A new system in use beginning this summer at the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Grimes garage is empowering employees to take charge of daily work projects to more efficiently complete the tasks at hand.
The Grimes location is one the Iowa DOT’s largest garages, currently staffed with 28 full-time employees and four temporary employees. As a large metropolitan shop, there are often two or three different crews going out each day to perform a variety of maintenance tasks., including edge rutting, bump milling, or setting sign posts.
Highway Maintenance Supervisor Jim Scott and Garage Operations Assistant Rob Thies are both strong believers in developing leaders among their team. There are three highway technicians and three equipment operator seniors who could be in charge of an operation on any given day. Scott said, “With all the things going on in our shop, Rob and I can’t be everywhere. We have great people on our team and we want to do everything we can to help them succeed and develop their skills.”
An “employee-in-charge” (EIC) process was put in place by Scott based on processes he learned in the military. Scott said, “We’re all human and we can all forget things from time to time. What we’re doing with our EIC program is to develop a set of standards that can be used every day so every operation goes more smoothly. We don’t use the system for small jobs, but it works very well for larger jobs where there needs to be quite a bit of coordination.”
Here’s how the program works. Scott and Thies determine a set of tasks to be accomplished and then assigns an employee to be in charge of each operation. Chris Grimm, equipment operator senior, is one of the employees who receives these assignments. He said, “The work is scheduled based on needs and the equipment we have available. Rob or Jim will let us know in advance what work needs to be done, then each of the EICs completes a worksheet for that task. This lets Rob know in advance if he needs to call for utility locates if we’re going to be digging or maybe need some special equipment that comes from another DOT location.”
Scott said, “Completing the worksheet ahead of time helps make sure nothing is overlooked while we’re planning the work. Then each morning, the EIC uses the worksheet along with a cheat sheet of things to go over with the crew before they leave the garage. In these ‘toolbox’ talks, they assign each member of the crew specific duties like gathering special equipment, traffic control devices, or personal protective gear so they have everything they need when they leave the shop for the job site.”
Grimm said, “The toolbox talks are good because everyone gets an idea of what we’ll be doing and what is expected of them. It gets everyone on the same page.”
Toolbox talks make sure all employees on a job are up to speed on the details.
Another responsibility of the EIC is to take digital photos of the operation in process and place those with the job worksheet in a folder on the W drive. Scott says, “We can use all this documentation and photos as training tools, and we have photos on file of every major operation that we work on.”
He continued, “In our monthly staff meetings, we are able to use the photos to see if they have proper traffic control set up and personal protective equipment being utilized. We’re able to see loose ends from the photos and, most importantly, use them for training and sharing information with the rest of the employees. The process is teaching us where our weak spots are so we can work on those.”
Taking digital images of operations to go over details at staff meetings helps refine the process at the Grimes garage.
While this process might not work for every garage, Scott is pleased with the results in Grimes. “Our crew understands that everything we do is to help us improve every day and nearly every one of them has volunteered to take on leadership responsibilities when we need them. Whether that’s being an EIC or filling the duties of safety compliance, they are willing to step up and we’re very blessed with the people we have in our shop.”