Masters Degree: M.S. Management & Leadership


Video Transcript

—–

Hi, I’m Zoe DeVito. Today I am sharing some of my experiences from WGU’s Masters in Management and Leadership program. The focus of my capstone project was managing change during innovation.

—–

Before expanding on the capstone project, I will discuss a few core competencies that I developed during the program: Real-world data-driven decisions, information systems, change leadership, effective communication, and the practice of management.

—–

During the Data-Driven Decision Making course, one project that I completed was a gathering, cleaning, and analysis of quantitative time data of driver shifts for the transportation nonprofit where I work, Via Mobility Services (Via). While Via is a nonprofit, it is also a social enterprise, meaning that it enters into income-generating contracts and applies the net revenues to support its mission services tax-free. One such arrangement is with the local mass transportation system, where Via operates some of its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandated transportation services. 

Earlier this year, the historically profitably contract changed with the restructuring of the deployment of drivers on the road. (Deployment describes the movement of drivers throughout the day.) Previously, deployments filled the day with back-to-back trips, but now have significant service gaps (deadhead time) during the day. Primarily, Via suspected that drivers were experiencing increased deadhead time (time spent without a passenger in the vehicle). But, per the contract, Via is only paid when a passenger is in the vehicle. Such a scenario may cause Via to lose money.

After consulting with Via’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), I decided to answer the question, “Is there a difference between “deadhead times” of drivers operating under the contract in Quarter 2 of 2018 and Quarter 2 of 2019?” After collecting and cleaning a combination of electronic driver shift data and data kept in paper records, I completed a two-sample T-test of the Mean Deadhead Times in hours. We found the opposite of what we were expecting – that there was not a significant difference between Mean Deadhead Times, and we experienced a little less deadhead time, compared with the previous year. The results caused me and the leadership team to work on the analysis of other data to identify the discrepancy.

—–

In addition to using organizational information systems for Real-World Data-Driven Decisions, I also used others to identify trends and opportunities. For example, when developing a SWOT analysis for the Change Management course, I used web search engines (like Google) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to inform Opportunities and Threats. 

Via, the nonprofit at the focus of my coursework, provides accessible transportation services for about 3,000 clients every year. However, Google searches about local aging trends, demonstrates that Via is only meeting a fraction of the demand for service, which is closer to 30,000 clients. Google connects me to data published by the counties and cities in Via’s service area. This number will continue to rise dramatically as the Baby Boomer population ages, and more individuals stop driving a personal vehicle. This data conveys the idea that one of Via’s weaknesses is an inability to scale to meet the rising demand with the current operations.

Another example of an Information System used to create a SWOT analysis is an unpublished heat map of commuter travel patterns to and from Boulder, where Via is headquartered. More than 60,000 individuals commute to Boulder from surrounding areas, but there are no reliable intercity public transportation connections. Furthermore, the large number of commuters overburdens the local roadways, which were not designed for this quantity of traffic. The Boulder Chamber of Commerce also feels the pain and publicly seeks commuter transit solutions. An opportunity for Via is to expand services to include commuters, and possibly make money from commuter services contracts with the local governments.

—–

As discussed, there is a need for Via to scale to meet the rising demand for accessible transportation services in Boulder. Not only that, but the cost to provide trips is also rising. One way that Via might scale while reducing costs is by switching to automation software. Where Via’s current trip management software (which is industry-standard) requires manual intervention to work, a newer technology company recently developed trip management software that uses automation and artificial intelligence to eliminate manual intervention. Pilots of the software demonstrate radically enhanced operational efficiency, scaling to serve more riders at a lower cost.

