Hot Management Info for 2010

January – The Decade in Management Ideas
February – Odds & Ends
March – Checklists
April – Unpredicatable Times
May – Prepare For The Upturn
June – The Little Big Things
July – Switch, How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
August – Trading Places
September – What Age Are You In?
October – Alternative Development Review Processes
November – Ideas – Ideas – Ideas
December – The Millennial Generation


January 2010 – The Decade in Management Ideas

The editors of Harvard Business Publishing just released their list of the 12 most influential management ideas of the millennium (last 10 years). Many of these relate to both the public and private sector, however a few of the private sector ones do not. I have sorted through them and added a few of my own along with my comments. Enjoy this brief look back but then let’s get with it for the new year.

  1. Shareholder Value as a Strategy
    This got misunderstood and off the rails over the past few years. They suggest that “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy. Jack Welch proclaimed, Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.” I totally agree with these thoughts but my estimation is that only roughly a third of the planning departments understand this or work in this way.
  2. IT as a Utility
    “The current mania for cloud computing is the latest step in a long process by which enterprises have dispensed with their proprietary glass houses and begun buying computing capabilities as services.” Most government IT Departments are still working from an old model. Come on IT, it’s a new day!
  3. The Customer Chorus
    The customer voices have become louder. In the information age, everyone is empowered. Government and planning departments have been talking the talk, now it’s time we walk the walk.
  4. Enterprise Risk Management
    I know this sounds crazy with what is going on, but after 9/11 a few private companies have gotten on board. But, where has government and planning departments been? It’s not like we didn’t know that the development economy takes a downturn every 10 years or so. Let’s be prepared for the next one.
  5. The Creative Organization
    We planners should knock this one out of the ball park. However, many of the good planning ideas are still coming from others. It is time for planning to get back to the big bold ideas.
  6. Behavioral Economics
    I call this learning to empower employees. I would put this one at the top of the list. Most planning directors still don’t know how to do it.
  7. High Potentials
    This means identifying the high potential staff and cultivating them. I see a few governments trying this but most are still letting the traditional civil service system hold them back. The good news is I see a dozen or more superstar planning directors who are getting it done.
  8. Competing on Analytics
    This means using our system tool kits and learning from experiments. Government’s move to process improvement has taken a back seat to the economy. However, I still see the paperless office for most planning departments arriving over the next five years.
  9. Sustainability
    We planners were slow to the show but seem to be catching up fast. We have the skills and philosophy to lead the parade. Let’s do it.
  10. Other Stuff
    In my travels I see these:
    • Collocation
      Most of the development related functions are gradually being collocated. There are some great examples around the county.
    • Engineers
      Engineers are being held accountable for timelines and consistency or are being pulled out of Public Works and put into Community Development.
    • Pay for Services
      The developers pay and are more than willing to pay for good service.
    • Web Sites and Permit System
    • These can be frustrating but are getting better.

Happy New Year.

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

With regard to the first sentence in the Hot Info of the Month for January 2010, please note that a millennium is a period of 1000 years, and not the last ten years. Perhaps you meant the past decade, which was correctly used in the title of the article. If you meant simply the first ten years of the millennium from 2000 to 2999, then it probably should have been stated more in those terms.

Dan Gibson, AICP

This is an interesting list and your comments are appreciated. I especially support items 5 and 6. Your observation on engineering being part of CD is duly noted. In my current and past position, engineering has been relocated to CD resulting in significant improvements in development review and the relationship between planners and engineers. Though, sharing engineers with public works is still needed.

Peter Wysocki, AICP

City of Laramie, WY

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February 2010 – Odds & Ends

I get so much management information crossing my desk that sometimes it is hard to select what I want to share this month. In order to catch up, here are a few quickies.

