Owner’s Readiness

An owner’s readiness to the success or failure of projects is not limited to major projects as described by Prieto (PM World Journal, Volume III, Issue 1, January 2014, entitled “Owner’s Readiness Index”) although this provides a useful background for discussion. Experience suggests risks to all projects unless certain owner elements are in place to enable project success. I will briefly touch upon some of these elements.

These elements are structured in the following areas.

  • Owner readiness with respect to clearly articulated strategic business objectives.
  • Owner readiness with respect to a clearly articulated decision framework and process.
  • Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution.

Owner readiness with respect to strategic business objectives

Vulnerabilities can unwittingly enter owner readiness like any human-designed system. This can especially be true when owners lack project experience and attempt to manage myriad relationships that are so complex that they can defy thorough understanding. There are several dimensions to this shortcoming to include:

  • Poorly defined or articulated vision, mission and objectives.
  • Inadequate alignment between various partners including elected officials, appointed officials, interest groups, planners and executors, the public and similar or corresponding partners in the private sector.
  • Inadequate communication and support of the “intent” to include the vision, mission and objectives.

Thinking through a strategy with clearly defined objectives requires experience. If this is not done well from the beginning then the project is at risk and the likelihood of failure increases. This is made increasingly complicated since many owner partnerships with differing agendas may be involved. Public sector partnerships might include federal, state and local elected and appointed officials, planners and executors, interest groups and private sector expertise as an extension of the public workforce. A similar collection of partnerships may exist with private sector owners.

While alignment and buy-in are essential to the success of any project, this is greatly facilitated by strong leadership and direction. Moreover, the strategy, to include the strategic business objectives, must be continuously communicated and supported. This greatly impacts maintaining alignment.

Inadequate focus on the strategy and strategic business objectives also allows biases to enter the process, causing increased risks to include delays, uncertainty and confusion. The assumption that there is a shared understanding of the strategy and strategic business objectives may result in suboptimal performance, delays and even failure.

Owner’s readiness with respect to decision framework and process

Planning and execution frameworks and processes greatly impact project success. As such, owners must have a secure grasp on these frameworks to provide stability and direction through the processes. These include but are not limited to:

  • Business model and scenarios with regards to the project.
  • Governance structure that provides clear leadership, accountability, alignment and confidence in the strategy.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities to include an approval matrix and constraints. Executive involvement must be defined as a part of this without inhibiting the initiative of planners and executors.
  • Phasing and who needs to be involved at each phase.
  • Process clarity and timing to include approvals.

Decision frameworks and processes are key dimensions of an owner’s readiness. As such, owners must have a secure handle on them to provide stable and confident leadership and direction. As with the strategy and strategic business objectives, an assumption that there is a shared understanding can be a significant risk to project success.

Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution

The owner’s organization must have a clearly defined capability to provide oversight of project implementation, to include planning and execution. This includes:

  • An ability to assess his or her own project team’s performance, partly to ensure they are enabling contractors and consultants to implement the project efficiently and effectively while not duplicating efforts or erecting barriers to success.
  • Ensure reports on project progress are efficiently provided to partners and stakeholders.
  • Ensure that the project is in compliance with the scope, schedule and budget and clearly defined in the contract and as augmented by other administrative requirements.
  • Ensure that plans and execution approaches are aligned and staffed with individuals with the right competencies to achieve the strategic business objectives. Plans should support required owner approvals and associated processes.


The owner’s strategy for a successful project must be supported by strong leadership and a transparent and clear business strategy. A shared understanding of the strategy, strategic business objectives, decision framework and process, planning and execution is key to project success. The assumption that a shared understanding exists puts a project at significant risk.

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

– Confucius

Some Common Causes of Program Failures

Throughout complex, long-duration mega-programs, changes occur, many between the “white spaces”. That is events, activities and risks that are not specifically identified and addressed. Some of these might include changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in staffing, changes in politics, reinterpretation of contracts, and others. The following is a list of common causes for program, or project, failures and problems.