Via is also interested in launching a pilot with the new software. The change requires radical innovation, both in the technology that Via uses and its processes. My focus for this assignment was developing communications plans for the various stakeholders involved – our current clients, prospects, Board of Directors, employees, and others like local hospitals and grocery stores. For example, Via’s existing clients, who are primarily older adults or people with disabilities, require extensive communication to prepare for changes from how they used to manage rides to adapt to the new system and its differences, like booking rides using a smartphone. Not only will email, print, and phone communications be necessary, but the clients will also need in-person training to learn about and feel confident with using the new system. Without and understanding or confidence surrounding the new way of managing trips, Via’s newfound efficiency is undermined by clients who are fearful or confused about using modern technology.

—–

In addition to creating a communications plan for clients, I also created one for employees. To prepare for the change, Via will need to train its employees – nearly 200 of which are drivers, dispatchers, or call center staff – to use the new software system. First, employees will receive verbal communication about the pilot during regular staff meetings (there are seven every month) and have their questions answered. The questions and answers will populate a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, a copy of which will be kept in employee break rooms as well as published online in the employee portal. The FAQ will be updated through the course of training. Also, a feedback system that rewards employee’s input (even if critical) is put in place to help identify and overcome issues that arise with changes from the pilot.

—–

One of Via’s strategies is to adopt automation technology. It’s good practice to run a proposed strategy through three tests before committing to it. If an approach fails one or more tests, it should be reviewed or rejected. This can prevent wasting time on initiatives that are likely to fail. For another assignment, I ran Via’s strategies through the fit test, competitive advantage test, and performance test.

Strategies that pass the fit test align with both the external environment (market conditions) and the internal environment (organizational resources and capacity). Strategies that are dynamic, or adapt to changes in the environments, are especially useful, considering how things naturally change over time. Via’s strategy to adopt automation technology passes the fit test because it may scale to meet the demand in the local environment and has the capacity to perform using its fleet and specialized staff. 

The competitive advantage test identifies organizations that have more power in the market relative to its competitors. Via has no nonprofit competitors in Boulder, but does compete with private agencies. However, the private agencies have limited or no accessible vehicles and charge significantly higher fares than Via. Via’s strategy passes the competitive advantage test by default. Via’s adoption of automation technology will set it even farther apart from the competition, and the organization will become one of less than ten companies in the nation that are early adopters. 

Passing the performance test means that the organization has a higher level of market share and financial strength relative to its competitors. Despite being a strong competitor, Via operates its service at a planned deficit, and the rising operational costs undermine its financial strength. However, if Via successfully reduces costs and increases ridership using automation technology, then the strategy passes all three tests.

—–

For my capstone project, I consulted with Via Mobility Services on their business problem of not achieving a 2.5% or lower monthly denial rate for its specialized transportation service, otherwise known as paratransit. The problem adversely affects the nonprofit’s accessible transportation services for older adults and people with disabilities in the community, who are not able to secure all of the rides that they need. The solution, in short, is to manage change towards new operational processes expressed in a pilot project.

—–

Via’s goal is to achieve a monthly service denial rate of 2.5% or less, but their actual denial rate is higher. Why? Plentiful data sources were available to analyze and discover the root cause of the issue. Some sources are internal to the organization, like reports generated from the trip management software and responses from client surveys. Other sources are external, including needs assessments from similar agencies and government reports (population and travel trends). Data analysis for this project conveys the idea that the aging population is growing rapidly, contributing to a historically large population of older adults who do not drive a personal vehicle. Via is operating at capacity and is not currently scaling to meet the increased demand for accessible transportation services, adversely affecting its monthly denial rate.

—–

Part of the root-cause analysis performed for Via includes the creation of flowcharts describing the Information Systems surrounding Via’s current trip management processes. There are two flow charts, the one pictured on this slide that describes processes one to seven days in advance of service, and another that describes processes the day-of service. The flowcharts demonstrate that the system requires significant, time-consuming manual intervention and contributes to the monthly denial rate problem.

