October 12, 2010 10:51 AM
I don't think it's necessary to add more personnel in the City Streets Division, as some have suggested, and here's why.
We shouldn't make staffing decisions like this on a staff per miles of street basis. It's beside the point that there are so many Streets employees per mile of street or per resident. What really matters is results.
That's why years ago I started using a management tool we call Madison Measures. The idea is to stop getting hung up on inputs like numbers of employees in a given department and to start focusing on the outcomes our customers really care about. You can read this year's version of the Measures here: http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/projects/MadisonMeasures.cfm.
So what are the results for the work of the Streets Division? Well, they are pretty darn good. Complaints about potholes were down 38% this year. We picked up more brush than in past years (12,454 tons this year). It actually takes us less time to clear the streets after a snowstorm than it used to. Historically, the city's standard for clearing streets was 10 to12 hours. Excluding the historic December 2009 storm, the city's average for clearing streets is now 8.8 hours.
We can do all that with slightly fewer personnel than we had eight years ago because technology helps us work smarter. For example, the old manual recycling and trash collection system allowed an operator to collect from about 450 households a day. The automated system we installed during my first term can collect over 700 households a day. And we've added GPS to all our trucks to manage their movements better.
The only argument for adding more personnel now is that we might not have enough full time employees for extraordinary events like historic snow storms. But it just doesn't make any fiscal sense to staff up beyond the need for the average set of events. If you staff for the anomalous event, you'll be paying way too much 99% of the time. It is better to add temporary resources for those events than permanently staff up for an event that may come around only every few years.
And, we continue to find ways to work smarter. This year, we'll use pavement sensors to allow us to more accurately calibrate use of strategies to fight winter storms. We've also installed spray devices on four trucks to put down brine on major thoroughfares just before a storm hits so that melting snow does not adhere to the pavement. Both are relatively small investments that can leverage larger improvements.
We have significantly increased numbers of police and firefighters, but that's because technological improvements aren't as relevant in those fields. Technology can't change the time it takes to respond to a fire or to get to a heart attack victim, so we have to site new fire stations in a growing city.
Good management is not about treating every department equally; it's about working smarter, putting limited resources where they're most needed, responding intelligently to changing conditions and measuring what matters.