  1. Inadequate leadership
  2. Inadequate planning
  3. Inadequate relationships, trust, engagement and alignment
  4. Inadequate or dysfunctional organization, including lack of needed skill sets
  5. Inadequately prepared client, stakeholders, partners and/or program manager
  6. Inadequate culture of accountability, responsibility and authority (for decision-making)
  7. Inadequate communications
  8. Inadequate feedback loops, reports and reporting
  9. Inadequate quality control/ assurance plans, execution and/or not inculcated throughout the organization
  10. Inadequate team, defined roles, responsibilities and buy-in
  11. Critical path not identified and followed
  12. Performance metrics not adequately used
  13. Scope does not reflect realities of the program and/or scope creep
  14. Schedule does not reflect realities of the program
  15. Budget does not reflect realities of program
  16. Issues not aggressively resolved
  17. Inadequate continuous improvement, change management, lessons-learned and good practices
  18. Inadequate and/or continuous training, including safety culture
  19. Failure to identify, assess and manage risks
  20. Failure to allow for changes in technology
  21. Inadequate program closeout

This list is not intended to be comprehensive, so please add to it based on your own experience.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”

– Henry Ford

Transportation Asset Management

The essence of asset management is to better prioritize resources to optimize outcomes, basically institutionalizing a business-like approach to managing infrastructure. This is not so-called “rocket science”. It is simply what any organization, public or private, should be doing to best use its resources in achieving desired results for its customers and stockholders, whether referred to as asset management or not. To my knowledge, no organization has sufficient resources to do everything it needs or wants to do. Thus, a systematic approach of setting priorities must take place—asset management.

In the bigger picture, asset management is an extension of engineering economics. Utilized for over a hundred years, engineering economics has, and continues to be, a primary means for decision-making for infrastructure development. The ability to retain, retrieve, and analyze increasing amounts of data in recent decades has enabled evidence-based decision-making on a network scale. Made possible by computer and digital technology, other “big picture” analyses are increasingly emerging to include the discipline of sustainability that facilitates decision-making between economic, social and environmental realms.

Every public and private body is under increasing pressure to justify investment and that it is making best use of its resources. It is tempting to generate an office of asset management in addressing these pressures. However, inculcating an asset management approach requires a cultural change where the entire team thinks in more holistic terms on how to better utilize resources to optimize outcomes.

Many organizations have developed a strategic approach that identifies better allocation of resources for the management, operations, preservation and enhancement of infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future customers and stockholders. As an example, in the mid-1990s the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) formed an Asset Management Committee. I was privileged to serve as Vice Chair and Chair. Within a short period of time, the entire transportation industry in the United States recognized the value of asset management and has been refining processes ever since.

At about this same time, the value of performance measures was emerging in conjunction with asset management. There are essentially four traditional elements of asset management that interact:

  1. Performance measures (what target is desired and achievable)
  2. Asset:
    1. Inventory
    2. Condition
    3. Utilization
    4. Value in dollars
  3. Life-cycle cost prediction
  4. Agency or organization cost
  5. User cost
  6. Trade-off analysis and investment strategies (by combining the above to produce an optimized budget)

An example of asset manage, while Director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, determined that the optimal allocation of resources in a broad sense (including budget) was:

  1. Critical bridges
  2. System preservation
  3. New capital investments

Asset management is quite literally the best of continuous improvement. That process never ends. An account of the full collection of resources must be pursued. Some are visible and some are not. This is a partial list of assets commonly owned by transportation agencies:

  • roads, including for all modes
  • trails
  • bridges, including vehicle and pedestrian
  • public transportation assets and systems, including buses and trains
  • culverts and drainage structures and systems
  • other structures such as sound walls
  • signs of all kinds
  • lighting and electrical systems
  • heating and air conditioning systems
  • buildings, including for people, equipment and materials
  • airports and aircraft
  • waterborne ferry systems and craft
  • land
  • roadside vegetation
  • rest stops and visitor centers
  • rail grade crossings
  • traffic control signals, devices and systems
  • changeable message boards, fixed and portable
  • vehicles
  • equipment to include heavy wheeled and track, construction and maintenance, snow and ice, mowing
  • materials of all kinds
  • tools of all kinds
  • intelligent transportation systems
  • intelligent infrastructure systems
  • transportation management centers
  • information systems, including software and hardware
  • data of all kinds
  • economic impacts
  • environmental impacts, including aesthetics and views
  • societal impacts, including access for the disabled
  • user impacts, including to traffic and safety
  • human resources

There are other resources so feel free to add to this list. They must all be managed in an asset management framework to make best use of available resources and to optimize outcomes. This is what customers and stockholders expect.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

– Mark Twain

A Few Common Foundational Elements of Leadership and Management

Below are some common foundational elements of leadership and management. This is primarily “a top of mind” list based on my experience. This list is neither comprehensive nor unique to me.

Leadership matters—people-based, results-driven; provide direction, remove obstacles; be accountable and responsible for everything that does or does not happen; take blame; give credit; be action-oriented; lead change; systematize; develop leaders; be authentic—to thine own self be true

Know the business

Know the industry

Attract and retain talent and build the team—they are the ones that get the results

Relationships mattertrust, transparency and alignment

Communicate a lot, especially listen

Collaborate constantly

Delegate authority and responsibility (accountability cannot be delegated)

Don’t tolerate micromanagement or bureaucratic nonsense

Focus on a clear and simple mission

Focus on results (outcomes), not process—oriented on a few, simple, elegant performance measures that drive the mission

Focus on continuous improvement

Focus on evidence-based decision-making

Be frugal—spend money as though it is your own

Leverage technology, and allow for changes in technology

Develop economies of scale

Develop feedback loops

Develop simple, elegant, consistent messaging

Develop simple, actionable focused reports

Balance everything against risks

Balance change, directives and control with empowerment, delegation, trust and relationships

Recognize individual and team success—this raises them as an example to others and themselves

Always use simple courtesy and appreciation—say thank you

Celebrate success and have fun

Feel free to add other items to this list or develop your own list of leadership and management foundational elements. What’s important is to be mindful of the foundational elements that work for you so that you can reflect and improve them. Leadership and management are aspirational goals that are never achieved or finished.

“Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.”

-J. Donald Waters

“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.”

-Harold S. Geneen

“The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers… Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”

-Gary Willis

Leadership: People Skills and Getting Results

As part of my leadership philosophy, I separate the leadership of people from the management of things for getting results. Inherently people cannot be managed and in fact resist it. However, they can be led with clear goals, direction and working on something they are highly motivated toward and that is greater than themselves. That said, the management is essential.

First and foremost, a mission statement must be clearly established. That is the ultimate aim. For a department of transportation (dot), and depending on their responsibilities, it is generally accurate to say they “provide a safe, reliable and sustainable transportation system for the movement of people and goods while improving the economy, mobility and environment”.

Based on my experience, I believe a dot must establish a relatively small group (10-15) of specific and measurable goals (performance measures) that should be divided into two groups:

  1. Strategic goals or outcomes (6-8) and
  2. Enablers (7-9) that support the achieving those goals.

It is fairly common to measure too many goals in a dot because nearly everyone has a different opinion of what is important, especially if it is the work they are doing. However, these goals must be vetted and the organization aligned with their achievement. There are essentially seven strategic goals/outcomes for dots:

  • Safety
  • Jobs and Commerce
  • Mobility
  • Access
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Infrastructure Preservation
  • Customer Service/Satisfaction

While I have not defined these, there could be subsets to at least one. Customers can be defined as the public but also legislatures/congress and various partners such as construction contractors, consultants, truckers, shippers, etc. I mention this because in the end, it is the satisfaction of the customers, supported by the partners, that makes funding, political support, collaboration and a lot of other things work.

