Criteria and Transportation Decision Models

Decision Lens conducted a review of 14 transportation industry models from 12 organizations focusing on capital investment, transportation improvement and long range plans.  Included in the review was a mixture of transit agency models and those from state/local transportation organizations (DOTs and MPOs/RPOs).  Many models had similar concepts represented, but not always at the same level of the hierarchy or explicitly using the same words. For the analysis, we were able to take high-level concepts across the models and determine areas where common criteria are used, as well as how the criteria are defined.

Criteria are the driving factors used to define success for a specific decision.  Criteria represent either a broad goal or specific objective against which an alternative is evaluated.   Many transit agencies and DOTs focus their decision models around prioritizing assets. Below is a snapshot of the percentage of models using various criterion.

What are your thoughts on the criteria displayed? Do these criteria represent your understanding of how transportation clients prioritize assets?


Live from the West Coast – Transportation Summit

San Francisco, CaliforniaDecision Lens is hosting a Transportation Summit with leaders from Transit Agencies and Department of Transportation (DOT) organizations throughout the west coast. Check back throughout the day on Meetings Improved  as we post findings and discussions that occur live!


In working with many transportation customers (both transit agencies and DOTs) across the country, our Decision Solutions Group (DSG) has observed a number of trends and best practices in the industry and are sharing them today at a Transportation Summit held in San Francisco. Our west coast Decision Lens team is facilitating discussions with participants centered around learning more about specific challenges transit and DOTs are facing and discussing customized solutions to the most pressing issues.

The Summit plans to address questions like:

  • What complex decisions are others wrestling with, and how do they use Decision Lens?
  • Is there a standard language and set of criteria we can work toward as an industry?
  • What criteria and decision-making processes are commonly used?
  • What effective stakeholder strategies could we employ to be more effective?
  • How can we optimize our resources across time periods, multiple pools and account for inflation?

As we post discussion topics, it would be great to hear from you, feel free to offer comments.

Book Review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

One of my favorite books on the topic of change management is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (New York: Broadway Books, 2010).  The book focuses around the question of “why it’s so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our lives and how to overcome this challenge.”  As the Heaths point out, “Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems one rational and one emotional.  The rational mind wants to make a change, but the emotional system enjoys the existing routine.  This tension can doom a change effort – but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.” In Switch, the Heaths show how we can all confront this challenge of mind and emotion and actually make meaningful change in our lives at work or at home.

The book strikes a good balance between research, engaging applications, and practical solutions.  If you are looking for a better understanding of why change is so difficult and how to overcome common roadblocks, this book is great read.  Let me give one example that I found very helpful.  In Chapter 1: Three Surprises About Change, the authors explain that self-control is exhaustible.  The Heaths argue that the definition of self-control is not “the narrow sense of the word, as in the willpower needed to fight vice (smokes, cookies, alcohol)…but a broader kind of self-supervision.  Think of the way your mind works when you’re giving negative feedback to an employee, or assembling a new bookshelf, or learning a new dance.  You are careful and deliberate with your words and movements.  It feels like there’s a supervisor on duty.  That’s self-control, too” (page 11). The reason this matters for change is “when people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors takes self-control.  When people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure.  In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the same muscles needed to make a big change” (page 12).

Does this point resonate with you? It sure does with me.  As a facilitator, when I am leading a challenging session with participants who are trying to think in new ways about old ways of doing business, by the end of the day I am mentally whipped and the participants are tired too.  It’s not easy to battle your rational mind that knows you need to make a change, and your emotional self that resists learning a whole new way of doing something; it is exhausting.  I think owning and recognizing this reality can help make any change process more manageable because at the end of the day, you have a bit more patience with yourself and understanding for why this can be difficult.  This is just one of many good examples from the book that I found helpful, and overall Switch is a great read and I highly recommend it.

The Emerging Voice Against Meetings

It’s Monday morning… and I thought you might enjoy these rather cynical quotations on meetings, all compiled in a very interesting report sent to me by a client and good friend of mine.

“A meeting is a gathering where people speak up, say nothing, and then all disagree.”

“A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.”

“A Meeting is indispensable when you don’t want to get anything done.”

“A meeting is a place where you keep the minutes and throw away the hours.”

“Time and Money, money and time, with respect to meetings they intertwine. And, when all the costs are added up, it blows your mind.”

There’s a growing trend against meetings, and a general perception that their cost exceeds the value they bring. Some will tell you just to skip your next meeting.  Others say they should be cut out altogether.

I’m not so cynical as to believe there is no use for them at all.  Part of the problem is that we see our next meeting as an end in itself.  At best, we look at them like a chore – like doing the dishes or walking the dog or taking the kids to school.