  1. Bad Bosses
    More and more of you are telling me about your bad boss. Some of you may be the bad boss. Studies show that as many as 65% of people leaving organizations do so because of their manager. Take a look at yourself!
  2. Meetings
    Keep them short by having people stand. Instead of scheduling them for an hour, set them for 50 minutes to allow for a quick break and email check.
  3. Proactivity
    Now is the time to be more proactive. As the 7 Habits says, “We have the responsibility to make things happen.”
  4. Coaching
    Some problem employees may not be coachable if they don’t see that they have a problem, they are in the wrong job, or all the problems are yours or everyone else’s. This may be the time to exercise the three step termination discussed in prior emails.
  5. Leadership
    Warren Bennis says, “The ability to act – as in theater – is an aspect of leadership in every arena.” Sharpen your acting skills in place.

The Management Doctor

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March 2010 – Checklists

I have always felt that checklists were easy to make and use and are very important. However, in my consulting experience, this has often been a tough sell. Now, finally, the hard evidence is in a new book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, Metropolitan Books.

The research was conducted in hospital operating rooms where the use of a simple checklist has cut deaths by 40%. Doctors say it only takes two minutes to go through the checklist. You can see checklists at work in any pilot’s cabin on you next airline trip. We were told that Pilot Sally immediately asked the co-pilot to pull out the checklist when both motors went out as they prepared to land the plane in the river.

Why is this important for planning and building departments? One of the biggest complaints we get from developers is the inconsistency in the review of their plans and the continual adding of new conditions after each review. We also hear these words at Planning Commission and City Council meetings,

“Oh, I’m sorry, we missed that point.”

It is also often common that we see conflicts between building plan checkers and inspectors due to missing key points on a plan check.

Even when we convince people on the value of checklists, getting them done is often a challenge as is keeping them up to date. However, this need not be such a big deal.

  1. Start with a simple list. Have whoever will use it most prepare it. By simple, I mean this should take no more than five minutes to prepare.
  2. Begin to use the list. Each time you miss something, edit the list.
  3. If circumstances change, update the list.

You may not save any deaths, but you may save the job of one more planning director.

The Management Doctor

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April 2010 – Unpredictable Times

My comments today are based on a new book, Predictable Results, Unpredictable Times, by Stephen Covey and Bob Whitman. I hear from planners throughout the country about laying off staff, cutbacks in budgets, and the inability to perform. While it does feel like unpredictable times, the economic cycle we are currently in was clearly predictable. We planners (and almost everyone else) just missed it. However, that is just hindsight. The question is what should we be doing now? Some of my thoughts are keyed off comments from the book.

Book Comments Management Doctor Response
Winning companies have simple goals Does your planning department have a clear mission and vision? Most I visit don’t.
Winning companies repeatedly revisited their goals If you have a clear mission and vision, have you revisited it recently? I’d suggest staff discussions at least once a month.
Winning companies have clear targets and strong follow-through Have you set clear timelines for your initiatives? Remember that work expands to fill the time available.
Winning companies measure results How many days to various development approvals actually take? How is your batting average with the elected officials?
Winning companies take quick action to respond ahead of, or at least stay even with, rapid changes Increase the discussions with the city manager and elected officials. Keep your ear closer to the ground.
Winning companies focus totally on value – not just cutting back but simplifying and reducing complexities Do all your regulations and processes really create a substantially better community? And, plan faster, You are capable of far more research than your elected officials or community can absorb. Get on with it.
Everyone understands and buys into the goal Keep selling your goals. Break down the silos.
Great teams meet regularly and frequently – weekly at least, often daily – to review progress on their goals. These are not ordinary staff meetings; they focus entirely on moving forward the key measures of success Stop those dry staff meetings. How about a 10 minute meeting at the end of each day to discuss difficult issues that came up at the counter or with an elected official?
When the economy slows down, the companies get faster Get those permits moving and those plans completed. Set new and shorter timelines for both.
Crises are confronted by building trust, and showing more transparency than ever before Communicate more, both internally and externally, Increase the use of 2.0 technologies.
Reduce uncertainty and act decisively Say what you are going to do – then do it!