Enablers may include:

  • Project Delivery
  • Asset Management
  • Fiscal Responsibility/ROI
  • Collaboration/Partnership
  • Workforce Development
  • Leverage Technology (think digital technology, a subject transforming transportation)
  • Risk Management

It is important to note that everything that is important cannot be measured. Also, focus can be lost if too many things are measured.

That said, everything is in a constant process of improvement and so it must be for dots and the industry to remain competitive.

One of the more intriguing data I have come across on the subject of people versus management of goals/results is from the Harvard Business Review, December 27, 2013 entitled “Should leaders focus on results, or on people?” by Matthew Lieberman. His article reports that if a leader has great social skills only 12% of people consider him a great leader. If a leader has great results skills he is considered great by 14% of people. If a leader has both skill sets the percentage of people rating him a great leader sky rockets to 78%. However, less than 1% of leaders are rated high in both goal focus and social skills.

Another study entitled “High-Resolution Leadership: A Synthesis of 15,000 Assessments into How Leaders Shape the Business Landscape” by Development Dimensions International or DDI, 2016, www.ddiworld.com/hirezleadership, covered 300 companies from 18 countries. This study reflected that of the eight highest interaction skills, empathy overwhelmingly tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance, followed closely by involving others (i.e. engagement). Both relate to higher leader performance in decision making and planning. Overall, the study suggests that leaders need high emotional intelligence (empathy) in their daily dealings with people as well as high cognitive abilities in more intellectual pursuits such as strategy and financial management.

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

-Peter F. Drucker

One Seamless Transportation System

The idea of one seamless transportation system has existed for many years. Currently we have strong transportation modes, but one seamless transportation system is lacking. Over the past 100 years we have become a nation that is car-centric, and our system of roads, highways and interstate allow us largely to travel where we want, when we want. I count myself among the many that are car-centric. In spite of the negative impacts of this surface transportation system, it has driven our economy to be the strongest in the world. However, if we want to connect various modes—public transportation, airports, trains, marine and inland water navigation etc.—we are frequently left to our own devices in getting where we want, when we want. This can be inefficient, ineffective and frustrating. As an example, in many areas of the country public transportation does not connect to airports, train stations or water navigation. While several urban areas have developed these connections, there is still a long way to go.

One Seamless Transportation SystemAlthough infrastructure will continue to be important to add value by connecting these “edges”, digital technology can act as a valuable force-multiplier in bringing a multimodal system to an emerging intermodal system and finally to one seamless system. The value of connecting these edges adds enormously to our economy and quality of life. In many ways these “edges” reflect the richness and value at intersecting biomes, a fact known by ecologists for many years. The freight industry has long recognized that their business relies on one connected freight system. Otherwise, products would be delayed, not delivered and at times products would rot. A national freight program has emerged in recent years, bearing testimony to its importance. While there are still needed improvements in the freight system, the efficient movement of people has lagged. This is an opportunity to be seized.

Strategic planning to achieve one seamless transportation system is a collaborative affair with inclusive interests. There is no entity, to my knowledge, that is not dependent on some form of transportation. Our economy and quality of life depend on a safe and reliable transportation system. In fact, the history of human colonization, societies and economies on planet Earth could be told in the context of transportation with all of its components.

These are exciting and challenging times in transportation, with perhaps more changes in the next 10 years than in the previous 60, or even the previous 100. In spite of the challenges, including to find a replacement for the fuel tax, mobility is the imperative, not infrastructure, vehicles, digital technology or other elements alone. It is about convenience, quality and affordability, using transportation to improve lives. Thus, we are at a watershed moment in time that requires that we change the way we think and act to build one seamless “transportation ecosystem” that will save lives, save costs, reduce congestion, reduce pollution and mitigate climate change, create jobs, grow the economy and increase customer service and satisfaction.

