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Making a Successful Transition to Zone Maintenance
Joe Payne, Public Works Operations Manager, Grounds Department, City of Springfield, Mo.
Public Works Operations Manager
City of Springfield, Mo.
What specific events led you to consider changing to a zone-maintenance strategy for your department?
The concept of moving to zones has long, at least over the past two decades, been discussed as possibility for the entire Public Works Department. As for our section, Public Grounds, we decided it made sense for our group to make the move now, partly due to significant increases in service area but also because it divided the city into four more manageable areas. We anticipate improvements in quality control and in our ability to react more quickly to changes within each quadrant.
What maintenance challenges did you hope the zone-maintenance strategy would address?
A great number of recognized advantages existed with our previous specialist approach, where workgroups were divided into two major service type, Arboriculture/Horticulture and Right-of-Way Clearance (e.g. roadside mowing, waterways, street cleaning). We are maintaining our specialist heritage, however, by requiring each of the four team leader positions to have expertise in at least one of our major areas of service. The team leaders are in turn relied upon as well in providing guidance in their respective focus at individual sites citywide, and in providing skills training for the same to related personnel.
What challenges did your department run into making the transition, and how did you resolve each of them?
The predominant problem is that the transition is tied to the department's five-year reorganization plan, which means that funding and changes in existing positions (no new positions) will happen over that same extended time period. Subsequently, we have to make do while these positions are realized. An illustration of this is where a given position's subordinates are hired in advance of the supervisor, all while providing related services.
What impact did the changeover have on staffing levels or contract services?
We foresee an eventual shift from the current number of entry-level positions to inspection-type positions. Essentially, we'll likely be moving from overseeing the amount of work performed by our own crews to those of contractors. That said, it probably will remain in the city's best interest to maintain a certain level of skilled staff as emergency first responders. Another consideration is that certain services provided present significant challenges in effectively measuring the work involved, such as tree pruning. Such services might be slower to transition from in-house to contracted, if at all.
How long will the transition to zone maintenance take?
Complete quadrant implementation will take the full five years mentioned earlier. Final implementation (a relative term) of all anticipated contracted services will take even longer due to time needed to identify prospective funding sources.
Do you anticipate the change to zone maintenance will have the affect you wanted?
We'll need to defer answering this until this time next year as we only officially started the process in July.
What lessons did your department learn from making the change to zone maintenance?
It would have obviously been able to implement from a top-down approach by filling lead positions first and then have those people be directly involved with ground-floor decisions — operational, workflows, etc. — especially with the hiring of their subordinates. In having to match available funding levels respective to each year of the department's overall reorganization plan, we had to conform accordingly. While it might well take the entire five years and even beyond to fully appreciate, we do anticipate seeing recognizable benefits within this first year.