The book also suggests that only 9% of workers feel a very high level of commitment to organizational goals. Also, 40% spend their time on urgent but irrelevant activities or counter-productive activities.

It is time we planners use this recession as a time of opportunity. Let’s get relevant.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

A former mayor in Logan, Utah, used to give a book to department heads as a gift, No Chairs Make For Short Meetings. It’s filled with one-liner management thoughts and is quite fun to read and re-read. I was inspired to purchase a coffee mug-I still have and use-that says, “Meetings. The practical alternative to work.” It used to be available on the Prairie Home Companion, Pretty Good Goods website.

Eric Jay Toll

I loved your list and agree with all of your “correctives.” One further suggestion regarding the issue of Team Meetings – not only should they be short at the end of the day (during the day if a team member needs to meet with the Director if something comes up) but hold “standing” meetings whenever possible. That is, unless there is a real emergency that all members need to be present to address, meet in a place where you can have all the members stand around and give brief touch points – then, as the Director, decide if you need to schedule a more time-inducing meeting with one or more of the members. Too much time is spent with all members listening to a problem that they have absolutely nothing to do with and don’t really care. Yes, it is good to ask all the members to think about possible solutions (this technique has produced very good results with members working on a totally different problem coming into my office with an interesting solution), but most of the time it’s those most directly involved.

Thanks for the list.

David W. Woods

GreenWoods Associates

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May 2010 – Prepare For The Upturn

Most of us have been so focused on the downturn that we have spent little or no time thinking about what we will do in the upturn. We are already seeing some signs of this in the housing market so let’s get ready. Part of this article is based on Jay Weiss’s comments in the Winter 2009 AMA publication. Interpretations and additions are my own.

  1. Right Size
    Don’t immediately go back to the old organization, staffing positions, titles, etc. You may have already learned how to do more with less – keep it up. This is a good time to think about the blended staff approach I have written about before. Keep a cadre of highly qualified people, and supplement as needed with consultants. This will not only give you flexibility, but can add some needed expertise to the organization.
  2. Improve Processes
    Chances are, even with the layoffs, you have some extra staff time. Use that time to improve processes. High on my list would be greater use of the Internet and moving your department to become a paperless office.
  3. Planning
    Take those extra resources and work on those long over-due plans. Sell the community on planning and find ways to get the city manager and city council to spring some bucks. You may even find foundations in a mood to help out for the right type of projects. Improve your budget and finance skills. Find out where the money is.
  4. Dead Wood
    You should have cleaned out your dead wood a long time ago. If not, do it now.
  5. Super Stars
    As the economy picks up, your super stars may look to greener pastures. Make certain the organization is meeting their needs and aspirations.
  6. Train, Train, Train
    Improve everyone’s skills so they can actively participate in all of these activities.

The Management Doctor

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June 2010 – The Little Big Things

I love Tom Peters and he continues to be one of the most popular internationally recognized management thinkers. However, after his last two-inch thick 834 page book, Liberation Management, 1992 and his 1¾ inch 708 page book, Thriving on Chaos, 1987, I swore off – never again. Then, finding myself bored in an airport, I broke down and picked up his new 1¾ inch, 538 page book, The Little Big Things, 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence, 2010.

If you have ever seen Tom speak, you know he gets very energized and often shouts when he speaks. He writes the same way. In this new book, he is shouting from the start to the finish and uses graphic techniques like the “big” above to make his points. He must have driven his editor and graphic artist a bit crazy. To save your ears, patience, and $$$, I’ll give you a dozen highlights below. These are things I agree with or I wouldn’t be sharing them with you.

