UDOT Snow Plow

MISTAKE PROOFING MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR UDOT’S SNOWPLOWS

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By: Utah Department of Transportation

The Utah Department of Transportation had a problem with its snow plows: budget cuts and declining equipment quality. The department first thought more money was the only solution. After working with the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), this mindset changed leading to exciting results. 

“Our budget had been cut – by a lot,” said Jeff Casper, who is currently the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT’s) equipment operations manager. “It didn’t take long to see what an impact that was having on our big trucks. Without the money for maintenance, the quality of our equipment was declining.”

That was a huge concern to people like Troy Starley, equipment operations specialist for UDOT. 

“When the snow is on the road we need to have the trucks out there plowing,” Starley said. “But we were getting to a point where 25 to 30% of our trucks were down with various equipment problems at any given time. It was becoming a real issue for us.”

In 2017 representatives of GOMB started working with UDOT operations, introducing them to the SUCCESS Framework, which looks at processes and workflows and asks, “How can we do this better and more efficiently?”

“They asked us, what would success look like? What is an ambitious target?” Casper said. “We decided that having 90% of our trucks out there functioning properly at any given time would be a good goal and one that we could achieve.”

In order to achieve that goal, the team had to change some things.

“We brought in people from all of the UDOT regions and we brainstormed on common problems we were having with our trucks,” Casper said. “It was a huge collaboration effort, eventually involving every shop in the state. We collaborated to see what we could do to improve our process and get more trucks on the road.”

It was a challenge because Utah’s geography and levels of population density are so diverse. The shops were seeing different issues at different times. The problems faced by those in southern Utah were different from those faced on the Wasatch Front, which were different from the issues in the Uintah Basin. Working through the disparity took time. 

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Casper said. “But eventually we came to a consensual agreement on how to reach our goal.”

As a result, UDOT implemented a number of changes in the mechanical and maintenance processes as a way of mistake proofing operations:

  • Simplified and standardized UDOT trucks so drivers are familiar with the operating system even if they’ve never driven that truck before
  • Identified common mechanical failures on UDOT trucks, changing things that could be changed and making sure parts that commonly fail are stocked
  • Initiated a Condition Assessment Program (CAP) through which all 550 UDOT snow plows are thoroughly inspected every summer in hopes that needed repairs can be made before winter
  • Increased mechanical training focused on the kinds of trucks UDOT owns and operates, not just general mechanical training

“We’ve really seen a difference since this mistake proofing program was implemented,” Casper said. “We’re getting better, our up-time is better, our mechanics feel they are better trained. The general trend is going up. We’re not at 90% yet, but we’re up above 80%. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re making progress.”

The best part of the SUCCESS effort, he said, is the way it seems to be impacting employees. “I’m seeing more teamwork, more regions helping each other, more collaboration than I’ve ever seen before,” Casper said. “And the public is safer. We don’t have roads all snowed over because we didn’t have enough trucks out there.”