I like to think of meetings as a tool, or a set of tools. Some meetings can be useful for sharing information.  Others are necessary for holding people accountable.  Still others, the most important, are critical for making decisions. When we focus on the objective of the meeting, and the benefit it will bring to us and those participating, suddenly the meeting begins to work for us rather than against us.  And when we begin to use meetings as a means for accomplishing our work and refuse to let them take a life of their own, they become a valuable mechanism for becoming more effective.

Emergency Landing – Leading through Crisis

“Ladies and Gentlemen, with the loss of our right engine we are still able to fly safely, please do not worry, but we will be making an emergency landing…immediately.”  These words were calmly uttered by the Captain of my flight a few weeks ago coming home from a business trip in Panama City, Florida. No matter how seasoned a traveler I thought I had become, hearing a tremendous BANG and feeling the plane roll slightly right and then left, are not things I want to experience anytime soon.  The nervous energy from me and my fellow passengers could be cut with a knife, yet the plane was eerily quiet until we touched down safely and the plane erupted in applause!

Although the experience was stressful, it offered me the opportunity to reflect on a number of areas in my life, including, how I respond to crises. My reactions in this case were deep breaths, and abiding faith that the Captain and First Officer were completely in control of the situation.  I also recalled a lecture in graduate school by Captain Al Haynes on crisis management.  In 1989, Captain Haynes was piloting United Flight 232, a full flight with over 300 passengers, when the engine exploded and shrapnel cut all hydraulic fuel lines used to control the aircraft. Although this was a catastrophic failure, Captain Haynes managed to remain calm at the helm, speak plainly and directly to the passengers about the magnitude of the problem, and crash-land the plane in Sioux City, Iowa. His efforts that day are credited with saving the lives of 185 passengers.  I will never forget Captain Haynes telling his story and teaching us how to lead through any crisis.

The interesting point is that the same principles can be applied in any situation where the unexpected occurs. As a facilitator, the response is not typically a matter of life or death, but it can feel that way. We have all been in the situation where something occurs that no one expected and you are called to lead through it. Captain Haynes is a remarkable man and I want to share some of the lessons I learned from him on responding to any crises.

1. Fly the plane – In the face of emergency, the first thing to do is to take control of the yoke.  Statistics over the years have accounted a number of tragedies that are the result of pilots focusing only on solving the emergency and losing perspective that even though an emergency has occurred, the plane needs to be flown. The problem is that if the focus is only on the emergency and someone has not taken over the yoke, the plane will spiral out of control and crash. When emergency strikes, remember to fly the plane.

As a facilitator, if something completely unexpected occurs while you are leading a session, remember that if you only focus on the problem you may lose sight of the larger perspective. For example, a participant launches into a tirade.  Focusing only on the words of the tirade and becoming personally offended will get you no where.  As the facilitator, participants are always expecting you to land them safely regardless of what happens.  Address the situation that presents itself but do not get so caught up in the problem that you lose perspective on your ultimate goals

2. Stay calm – When you listen to the flight recording of Captain Haynes and the control power that day, it is eerie how calm he sounds even though he is confronted with a scenario that was considered virtually impossible. At that time, airlines had no mitigation plan for dealing with the type of situation where all hydraulic fuel lines are unusable. Captain Haynes told us that he knew the situation was dire, but he refused to panic because this would only make the situation worse.  How often have we heard the advice to stay calm and do not panic when faced with an emergency?  It’s good advice – when one allows their nerves to control them in crises they may become disoriented, unclear in their thinking, and may even act out of fear instead of reason.

Apply the same principle as a facilitator to remain calm regardless of the situation. When we are calm, we are able to think more clearly and provide direction based on our knowledge, understanding, and skills. As a leader, displaying calm can also help to soothe and settle those who are anxious around you.

3. Be direct with people – Captain Haynes is heard on the cabin intercom telling the passengers, “I’m not going to kid you…We have a serious situation.”  Captain Haynes was direct and honest with the people on the airplane.  When the Captain is straightforward, people are able to respond accordingly. Knowing the impact of the plane hitting the ground was going to be rough, he told them to brace for a landing that would be harder than anything they’d ever experienced.  This allowed the people to prepare. Survivors also said that hearing the Captain’s calm voice allowed them to be reassured that he would do everything in his power to land the plane safely.

As a facilitator, be direct with people. In the example of the tirade by an angry participant, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.  There are a whole bunch of reasons why a participant may be acting out, but addressing the person or their concerns directly is a best practice; otherwise, the problem may only become worse.

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare –  Captain Haynes was prepared for addressing any emergency in flight. He practiced, trained, and studied the variety of scenarios that could occur in flight.  Although this situation was unique, Captain Haynes continually adjusted and responded to the changing conditions of the situation using all of the resources at his disposal. At one point, an airline flight instructor sitting in first class (Dennis Fitch) offered his assistance which Captain Haynes gladly accepted.