  1. We’re judged as much or more on appearance as on “substance.” So replace those worn signs, dirty carpets, junk in the hall, etc. Look like you are in business.
  2. The only effective source of innovation is pissed-off people! So – piss a few off, either internally or externally, and do some real planning.
  3. Get unabashedly insane about enhancing cross-functional communication. Put the whole, diverse team cheek by jowl and watch the miracles of collaboration pour forth! People whose offices are more than 100 feet apart might as well be 100 miles apart in terms of frequency of direct communication. Go to lunch with people in other functions.
  4. Use a round table instead of a square table – and the percentage of people contributing to a conversation leaps up!
  5. Only you can motivate you.
  6. If you are really really really really really really really really really good at “basic stuff” like taking care of people, listening intently, overreacting, to even the tiniest screw-up, and apologizing like crazy when you make even a wee boo-boo, a lot of good things will come your way – in good times and bad!
  7. Training trumps equipment.
  8. To succeed, you have to try more stuff than the other guy – fast. Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.
  9. He/she who has the best story wins! So – work – on your story!
  10. Hire cheerful! Avoid-Dismiss FMCs (Foul Mood Carriers). They screw you up! And 200 people who surround them.
  11. The role of the director (manager) is to create a space where the actors and actresses can become more than they’ve ever been before, more than they’ve dreamed of being.
  12. Ninety percent of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.

This shouting sounds pretty good to me.

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

Thanks, I needed that! Especially #2 – I seem to be the only one who’s pissed off that no planning is happening, we’re just reacting to the latest crisis. I’m not sure I want to read the books, but if he gives a lecture or speech somewhere I’ll try to sit in. Mr. Peters sounds like a good guy to motivate me.

David Neal, AICP

City of Surprise, Arizona

I am particularly interested in:

10. Hire cheerful! Avoid-Dismiss FMCs (Foul Mood Carriers). They screw you up! And 200 people who surround them.

I understand the premise, and it is excellent and accurate advice. However, if you already have a FMC, then how do you handle this from a management standpoint, particularly if the employee is otherwise very efficient, effective, and valued by other colleagues? Also, the HR Director is not receptive to any reference to personality traits in an evaluation or other disciplinary venue.

I’ve tried what little I know to motivate and change in a positive way. Any advice is much appreciated!

Needing Advice

(From the Management Doctor)

Dear Needing Advice,

You raise an interesting point. A few thoughts:

  • First of all, I wonder if the person is really “valued by other colleagues.” You might ask around on this one.
  • Your HR Director is from the old school. There is a fine line between personality and behavior. If the persons “behavior” is bringing the team down and impacting others, it is a personal issue.
  • I thought I had reviewed another book of interest but can’t find it on my website search engine. It is, The No Asshole Rule, by Robert Sutton, Warner Business Books, 2007. It was also a landmark article published in the esteemed Harvard Business Review. A few thoughts from the book:
    1. I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize – I just don’t want any assholes ruining our group.
    2. Whatever these creeps are called, many of them are clueless about their behavior. Even worse, some of them are proud of it.
    3. The lions share of bullying and psychological abuse is within gender, with men more likely to bully men and women more likely to bully women.
    4. At the places where I want to work, even if people do other things well (even extraordinary well) but routinely demean others, they are seen as incompetent.

This is just to get you started. I have attached his Top Ten Steps. Click here to read these.

Tom Peters synopsis hit a chord with me – to the extent I want to stop what I’m working on and bring out a real life case study. If I were going for an MBA, this would be the case study of what I’d research and assess. It’s a real company – and it’s what contributed to a branch office going from the second largest office in the company with almost 150 employees to 21 employees and being a “satellite” of another branch. The missteps at corporate and local management are classics.

Here are ten great ways to ruin a successful planning consultancy:

