Breakdown in Communications?

Yesterday’s O has lengthy piece on the divide between PDOT management and the road paving crews in the Bureau of Maintenance. The argument boils down to the central office folks saying (and the Auditor agreeing) that best practices (and in some cases State law) are not being followed, while the crews say they know best what’s happening on the ground.

Now normally, I’m in favor of empowering the front line folks, they generally do have the best knowledge of the details of the job. However, for that to work, there has to be alignment on goals from top to bottom in the organization. It’s not clear at all that such alignment exists here.

In fact, there’s an indicator of a significant difference in values. Earlier this year, during the PDOT Budget Advisory Process there was a survey of both the public and PDOT employees. The survey results for the Maintenance Bureau employees showed much less enthusiasm for bikes and transit than the rest of PDOT, or indeed, than the general public.

Time to create a consistent vision from top to bottom in the organization. I think Commissioner Sam and Director Sue Kiel are up to it.


5 responses to “Breakdown in Communications?”

  1. Hehee. That’s a standard issue, a Government Department has communication breakdown with workers!?

    Hope they get that straightened out cuz the roads sure could use some help, they are almost as bad as New Orleans roads, and they HAVE an excuse to have bad roads while Portland does NOT.

  2. As a guy who worked in production for the better part of his life, I found myself siding with the guys on the street on this issue. Too bad the suits in the office don’t have anything better to do with their time…like figuring out how we can kill fewer pedestrians and bicyclists.
    But the wider gulf between BOM and its parent, PDOT, extends up to the Commissioner’s office, where Sam seems to get it, but a lot of his folks throughout the organization are still thinking about getting autos through our neighborhoods.
    PS I think Portland’s streets are fine, and if you think this kind of disconnect is typical of pubic sector organizations, you just have never worked in a big private sector org.

  3. For workers, front line especially. It’s common in all entities, government or private. Except the differences are vast and numerous in the differences between the two types of work.

    …and for the record, I’ve worked for some of the largest employers in the country. I however will not work for Government entities anymore.

  4. I work for a fortune 500 company, and I’m several layers down from the CEO. But I know what the key objectives for the company are, and so do the front line employees who work for me.

    There’s no reason PDOT can’t do the same. The guy who runs the paver should understand what PDOT’s strategy for getting maximum value from the paving program is.

  5. First, I think that the PDOT maintenance department has become a easy whipping boy in this case. It is a struggle for priority of the use of available funds and how they are channelled and it is not new.

    The problem is aging streets and transportation infrastructure. This is compounded dramatically with higher numbers of vehicles on our roads and highways which is the result of major increases in our regions population.

    If the city is receiving product that is less then code or is substandard these entities that provide the product must be penalized, first not the employees.

    Intelligent judgement calls at the field level, not at the head-shed, determine if an acceptable product can be used and this can result in how many miles of needed maintenance efforts end up getting accomplished.

    An example is that if a crew is positioned and the street is prepared for repavement and product is received that is not at a heat level or mix level that prevents it from bing laid down and lasting for a desired life that is one problem.

    But if the margin of difference is minor the cost saving to all of the citizens of the city Portland of turning around this pre-positioned crew and event could be $50,000 additional dollars in fully burdened cost coming out of and already inadequate budget.

    I trust the guy’s on the street more then someone in the white irory tower with an ax to grind.

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