The industry has been slowly moving in this direction for some time but has failed to realize any significant improvement in developing one seamless system. In a previous blog (The Future of Transportation…September 2015) I reviewed the history leading to the start of the interstate highway system. The general concept for an interstate highway system was created during the World War I era as a means for defense and to spur economic growth—the Pershing Map, named for General John J. Pershing. The concept for an interstate highway system was further advanced based on the experience of Dwight D. Eisenhower shortly after World War I where a transcontinental road trip took weeks, and then during World War II as he recognized the efficiency and speed of the German Autobahn. During the intervening 30 years there was general consensus as to what the interstate highway system should look like but there was no agreement as to how it should be paid for. The States did not sit idle then, as they are not now. Oregon invented the fuel tax in 1919 and within 10 years every state had adopted a fuel tax to build the infrastructure (roads) to primarily “get out of the mud”. States, including Kansas, Oklahoma and others, also built toll roads, just as the states and locals had built toll bridges for many years before, to increase connectivity and spur economic development. Finally, agreement was reached to adopt a federal fuel tax and fund the construction (not maintenance) of the interstate system through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. The evidence is overwhelming that the interstate highway system, and transportation in general, has improved our economy and quality of life.

The question now is will it take another 30 plus years to decide what our future transportation system should be and how to pay for it? This does not even include the needs of other forms of infrastructure for water, waste water, power etc. that our society has become dependent on.

Once again, I believe the evidence is clear that states are leading the way in further developing transportation and how to fund it. However, this time there are two other events driving this:

  1. Rapidly evolving digital technology and
  2. Increasing demand for collaboration, especially with the private sector

Technology, especially digital technology, is evolving at breath-taking speed. As such, the public sector is not well suited to rapidly adjust to these changes in technology. The private sector is much better suited and again, I believe, there is evidence that the private sector will drive much of the transportation future. We are already witnessing this with Lyft, UBER, autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, continuing to evolve intelligent transportation systems, drones, automated machine control, positive train control, just-in-time delivery services, Internet shopping and delivery, “big data” and resulting useful information, and other changes across all modes of transportation. Many of these technologies and businesses did not even exist a few years ago. This does not even contemplate other rapidly evolving technologies impacted by nanotechnology and other advances in materials.

Our societal values have also evolved. For example, we are much more aware of the risks to life and the economy from driving. Thus a safe transportation system is valued more highly than in the past. We recognize the impact that the built environment can have on our natural environment and the attention to maintaining and improving the natural environment has dramatically increased, largely since the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. Other aspects such as societal justice has evolved. In reality there is no single solution to the way our society evolves, it is more a matter of weighing informed choices in decision-making. This has resulted in a relatively new field—sustainability—which “balances” our society, environment and economic interests.

The number of licensed drivers and privately owned vehicles is declining. Our society is aging as “baby boomers” move into “retirement” age, an indication of changing demographics. While oil is currently in abundance, it is not a renewable resource and the use of alternative fuels and more efficient vehicles continues to evolve. Debt is increasing, whether our national debt or the result of student loans. Wages are static. These only begin to portend some of the changes in our world, with little deference to the changing international landscape.

So, it is important, if not essential, to be as inclusive as possible when doing strategic planning. While strategic planning is more precise for the relative near-term, the long-term is much less clear. Perhaps the best we can do is to develop and be mindful of a “cone of possibilities” which so-called futurists propose. How many years a plan should be forward looking is open to discussion. However, strategic planning could be easily constructed along time horizons of a few years and up to 50 or more, realizing that longer time frames will be less certain with a point of diminishing returns. In my opinion, these strategic plans should be updated perhaps every five years based on how rapidly our world is changing.

While the visioning of a strategic plan is important, it is also important to identify next steps with specific and measurable performance measures and who is responsible for actions.