Preparation is a key ingredient for success.  If you think through, anticipate, and plan for the unexpected, you are better able to respond to any crises. Good preparation involves practicing your actions and responses, so when situations arise, you have already gone through the experience, even if only in your mind.

What are some methods you employ to deal with stressful situations?

Where’s the boss? Maybe on a meeting treadmill?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled Trapped in a Meeting: Logging How 500 CEOs Spend the DayThe article reported the outcomes from a study by the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School on how executives spend their time.  A central finding was that CEOs spend about 1/3 of their time in meetings.  Breaking down a 55-hour workweek, on average about 18 hours per week are consumed in meetings, 3 hours on calls, and 5 hours in business meals.

Of course, no one is surprised by the fact that a CEO is going to spend time in meetings with key staff, stakeholders, etc. However, the article has me thinking about the level of productivity that is achieved for each hour spent in meetings? Even though you may or may not be a CEO, how productive are you?  If you spend a great deal of time in meetings and you are achieving your goals, something is working well so that’s a step in the right direction. However, if you find yourself struggling each week to advance your agenda, you may be on what I call the meeting treadmill. This is where you are working very hard, sweating and spending a bunch of time running (from meeting to meeting) but you go nowhere and in the end you are right where you started. Sure, if things are going well for you, you may need to turn on the incline so you can burn even more calories.  But, if you are struggling, it may be time to get off the treadmill and talk with a trainer (or your administrative assistant) about making some changes in your workout. You may find yourself wanting to get off the treadmill all together, going outside for a run, and starting a new routine!

Are you on the unproductive meeting treadmill?  Or, have you been able to figure out a productive meeting routine? Please share your thoughts.

Keep the momentum – don’t fizzle out

Hard work pays off later, laziness pays off now.

Many times in life we decide to pursue a goal (personally or professionally) and jump right in with excitement looking toward the positive benefits we hope to achieve.  It’s often easy at the outset of a decision to see the end goal and the benefits without all the intervening work and struggle.  Frequently the means (often hard work and consistency) get in the way, and we struggle to maintain that initial momentum.  Let me offer an example.  As a first-time home buyer, and having a background in home construction, I thought it was a brilliant idea to buy a fixer-upper for my primary residence that I could easily renovate for some quick sweat equity.  I can imagine many of you thinking, “I know where this story is headed”.  Well call me naïve if you will or maybe just over-zealous.

After three years of spending many nights and weekends working, dealing with constant messes and dust, and a less-than-enthusiastic spouse, I have some observations that resonate with my professional experience.  The first month it was easy to be motivated thinking of that big payoff on closing day, but as time wore on the reward seemed much more distant than the headaches that were front and center, such as being without a kitchen for much of June.  It’s not that the goal or decision was bad — in fact, I did see great benefit in home value.  I just didn’t realize the full effort required, and needed to plow through.

There were a number of things that helped keep the ball rolling.  It was critical to have a real sense of purpose in the short and long term – immediate comfort now and later higher resale value.  What I also found time and again was that I needed a sense of urgency to finish the house…purpose alone wasn’t enough for me.  I was literally putting up the last light fixture the night it went on the market.  This is where setting interim, or even artificial, deadlines can be useful.  Finally, being able to track and see progress was big in keeping motivation. Detailed project plans, and subsequent “punch lists”, are popular and useful to the builder for a reason:  nothing is quite as motivating as seeing clear progress toward a goal.  At the end of the day, and to close out my home renovation epic, just this week we sold the place for significantly more than we bought it for, market adjustments included.  Turns out it was worth it.

Taking this into the professional realm, imagine we sit through a strategy off site and decide to take any number of actions in support of our organizational goals – assuming we have goals but that’s another topic.  Let’s say one action is to develop/implement a better process for tracking resources. It’s a good idea with potential to better meet client needs, track performance, and drive efficiency…but we need to understand and plan for the effort required and be prepared to pay the price.  It requires a lot more work, with short and long term actions.

Given these two scenarios, here are some basic principles I’ve found useful for keeping momentum:

  • Have a Purpose
    • Don’t undertake something that doesn’t have a clear and explainable benefit
    • Maintain a common sense of purpose – what’s in it for me?
  • Have a Plan
    • Create a plan with measurable tasks and milestones (think classic program management)
    • Celebrate success along the way – e.g., go to dinner when you finally finish painting that basement
    • Build in accountability for actions (owners and scheduled check ins)
  • Maintain Urgency
    • Set and meet deadline (see “Have a Plan”)
    • Keep an eye on the big picture – why did we start this in the first place?
    • Motivate through focus on achieving both short and long-term benefits
    • Model culture of energy and positivity – nothing kills momentum like negativity

These ideas are only the tip of the iceberg here.  What techniques have you seen that help individuals or teams keep the ball rolling?