—–

I recommend the adoption of automation technology, which dramatically changes the operational flowchart, reducing manual processes requirements, and eliminating the need for different processes before and during service. The new technology is not industry-standard, but a radical innovation of technology and business operations that may positively affect organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

—–

Leveraging the communications plans that I created during the Change Management course, I further developed them during the capstone. First, I created a justification for putting in the work to developing a change plan, which was effective for receiving buy-in from interdepartmental leaders. Next, I zoomed in on the development of a communications guide involving profiles of all stakeholders and included tailored messages. Then I established an implementation timeline for the communications plan. All the while, I communicated with the different department leaders to gather their input to develop a holistic plan.

—–

I applied the practice of management in solving Via’s business leadership challenge in different ways, like applying trends. As a nonprofit, Via is highly concerned with meeting the needs and expectations of its clients. Last year, Via implemented town hall-style events where the public could meet with Via’s CEO and ask questions. We were successful in gathering useful feedback and building relations with the community. After, I facilitated the best practice of developing a Riders’ Advisory Committee, where a group of clients meets regularly to offer direct feedback and guide the development of new business products. Through conversations with committee members, we discovered their wants, including on-demand service instead of needing to schedule trips days in advance. Relations with a local government, university, and a national laboratory connect Via with trends about transportation and automation. Some of these trends informed decisions during the capstone project.

—–

One obstacle that I encountered in completing the assignment was changing pilot plans. While the pilot team gained traction, the launch date was postponed several times, creating confusion and lowering the pilot team’s morale. This obstacle also undermined efforts to receive buy-in from leaders, which in itself creates a roadblock in the pilot’s direction. Some department leaders are skeptical that the pilot will solve Via’s problem, and others fear to contribute resources toward seemingly ambiguous outcomes.

—–

The primary strategy that I used to overcome the obstacles was enhancing communication and interdepartmental interactions. I facilitated a meeting, including all of the department leaders to brainstorm and create a unified message, facilitating the finding of common ground. I explicitly acknowledged their significance and highlighted the fact that our pilot team cannot succeed without their unique perspectives. Through the conversation, we uncovered each department leader’s pain points and addressed them in the pilot plans. The meeting set the stage for continuing collaboration.

—–

A few strengths that I displayed while providing change management consultation services were communicating, empathetic listening, and restoring.

—–

One way that I identify and develop my strengths are through the use of assessments. Plum.io is a predictive hiring tool that measures an applicant’s skills. My top talent is “Chief Communicator,” meaning that I speak clearly and positively. While I listen well, I also am exceptional at saying the “right thing.” 

I use Gallup’s CliftonStrengths tool to identify and develop my strengths. My top strength, per this assessment, is “Restorative,” or the talent of identifying and resolving problems. Another high strength is empathy, the ability to sense other people’s feelings, and anticipate their needs.

—–

Beyond using assessments, I am mindful of how I use my strengths at work. At Via, I used my communicating strengths to enhance collaboration and navigate through change as a team. By discussing the challenge at hand and defining our mutual goals, what mattered most was incorporated into official change management plans. In the future, I can use my communicating skills to build, maintain, and facilitate positive working relationships with a broad range of peers.

—–

Empathetic listening is useful for planning and communicating and directly relates to my communicating skills. Using my natural servant leadership style, I listen, validate, and incorporate what other people want and need into the plan. This is useful for human resources work, where listening to fears and advocating for front-line employees is critical for success in industries like transportation. I heard the concerns of drivers, included their input in the development of a communications plan, and facilitated useful communications meetings during my capstone project. The result was more confident, productive employees.

—–

Restoration involves identifying problems and where they fit in the big picture (the organizational system). I use my restoring and communicating strengths to make recommendations to improve the system, instead of slapping on band-aids or shifting the burden. An example of using my restoring strengths in action is developing flow charts of current processes and recommending changes that enhance organizational efficiency. As a person who emphasizes restoration, I regularly seek out better ways of functioning as a person and professional. I’ll continue gathering and acting on feedback and help my team get through changes.

Leave a Reply