  1. Require everyone to work their billable hours, but don’t allow time for marketing and business development. Then complain when sales keep dropping.
  2. Put the most negative person in charge of business development, this way any creative idea to generate business can be quickly squelched.
  3. Have top management be so far removed, so far from the working team, that they no longer understand what tasks different departments perform, and then are surprised when layoffs result in an entire skill set being gone when later needed.
  4. Instead of assessing layoffs by task or performance, “share the pain” by having each department take turns laying people off. This way a lean department can layoff the employee you just paid $5,000 to train in a technical specialty and who is a highly requested “fill-in” performer because of cross training. It’s that department’s turn to lay off people, so they have to cut somewhere. Meanwhile a brand new, basic-skilled employee requiring significant micro-supervision can keep a job In a different department.
  5. To keep a “favored” project manager busy, shift a client from the project manager who increased the business from five to seven figures a year without discussing it with the original PM or his department head first, or consider that the new PM has no experience with this type of project. Then blame the original PM when the client moves the account to a competitor because of repetitive mistakes and missed deadlines by the new PM.
  6. When a project manager is in the middle of developing a new client in the new specialized business line with which office management has no direct experience, be the top manager and take the prospective client to lunch without telling the PM, espouse all the buzz words you’ve heard floating around the office to show ignorance. Then fire the PM when the client backs away saying he is concerned that the office’s doesn’t understand his project.
  7. Promote a well-liked administrative specialist into the position of marketing director, even though business development is lagging, and the person, while well-liked and competent in the previous position, knows absolutely nothing about the new position-but tell the management team it’s okay for her to learn on the fly at the beginning of a major recession.
  8. When remaining team members are scared about losing their jobs, be an open-door, walk-around manager who starts keeping his door closed and never walking around to tell employees they’re doing a good job. This instills confidence.
  9. Top corporate management-who had experience in a previous major economy slowdown-decides to follow-through with their succession plan putting in a new COO with no recession management experience and a specialty in corporate finance, but not project consulting. He’s good at watching where every dollar goes, but has no clue what it takes to make the dollars come in. This helps business development by instituting a cost-saving measure: project managers can only work billable hours. Marketing and business development are, of course, not billable, therefore, can’t be worked.
  10. With employees worried about layoffs, take a tour of the branch offices to present a PowerPoint called “Building an Enduring Company” while the overall company staff gets smaller every day.

Sign me Anonymous

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July 2010 – Swtich, How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

Don’t you love it when you accidently pick up a new book and it has the potential to change your life? At least the part of your life dealing with change?

I have been working in Barbados and it takes me 12 hours to get there and 12 hours to get back – so I have lots or reading time. I just picked up this great book by accident at the airport. But, in the last two weeks, it has been popping up and reviewed in various prestigious periodicals. I know I have said it before, but this one you really need to read. I can’t do it justice but here are a few ideas:

  1. Find out what works best and duplicate it, i.e. “bright spots.” This differs from focusing on problems. Clone it.
  2. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Deming said that when putting people against systems, the systems win every time. Systems can shape people’s behavior.
  3. To change people’s behavior – (a) influence the environment and (b) influence their hearts and minds.
  4. Resistance to change is often just a lack of clarity. Soon is not a number, soon is not a time. What is the number?
  5. Look for small wins and celebrate them.
  6. What exactly needs to be done differently?
  7. Get the reformers together

This book is filled with stories about how people with little or no power or money (sounds like planners) did what seemed like impossible things.

  • Lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
  • A home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
  • The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service.
  • Getting people to eat a healthier diet won’t work using the standard health approach and the Food Pyramid. How about just getting people to switch to 1% milk.
  • Reform an entire dying town in South Dakota just by starting a project to remove old tree stumps.
  • Change an underperforming, out-of-control school system, just by meeting the students at the car when the screaming parents dropped them off and walking them to the classroom – getting them ready to learn.

The Management Doctor

* Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Broadway Books, 2010

P.S. I don’t have a dog in this fight and won’t make a penny on this deal. But, I do have my reputation at stake. If you buy this book and don’t like it. Send it to me and I’ll buy it from you so I can give it to a manager who needs it.

Double P.S. After writing this I read my latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. An interesting article on Peter R. Orszag, Barack’s budget director who is leaving, and one of his team of like-minded adherents including Cass R. Sunstein. They must be doing something right since Glen Beck calls Sunstein “the most dangerous man in America.” They work with what is called behavioral economics. Instead of requiring people to do certain things, they set the conditions so people do it themselves. Sounds like “Switch” to me. So:

  • Work on obesity by clear food packaging. If we can get a clear message we will work on it ourselves.
  • Getting more children from modest-income families to go to college. Remove all the minor roadblocks.
  • Get more people to participate in employer-sponsored retirement accounts. Automatically enroll workers in savings plans and let them opt out if they wish.

