For a state department of transportation, concluding a construction project isn’t simply a matter of dropping a final check in the mail to the contractor.
Rather, the highly administrative closeout process includes such tasks as ensuring the project objectives have been met, auditing labor and payroll records, and reviewing and reconciling material tests and material quantities, among others. For the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, it was a process that could take as long as 12 months—and one the department hoped to improve.
The DOT received a unique opportunity to standardize and streamline the construction closeout process across its eight regional offices in July 2012, when the Wisconsin governor directed state agencies to identify ways to operate more efficiently. DOT officials contacted Engineering Professional Development Director of Corporate Education Carl Vieth and Assistant Faculty Associate Jeff Oelke, a lean process improvement expert, for help.
Working closely with staff in each of the eight regional DOT offices, Oelke and PhD student Dee Miller developed a glossary of terminology and adopted each office’s best practices to optimize and standardize the closeout process across the state. The group also defined the roles and responsibilities of people involved in the process, created a flowchart, improved software that tracks the progress of a construction project, and updated procedures in the DOT standard specifications and construction and materials manual. Now, members of any closeout team in any regional office can network, share advice and problem-solve together.
Already, the new team-based closeout approach has had a positive effect on staff morale. “This teaming has generated a greater understanding of roles and responsibilities and, more importantly, developed a respect for others and a recognition of how important everyone is to the successful completion of our projects and our work,” says Beth Cannestra, who directs the DOT Bureau of Project Development.
Throughout the project, Oelke and Miller mentored DOT staff, giving them the knowledge and tools to lead future process improvement projects.
And in the long run, both the DOT and contractors will benefit. “We will have project issues resolved in the field and at a time when they are best resolved,” says Cannestra. “Contract payments will be made closer to the time of the work and encumbered funds that are not needed will be freed much sooner to be utilized on other projects.”