California’s unprecedented transportation projects require innovative quality management

We live in an exciting time for urban and metropolitan areas worldwide. In California, we’re already preparing for a multitude of landmark projects, improved mobility for citizens, and an improved and safer environment. From the 2028 LA Olympics to the forthcoming second BART transbay crossing, new public transit and highway projects are taking shape throughout the state’s transit networks that promise to transform our mobility. These efforts will ultimately support the delivery of a resilient transportation capability across multiple modes that will keep California moving with safe, reliable and world-class transportation infrastructure.

These projects are ambitious—working with multiple stakeholders, supporting population growth, and effectively moving the 39.5 million people who live, work and play within California is no easy task. What’s more, new delivery methods introduce unique needs and learning curves for large-scale projects and programs. With unique and complex challenges, owner agencies undertaking these large-scale efforts will need to turn to new and creative solutions.

These evolving needs and approaches call for a similarly agile approach to quality and quality management oversight, one that supports overarching goals of safety, sustainability, quality, and on-time, on-budget project and program delivery. As we move towards these exciting, large-scale efforts, those of us in the infrastructure industry must recognize and lead the development of quality management programs that can best meet these challenges.

Creating value through quality for complex, large-scale programs and services

The quality of products and services offered by an organization is a key indicator of its capability to create value. Data published by the CMMI Institute (Figure 1) aligns with our own experience that organizational capability to deliver successful projects and programs encompasses much more than simple quality control or reactive, after-the-fact end product verification.

Figure 1: Statistics on organizational capability, published by CMMI Institute based on data from 10,000+ organizations across 106 countries

For this reason, quality is key to success particularly for large-scale, complex programs such as those California is preparing to undertake. This approach to quality must accomplish several things for owner agencies:Create and support learning organizations and continuous improvement

  • Create and support learning organizations and continuous improvement
  • Create a repository for knowledge as a counter to resource constraints or turnover of personnel reaching retirement
  • Embed and institutionalize continuous improvement and proportionate, principles-based approaches that provide consistent and growing capability for assured project delivery
  • Provide progressive confidence to the owner, the public, and stakeholders that all quality requirements are met so that projects can be accepted, integrated and brought into operation

Quality management for large-scale projects presents unique challenges and demands unique solutions

Throughout work in quality management on programs both large and small, our own experience has aligned with industry knowledge to identify a number of challenges that are particularly prevalent for quality management oversight on complex, large-scale programs.

Challenge #1 – Delivery on time, within budget and to quality standards

Delivery of multiple, large, and complex projects on time and within budget is a common challenge for similar programs. This challenge is further compounded by several unique factors including the sheer dimension and diverse nature of these projects, multiple procurement and delivery methods (from conventional to public-private partnerships), a diverse range of transport modes (rail, bus, paratransit, highways, facilities, operational systems, and technology), and horizontal and vertical infrastructure needs, to name a few.

Solution #1: A risk-based, proportionate approach for program delivery

Building the right culture, establishing the right tools, actively managing program-wide alignment and integration, and making risk-based decisions are critical to achieving on-time and on-budget delivery in a diverse and complex environment. These fundamentals contribute to a robust quality management program and a management organization composed of efficient procedures and systems, which is integrated with the overall program management. Furthermore, developing a proportionate and principles-based approach that not only addresses generic risks for the program at large, but that can be tailored to address the unique risks of each procurement and contracting method, can ensure that the quality management solutions developed best serve the program and its unique needs.

Challenge #2 – Managing multiple stakeholder requirements

In addition to multiple stakeholders for each project within the portfolio (the owner, consultants, contractors, and third party stakeholders), capital projects frequently involve external stakeholders such as state agencies and transit/transportation agencies of adjacent regions. These programs and projects are also impacted by, or have an impact on, other large and complex capital programs in the same geographical area.

Solution #2 – A QMO that addresses stakeholder requirements (from the outset), facilitates collaboration, ensures compliance and drives efficiency

These differing criteria require a thorough understanding of stakeholders’ needs and a collaborative approach to developing solutions, for an inclusive and mindful quality management oversight program. An effective approach involves all key players from the project, design, construction, operations, and maintenance phases, and involves stakeholders throughout each phase of each project. Processes and procedures that facilitate timely and frequent collaboration between internal and external stakeholders are also key in identifying project issues and their corresponding resolutions, as early on in the project delivery lifecycle as possible.

Challenge #3 – Considering quality beyond commissioning

The definition of quality in the context of capital projects should encompass not only project performance during system commissioning (scope, schedule, cost, risk), but also include quality attributes in the context of operations and maintenance, such as safety, security, reliability and fault tolerance. Neglecting to consider quality in these phases can lead to poor execution and lack of quality throughout a structure’s lifecycle.

Solution #3 – A robust program that plans for and addresses quality throughout project lifecycle

A comprehensive quality program should facilitate assurance of quality elements during project delivery, minimizing risk of failure during system operations. Expertise in systems engineering, safety, and operations ensures that quality continues throughout a structure’s lifecycle.

Flexible, innovative approaches to quality that utilize cross-sectoral knowledge and industry best practices are powerful tools in realizing a bright future for California infrastructure

In order to meet these goals and rise to the challenges, quality management approaches can gain tremendous value by infusing international and cross-sectoral perspectives and best practices into an effective and efficient quality management oversight approach. By learning from similar programs across industries and countries, California can learn from and build upon analogous past challenges. In addition, incorporating the perspectives of owners, international infrastructure delivery assurance expertise, and lessons learned from QA in alternative delivery can bring more diverse expertise to bear.

While best practices and lessons learned from similar efforts across the globe are key, many of the projects that California will soon undertake are unprecedented, and their approaches to quality management oversight must be similarly agile. Flexibility, innovation, and understanding of the unique factors and variability in these projects are critical to this work. Paired with industry learning and thorough knowledge of requirements affecting these projects, this means a quality oversight program that is dynamic and proportionate, and constantly evolves in response to best practices, lessons learned and organizational changes. Equipped with a regime and tools that are ISO 9001:2015-compliant and risk mitigating, robust and innovative approaches to quality management have the potential to streamline the delivery and acceptance of projects without sacrificing quality. These approaches are powerful tools, and offer us a bright future for the state’s infrastructure. If we take the opportunities, we can work towards and realize a vision of sustainable quality mobility across California.