APWA Accreditation is a journey of continuous improvement

Robert R. Gordon, P.E.
Director of Public Works
Hillsborough County, Florida
Member, APWA Accreditation Council

December 15, 1997 was a historic day for APWA's accreditation program. On that day the City of Greeley, CO and the Village of Schaumburg, IL became the first two accredited agencies in North America. In the past ten years, an additional 43 agencies, making a current total of 45, have joined the ranks, with 43 in the United States and two in Canadian provinces.

Throughout 2007, accredited agencies, their staff members, evaluators, and elected officials will be sharing their experiences with the program. The eleventh article in the series is presented below. For more information about the program, contact Ann Daniels at adaniels@apwa.net or (816) 595-5223, or visit the website at www.apwa.net/About/Accreditation/.

I once read that when Martina Navratilova won her second Wimbledon title a reporter asked her which win was harder, the first or the second. Without hesitation she said the second was far more difficult because the first time she was trying to win whereas the second time she was trying not to lose the outstanding accolades she had received when she won the first title. This is how we feel about our fast-approaching Reaccreditation!

Hillsborough County was awarded Accredited Agency status in June 2006. You may be calculating...you have about three years to go! Yes! We have only three years to work on improving upon the procedures and processes established in compliance with APWA recommended guidelines. Our Accreditation Monitoring Plan calls for auditing approximately 100 practices per year for the next three years. In addition, we have set a goal of having our next Accreditation Evaluation Team identify at least ten Model Practices. It is all about continuous improvement. If I had to pick one aspect out of the accreditation experience of which I am most proud it is that our APWA evaluators recognized eight Model Practices for the Hillsborough County Public Works Department. Some were developed recently, others had been around for decades, but the APWA Accreditation program was the catalyst of our process improvements.

One of the Model Practices is our Project Delivery Team Manual. The Manual was developed and adopted many years before the Accreditation project began. During the self-assessment phase of the program we were compelled to focus on reviewing and revising every document that guides the functions and services provided by each of the over 650 employees in our department. The Project Delivery Team Manual was fine-tuned and I have to say that the final version is extraordinary and so it was very rewarding to have a group of our peers recognize the work we put into improving our processes.

It is hard to overemphasize the need for continuous improvement. While each agency may have different strategies on accreditation, at Hillsborough our focus on accreditation goes beyond just maintaining the coveted status. To be competitive in the marketplace and meet increasing demands for services we have to stretch far beyond merely maintaining the status quo. We are intent on a journey of continuous improvement and Hillsborough County has chosen to explore the depth and breadth of excellence in the delivery of services by using the standards set by APWA. For example, when we began the preparation phase of the FY08-09 budget cycle we decided that the identification of our department core services and the related performance measurements would be aligned with the accreditation core services as identified by chapters in the APWA Public Works Management Practices Manual. So if one views the Public Works Department Mission Page on the proposed budget one will see key objectives relating to APWA management practices and efficiency, effectiveness, and outcome measurements related to the said key objectives. The Hillsborough Budget Instructions require that we include a minimum of one group of measurements per key objective, but the department has a goal of tracking six to eight indicators per core function as identified in each chapter for which the department is directly accountable to APWA. To illustrate, if you refer to pages 40 to 44 of the 5th Edition of the APWA Manual, engineering design will track six to eight measurements based on any of the 19 practices. The six to eight measurements are selected by each section and it is understood that they reflect tools that will assist the section manager in administrating his or her area of responsibility. This way we are maximizing the organizational structure provided by APWA.

Our continuous improvement philosophy is based on the Shewart Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). For this reason, our Reaccreditation and Monitoring Plan calls for the review, and if necessary the revision, of all practices. I recall that at Congress we attended the Accreditation Forum. Ann Daniels explained that at reaccreditation the evaluators review any practices that had been found in substantial compliance at accreditation; any new practices (Hillsborough was accredited under the 4th Edition and we will probably be reaccredited under the 5th Edition so that means we will add the chapter on vector control), plus 30% of all practices at random. Our Reaccreditation Plan calls for the review of all 285 practices and during first quarter of fiscal year 2010 we will perform a peer review/mock evaluation of 30% of our practices.

We are fortunate that Florida has very good representation in the Accreditation Program. The Cities of Gainesville, Largo, Sarasota and Palm Bay and Escambia County have formally applied. The City of Miami Beach was just awarded accredited status and so they join the City of Port St. Lucie and Hillsborough County as Accredited Agencies. Other cities and counties have opted to engage in self-assessment using the Manual prior to formal application. The APWA Florida Chapter has a great Accreditation Committee chaired by my Accreditation Manager, Ms. Mariana Llanso. The committee has developed a network of communication and knowledge-sharing that highlights the camaraderie that characterizes our industry. We all benefit when we learn from each other.

Public works directors are a key factor in raising the standards of excellence in our profession when we actively support our fellow public works departments in their self-assessments and accreditation processes. We are doing something far greater than the act of assistance because the APWA Accreditation is more than an award and a distinction. It is about making the public works industry better; it is about professionalizing our staff, and it is about demonstrating our pride in what we do every day to enhance the quality of life for the communities we serve.

Robert R. Gordon can be reached at (813) 307-1703 or gordonr@hillsboroughcounty.org.