attainable and quantifiable goals laid out in the scope of work. "Surprises" for key stakeholders and users during implementation can cause significant problems.
- The project manager in the RTC project found this out the hard way when they realized that they neglected to tell the drivers' union about the impending loss of covert microphone functionality on five prototype buses. However, the project manager averted major problems with the union by coming up with a quick intermediate solution. The project leased cell phones for the prototype vehicles until their new data radio system became operational. The project managers learned that although typically it would not be possible to make every single user happy, if the original project goals were attained, a majority of the stakeholders would be satisfied and the project would be a success.
- Understand who the real customers are for an ITS project. For transit ITS projects there are really two customer groups: the transit agency and the community. Understand that the priorities and how goals are met may change during the course of your project. The vendor was able to install a better product and garner goodwill and trust on several occasions. The system's integrator noted that being able to deliver a better product to the customers was certainly more important for the overall success of the project than making a few extra dollars on the original equipment that had been quoted. If the implementation of proper technologies is accomplished, internal and external user expectations as defined in the initial project goals are met and enhanced operational efficiencies are gained, then the project will qualify as a success.
- Manage internal and external resources efficiently to ensure success of the project. Project resources such as budget, staff and vendor availability can change beyond one's control. In the RTC project, the agency's project manager had to think outside the box and figure out how to best utilize available resources. Project managers may not have any authority over key project staff, but can negotiate with their supervisors to ensure the key staff’s availability to keep the project on schedule. As an example, RTC's paratransit contractor did not have adequate resources to oversee the ITS installation because the system installation was taking place at night. Any delay in paratransit ITS installation would hold up the entire project progress. To overcome this obstacle, the project manager was able to make a deal with the fixed route contractor to also oversee ITS installation for paratransit vehicles. This was a satisfactory solution to all parties. The project stayed within budget and the paratransit vehicle ITS installation was also completed on schedule.
Transit ITS project managers must focus on the big picture: deliver a successful project satisfying the key customer groups – the transit agency and the user community – and also manage the resources efficiently. It is essential that the project team has a set of shared goals and objectives in managing a complex ITS project to ensure productivity and customer satisfaction.
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