Letters to the Editor/OpEds

Build Better, Smarter, Faster

City & State Magazine, October 16, 2017

Every primer on effective management cautions against corporate silos.

They lead to project miscues, unrealistic budgets, impair collegial communication, create “turf” battles, and ultimately delay the implementation of solutions.

So when the question is asked, how can we build New York City’s infrastructure smarter, cheaper and faster, we also need to ask the question, how do we break down the silos that keep various disciplines from collaborating on a shared project.

For example: When a capital project is planned, is MTA Operations asked to provide practical advice and guidance to MTA Engineering about what is needed before the project specifications are handed over to the construction industry for review and a proposal?  How can a project be “delayed and over budget” when the original specifications were nothing more than a target concept?  Have the inevitable change orders been reviewed by all parties to determine need, operational compliance, and its impact on project completion and budget?

Silos will ensure that the answer is no.

Thanks to the role of computers and the arrival of the Digital Age, managing a construction project has undergone a literal revolution, yet public infrastructure projects seem to remain captive of another era.  To begin the demolition of cost-inducing silos requires a reinvention of corporate culture which can only be dictated by top-down directives.

Corporate CEO’s have long understood this. Even before the Digital Age arrived, they knew they needed to work differently. They embraced shorter decision cycles, expanded employee engagement, and meaningful collaboration. There were strategies to destroy silos using what managers called “boundaryless organization,” which created and facilitated internal conferences, bringing people together across various functions and disciplines to make decisions that addressed the challenge of efficient project completion.

Ironically, our 21st Century email connected world that rides atop a cloud filled with social media apps hasn’t eliminated the need for traditional silo-busting strategy. It is clear that pursuing public infrastructure projects remains a complex and fragmented process resilient to reform and innovation. It can change, however, because the MTA now has an executive suite of smart, results driven professionals who recognize that silos are the biggest threat to creating and maintaining the mass transit system that daily powers New York City.

The construction industries who are ultimately handed the responsibility to build our mass transit infrastructure welcome new managerial innovations that would demolish the silos and strengthen what is arguably among the most important public functions in New York: getting us to work and home, safely and reliably. We are at an historic moment when capital projects efficiencies will not only achieve results on the tracks but will leave a legacy that will benefit straphangers for generations to come.

By Denise M. Richardson