Since our economy and quality of life will be impacted by what we do, all citizenry interests must be represented to include pedestrians, bicyclist, motorcyclists, automobile drivers, truckers, rail roads, aviation, digital technology interests, ride sharing/taxi cab providers, public transportation, government, emergency responders (including fire departments and police), utilities, schools and academia, consultants, contractors, economists and economic developers, environmental interests, business owners, marine and inland water shippers, ports and others. While participation by these various interests cannot be guaranteed, outreach is necessary to solicit as much participation as possible. This must be balanced to avoid being “frozen” into inaction. The goal is for general consensus, knowing that complete agreement is rarely, if ever, obtained.

With these efforts, it is hoped that our societal buy-in for transportation strategic plans at the federal, regional, state and locals will advance our progress in developing one seamless system, using transportation to improve lives.

“Explore this next great frontier where boundaries between work and higher purpose are merging into one, where doing good is good for business.”

-Richard Branson

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

-John Quincy Adams

A Primer on Leadership and Management

The synthesis of strategy, operations and tactics in leadership and management is perhaps unique for each individual. However, there are some basic tenants that are probably shared by many. As one example, I provide my approach and framework to outline real-world leadership and management. This begins with my leadership style.

People-Based, Results-Driven

First, what does it mean to be people-based? I have adopted the philosophy that: You lead people and manage things, but it us all about people. Jim Collins (Good to Great, Harper Business, 2011) has put a fine point on this by stating “first who, then what”. This reflects that what is most important in any organizations are its people, but not just any people. They must be the right people. Some of the elements of this are: select the right people, set the right expectations, provide the right tools and training, provide growth opportunities, help them succeed and develop them as leaders. My working premise is that the role of leadership is to develop more leaders to lead people and get results. If this is done well, they will take care of the customers and clients.

Some other elements of successful leadership and management include:

  • “feedback loops” and continuous improvement
  • trust
  • relationships
  • collaboration
  • engagement
  • alignment
  • humility
  • listening
  • common courtesy
  • consistent communication
  • have fun

At more senior levels the responsibilities include setting the vision, values, direction, culture, priorities, establishing a plan with specific and measurable performance measures and coaching within a framework where people can flourish.

There is an adage used in the Army: “people first, mission always”. There has been considerable discourse on how this is done, especially given that soldiers are trained to be sent into harms way in combat. James H. Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2009) studied two elements—results focus versus social skills—and found that great leaders find a way to shift and balance these two foci. A focus on results or social skills alone results in “mediocre leadership”. So, what does it mean to be results-driven? In simplest terms this means achieving specific and measurable goals. The coin of the realm in the private sector are profits while in the public sector it is serving the public good.

Daily Operations

  • “feedback loops” and continuous improvement
  • outreach to employees, clients, client’s-clients, stakeholders and partners
  • ensure trust/relationship
  • ensure collaboration
  • ensure engagement
  • ensure alignment
  • ensure results
  • identify issues, problems, obstacles and fix them
  • balance everything against risks
  • continuously assess employees, new and existing clients, stakeholders and partners
  • remain humble
  • listen first and foremost
  • extend simple courtesy and appreciation
  • communicate a lot
  • have fun

The world is changing and we must change with it. I hope this primer is useful.

“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Learning that Success=Preparation and Opportunity

Who has not experienced failure and disappointment in their career and had to do some considerable soul-searching to recover? Regrettably, I have had my fair share. While humbling, there are a number of important life lessons, foremost among these is learning.

These lessons-learned, or re-learned, include two lists. One of don’t and the other of do.


  1. Don’t spend time on pity, it serves no purpose.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up, it serves no purpose.
  3. Don’t blame anyone else, it serves no purpose.
  4. Do not burn relationship bridges, it serves no purpose.


