Three years ago, performance-measurement efforts in Palm Bay, Fla., were driving deputy city manager Susan Hann—a former public works director—crazy. But since introducing the concept of "performance deficits" a year ago, she and other managers focus on resolving issues rather than measuring them, and Hann is much happier.

"It got to the point where we were spending more time and money chasing water leaks than the water actually cost," she says. "If you sense you're wasting time, you're probably right."

Performance deficits force public works departments to prioritize their performance-measurement efforts. If your council cut you loose—i.e., jumped on the performance-management wagon without providing direction—avoid wasting time and energy by focusing on projects that improve quality of life in the community.

One of Palm Bay's goals, for example, was to reduce the risk of flooding and storm damage. To do so, managers needed to develop a list of drainage projects that are designed and permitted. Strategies for getting there quickly emerged:

  • Develop criteria for prioritizing the projects based on input from the public, officials, and staff,
  • Prioritize the list based on these criteria,
  • Get public and council approval for those projects,
  • Allocate resources to design the projects for permitting,
  • Publish the prioritized project list,
  • Develop cost estimates for the projects so they can be included in budget cycles,
  • Decide whether construction would be more cost-effective if done by staff or contracted out, and
  • Identify possible grant sources.

The team knew they were done with their work because they met a goal: A prioritized, multiyear drainage capital improvement plan was developed and implemented.

Hann estimates the city spends $250,000 a year on improving its performance. "It's not in the budget; it's just part of our culture," she says. "And the results are worth it: we're no longer as 'silo-ized' as we were."

Session: "Is Performance Measurement Stifling Your Performance?"

Susan Hann, PE, AICP, ICMA-CM
Deputy city manager
Palm Bay, Fla.
Mon., Sept. 10, 2007
2-2:50 p.m.

This article is part of PUBLIC WORKS magazine's live coverage from the 2007 APWA Show. Click here to read more articles from the show.