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 project, the RTC project manager was a transportation planner and the system integration program manager had a telecommunications background. As with any project of this nature, changes are inevitable and project priorities are constantly shifting. Both project managers were required to be flexible and adaptable to new system and users' requirements and needs. Key lessons learned from their experience are:
- Perform factory visit, develop a trusting relationship between the agency and the vendor, and work as one team. The traditional contractual relationship between an agency and a vendor often results in an "us versus them" mentality. The customer often does not disclose the necessary information to the vendor for system design, and the vendor often does not reveal key information to the customer until it will present major impacts to the project. This attitude often hinders the project's progress due to distrust and lack of communication. Although customers and vendors eventually overcome their differences, valuable time is lost, project costs skyrocket, and the end result can be a product or service that does not meet expectations.
The RTC project team members traveled to the integrator's headquarters in Iowa for a factory acceptance test. The trip also gave the project managers the opportunity to bring the entire project team together for a precedence diagramming session. The purpose of this activity was to identify and prioritize all remaining tasks in the project. Each task or work package was then resourced and scheduled. A critical path analysis could then be performed and critical tasks identified and focused on. Their analysis showed a significant problem with the project schedule as one of the critical path items was not ready for installation. The agency and vendor project managers came up with an alternative schedule that saved the project a 3-month delay and significant cost increases.
- Establish clear expectations. It is advisable for the project managers and key team members to have a scope clarification meeting prior to any implementation process so there will be a common understanding between the customer and the vendor. Difference in scope interpretations between the customer and vender often resulted in disagreement and additional changes. A scope clarification meeting can establish the same expectations for customer and vendor, and minimize any future conflicts. In this project, clear expectations of one another were established by a team meeting early in the project. Each paragraph of the technical specifications meant something different to each stakeholder or team member, so they went through every paragraph and discussed what it meant, and discovered some ways that they could better serve the customer.
- Agree to disagree and seek contract division's assistance to work out our differences of opinion. As with any relationship, the RTC and the system integrator's project managers did not agree on everything. When there were differences in scope interpretation, resource allocation, system design, etc., the project managers discussed their opinions, worked through 95% of the issues, and agreed to let their contract departments work on the interpretation of the other 5%. But the differences in interpretation or opinion should not stop the project's progress. In those cases, both project managers would come up with work-around solutions and keep the project going until their contract departments resolved the interpretation differences. This not only saved valuable time while the interpretation was being worked out, but decreased the chance of dissolving team cohesiveness.
- Always maintain team buy-in and team cohesiveness. Because an ITS project impacts various departments within the organization, from transit operations and maintenance to information systems, team buy-in and cohesiveness are critical to its success. Team buy-in occurs when all key members agree to put their personal bias and egos aside, and contribute together towards a single goal, which is to make the project a success. In an ITS project, the project manager is expected to have broader knowledge of management and technologies; however, one cannot know all aspects of technical requirements necessary for the project. It is advisable that the project manager learn as much of the industry jargon as possible to be able to speak the same language as the experts. This facilitates communication within the project team and gains the project manager respect with the technical staff. Project managers have to rely upon and trust their expert's knowledge to ensure that proper system design and functionality requirements are met. If the project managers can sell their key stakeholders and team members on how the project will benefit them in the long term, then the buy-in is assured.
- In RTC project, the good relationship between project managers directly produced superior project deliverables. An example of this was evident when it was time to deliver network hardware and radios for the RTC. Prior to actual equipment ordering, the vendor noticed that some of the equipment prices went down and that they were able to provide higher end equipment for the same price as in the contract. The vendor contacted the agency's project manager to see if they could renegotiate the contract to upgrade to higher end equipment at the same price. This was a win-win situation as the RTC got future radio network upgrade options that they would not have otherwise had, and computers that were far superior in performance; while the vendor had a happier customer that would most likely buy additional products and services from them.
Agency and vendors must establish a good working relationship in order to deliver a successful ITS project. By focusing on the success of the project, vendors and agencies can overcome their differences by having good communication and thinking outside the box to solve problems and differences of opinions. Good relationship between agency and vendors is essential to ensure productivity and customer satisfaction.
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