  1. Write a plan based on research—prepare, prepare, prepare and learn, learn, learn.
  2. Take responsibility and be objective.
  3. Remain humble and grateful.
  4. Maintain relationships—they rule the world—including thank you notes for opportunities won and lost.
  5. Get a trusted agent to vent your feelings and provide reality feedback.
  6. Think in the affirmative—stay positive
  7. Reflect and analyze what occurred.
  8. Write down your lessons-learned.
  9. Write an improvement plan, providing added focus and clarity.
  10. Practice and rehearse that improvement plan, including body language, eye contact, voice and clear thinking.
  11. Implement that improvement plan at every opportunity.

As a subset of this and when “interviewing”, formally or informally:

  1. Learn about the company, job or project description, including leaders, interviewers and panels.
  2. Develop mock interview questions and rehearse multiple times with a mock interviewer.
  3. Develop a list of questions to ask at the end of the interview.
  4. Develop a short list of simple, concise, clear and elegant stories/responses that describe you, your experience/accomplishments, and portend to what you will bring to the job, project or company. Write these down as this will help you focus and clarify your thoughts and avoid rambling. Writing blogs is one methodology.

There are many reasons we fail or are disappointed in life and inadequate preparation and learning are chief among them. I also believe those situations are rarely as bad, or good, as we think. These situations are opportunities to improve, succeed and be stronger in the future. In effect, one door closes and another opens.

We can all do better in our journey through life, certainly this is true for me. We have a lot to learn and a lot more to do.

Our lives and learning stand as a gateway to a new time, a new era and a new beginning, including in transportation and our global economy.

What I’ve learned over the years is to enjoy the process and the community you build around you. To be a great leader you must also be a great collaborator. You must know how to delegate and know where you need to intervene in the process. You cannot second guess. You must treat others as you would like to be treated—the Golden Rule. There is no magic formula to success except to keep learning.

Preparation plus opportunity will lead to success.

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

—Dale Carnegie

Traditional Engineering and Construction are not Enough—The Future

These are exciting and challenging times in transportation, with perhaps more changes in the next 10 years than in the previous 60, or even the previous 100. These changes include autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, intelligent transportation systems, new sensors, new materials including from nanotechnology, new construction methodologies and designs via virtual reality, increasing use of big data, increasing use of artificial intelligence, increasing use of robotics etc.—our homes, offices, transportation and increasingly everything else will be connected as the “Internet of things”. These changes have already begun.

In the near-term the biggest issue facing transportation is a stable and reliable replacement for the fuel tax. In the long-term, mobility is the imperative, not infrastructure, vehicles or digital technology alone.

The two events that are driving this are rapidly evolving digital technology and increased demand for collaboration. It is about convenience, quality and affordability, using transportation to improve lives. Thus, we are at a watershed moment in time and this requires we change the way we think and act to build one seamless “transportation ecosystem” that will save lives, save costs, reduce congestion, reduce pollution and mitigate climate change, create jobs, grow the economy and increase customer service and satisfaction. However, we are stuck because connections (relationships, trust, roles, responsibilities, collaboration/partnerships and alignment) across relevant players are lacking.

So, how can we do this? We must:

  1. Develop a new public-private partnership model where government creates the vision, rules, and manages the transportation system while allowing private sector innovation to flourish and be brought to scale.
  2. Develop connections between relevant partners, be an open door to partnerships and find common, shared purpose in meeting the needs of people. This in itself may require a new business model since outcomes will be generated at the margins of these connections, and less organically in the traditional public and private sector sense. Moreover, these partnerships must be aligned quickly in a defensible market for the private sector to bring these to scale. This coalition of traditional and non-traditional partnerships may include IBM, vehicle manufacturers (GM, Ford, etc), Google, Uber, Lyft, Verizon, Apple, Volpe National Transportation Center, RideScout, Open Car Alliance, Oregon’s VMT, US and state dots, public transportation, railroads, trucking companies, architects and engineer companies, construction companies, logistics companies, airlines, water-born transportation, cyclists, pedestrians, emergency responders, and others.

The world is changing and we must change with it, including in the public, private and academia arenas. The latter producing graduates that will be employed by the public and private sectors and drive future changes.

