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Take the Time to Make it Brief: Tips from Buffalo Grove, IL

As recipients of the Management Innovation Award from APWA Lake Branch, I recently created a 5-minute presentation to celebrate five years of hard work integrating technology into public works processes. How do you convey all the planning, implementation, and decision-making into a five-minute presentation? Our project mantra was a good place to start: "Don't enter data more than once."

e all have processes that require moving data, compiling data, and entering data into this spreadsheet. But it’s 2019, and technology allows data to be entered once and integrated into other software, reports, or data sets.

Buffalo Grove Public Works integrated GIS with an asset management and work order system and then with a citizen engagement platform. We used to track time in one spreadsheet, work in another, reenter that data into a monthly report, and track costs over here. We didn’t have the resources to be in the data manipulation business.

We also didn’t know where we wanted to go originally. We did know, “Don’t enter data twice.” We could compare process decisions to that mantra:

  • Does it make sense to buy this software? It integrates so we don’t have to enter data twice. GOOD.
  • Should we continue to track overtime on paper sheets just in case? That would be duplicate data entry, paper and digital. BAD.
  • Should we adjust this process to eliminate a step and eliminate paper? That removes a secondary, unnecessary data entry point. GOOD.

Providing clear direction to our team was pivotal. Especially when you don’t have to account for every scenario through its own rule. The CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, changed the dress code at GM from a ten-page document to a single mantra: dress appropriately.

Would this be enough guidance in your organization? We write policies that cover every scenario we can think of, but we are never going to cover everything. The key is how we address the missing guidance.

I’d argue that as strong leaders, with a mantra serving as a compass, we can make the appropriate decisions with a policy that uses few words.

As executives, how do we cut straight to the point like this? It takes time. The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal made a statement in a letter in the year 1657: "I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."

How profound! Think about this as you write your next email. Are you rambling? Can you pause, consolidate thoughts, and sharpen your message?

I don’t want anyone to confuse the timeline of our mantra, “Don’t enter data twice.” While it was on the tip of the tongue to start our process, it needed to grow organically. We started with long form discussions.

We evaluated lots of scenarios. The more we honed our decision making, the more the mantra sharpened. In Mary Barra’s case, she had worked at GM for 35+ years when she implemented the dress code mantra. Her experience led to a moment of clarity, and we need awareness of our own moments of clarity.

At some point we could start saying “Don’t Enter Data Twice” as recognition that we knew the answer to a question.

The key takeaway in our awards presentation was the mantra. Other cities will have their own software, technology, and data sets to worry about. The important piece isn’t what specific products we’re using. The useful bit of our process is, “Don’t Enter Data Twice.” I could present on that in five minutes.

We’ve been having a discussion on timelines and goals for anti-icing our streets. There are a lot of variables with the weather, equipment availability, and 24-hour shifts with overtime or regular time only. I challenged our team to avoid sending out a treatise on how to make that decision. We’re down to:

“A 24 hour anti-icing roll-out is available when the timeline is tight. However, the most cost-effective schedule should be implemented when the timeline allows.”

I wonder if we can cut that in half…with a little more time.


Psst! This post first appeared on Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) blog. Head on over there to give them some love and to check out more of their timely, relevant, and real content. Want to know more about the author, Village of Buffalo Grove Deputy Director of Public Works Mike Skibbe? Connect with him now.

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