“The reality about transportation is that it’s future-oriented. If we’re planning for what we have, we’re behind the curve.”

—Anthony Fox, US Secretary of Transportation

The Future of Transportation: Public-Private Partnerships and the Digital Age

Transportation and mobility have been with humans since we came out of the trees and onto the grasslands, when we walked everywhere. Transportation has evolved to the present.

The transformation of infrastructure and transportation is occurring as a result of two “sea level” changes: public-private partnerships in the general and narrow sense and the digital revolution. This manifests itself in the move to autonomous vehicles in a safe and seamless transportation system, “big data” to further enhance doing more at less cost (e.g. asset management, intelligent transportation systems and infrastructure, project delivery and all of the processes and enablers that allow delivery of products and services) and the collaboration of public-private partnerships in the broadest sense that leverage strengths of each.

For the past decade, funding the transportation system has been the subject of  considerable conversation, debate, coverage, and government struggles at all levels. Today, the nation and states are essentially in a system preservation mode, although several states have taken the lead to generate needed funding for the aging infrastructure. This is not necessarily a surprise since the founding fathers contemplated that states would be fertile test beds for the federal government to extract national policies. A case in point, Oregon was the first state in the nation to develop a fuel tax. Within 10 years every state had a fuel tax. Concurrently, the predecessor for the interstate highway system, the Pershing Map, was created around World War I for similar purposes. It looks very similar to today’s interstate highways system map. So, why was it not built? The answer is lack of consensus on how to pay for it. Over the intervening 30 plus years until President Eisenhower signed into law the interstate highway system and the means to fund it, multiple committees, commissions and studies were appointed by the President and Congress. The three primary methods for funding the interstate highway system were:

  1. toll
  2. bond
  3. build the interstate, wait for the adjacent land prices to escalate, and sell it for a profit.

None of the three were agreed upon and selected. The federal government finally adopted the funding mechanism that the states had been using for 30 plus years, the fuel tax. That was the advent of the Federal Highway Trust Fund to pay for construction (not maintenance) of the interstate highway system.  Eisenhower signed this into law as the Federal Highway Act of 1956, commonly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act – the largest public works project through that time.

So what is the problem now and will we have to wait another 30 years to find a funding mechanism? It is common knowledge that the fuel tax continues as a valid funding mechanism, but it is no longer sustainable given more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, recognition that oil is not a renewable resource, and concern over global warming. Several states have even increased their fuel tax in recent years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. This has been helped by the decreasing price of oil and the concomitant decrease in the price of fuel at the pump.

So, what is the problem? We are victims of our own success, and to some extent spoiled, by fixed high speed highways.

MoveA new book, Move (putting America’s infrastructure back in the lead) by Rosabeth Moss Kanter provides an extremely well done analysis of where we are and where we are headed. She describes that mobility is the imperative, not infrastructure, vehicles or digital technology alone. We are at a “strategic inflection point” which requires that we change the way we think and act. We must develop a vision to bring the nation into the 21st Century and away from a 20th Century mindset. We must tell a complex story in a clear, simple and elegant way. We must change the perception from a tax-payer cost to a societal investment, produce jobs today and economic opportunity tomorrow, and move from a tax increase to a user fee. We must reinvent the passive highway with the information super highway and from fixed to dynamic infrastructure through collaboration across all interests; from a system that is static and unexciting to one that is dynamic and that people are willing to pay for. The only limitation is imagination. Kanter further states that we are stuck because connections across relevant players are lacking. We have obsolete ways of thinking and talking about it. In effect, we must be an open door to partnerships. In addition to GM and other more historically main stream transportation partners, some of these new partnerships include the digital world of IBM, Google, Verizon, Apple and others we do not normally associate with transportation and infrastructure.

The world is changing and we must change with it. We must change how we think and find common, shared purpose in meeting the needs of all Americans.

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

– Peter Drucker

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015. Print.