The Tea Party folks should have some fun with this great (my words) stuff.


Reader Response

We love this book. Thanks to Susan for buying copies for our management team. It has generated helpful thinking on a few complex changes we want to implement. We’re using the recommendations, for example, to support the merger of our Zoning Commission into our City Plan Commission. We understand there will be opposition from our long-time developers, which is primarily an elephant issue.

Thanks so much for sharing

Dana Burghdoff

Fort Worth, TX

I’ve been reading Switch also. My boss put me on to it and I put my staff on to it. What Oprah is to popular book culture, you could be to management book culture.

Chuck Kleeberg

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August 2010 – Trading Places

The Harvard Business Review recently ran this article on trading places:
Need New Ideas? Trade Places

When two successful CDOs switched places for a day, the result was new ideas and a fresh perspective. Don’t limit your imagination to what you already know. If you need to innovate, don’t look to what others in your industry are doing, or to your past successes. Seek out a new experience, put yourself in a new context, and find ideas already proven in one field that might be applicable to yours. If you can, find someone who has a similar job in a different industry and trade experiences; what might be routine and ordinary for him may be revolutionary for you.

Today’s Management Tip was adapted from “Trading Places: A Smart Way to Change Your Mind” by Bill Taylor.

I have always thought that planners and planning directors periodically trading places is an excellent idea. This not only helps planners to recharge their batteries but also can develop new ideas for your organization.  Several recent examples come to mind;

  1. I am working in Barbados and two of their senior planners were granted a two-year leave to work in another Caribbean island. I am certain they will bring back new ideas and approaches useful for Barbados.
  2. A friend of mine who was planning director for one of the nation’s 30 largest cities, was undergoing a divorce and was experiencing some burnout. The city manager wisely arranged a six-month job swap with a similar size city and this had the desirable affect of recharging the person’s batteries.
  3. Given the current economic situation this may be an ideal time for a educational leave of absence or a sabbatical which could have the same effect as a job swap.

Please share your experiences with our readers.

Management Doctor


Reader Responses

This is actually a pretty good idea. I sent one of my planners to spend a couple of days with a similar jurisdiction for the double purpose of a recharge and to get new ideas. It really doesn’t cost a lot and has nothing but positive benefits. I don’t know about the long-term swap, that’s intriguing, but for a day or two it’s pretty beneficial.

Eric Jay Toll

This is a great idea! I wish it could be worked out in practice among agencies – even just a “day on the job.”

Mike McCabe

City of Delano

This is unrealistic in most jurisdictions.

Mike Murphy

Town of Groton, CT

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September 2010 – What Age Are You In?

In my classes and Webinars, I often start by asking the class what has fundamentally changed that impacts our organizations and the way we manage? This generally takes awhile to draw out. I often have to take the class back to planning school and say we were in the Agrarian Age which led to the …? Industrial Age which led to the …? Information Age. Bingo! But so what? What difference does it make? If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s time you do!

Unfortunately, many governments and planning departments are operating in the Industrial Age. What worked then doesn’t work so well in the Information Age. Here are a few thoughts abstracted from the Spring 2010 issue of MWorld:

  1. The Scientific Management that came out of the Industrial Age has failed to improve organizations in the Information Age. In doing so, “we’ve often created very expensive and over-engineered old practices.”
  2. Here are some comparisons:
Industrial Age Information Age
Define the task Understand the task
Command and control Give autonomy
Set strict standards Practice continuous innovation
Focus on quantity Focus on quality
Measure performance by strict standards Continuously learn and teach
Minimize cost of workers for a task Treat workers as assets, not costs
Earn more money because people work for you Earn more money for knowledge
Higher positions get more perks Same perks
Unit bonuses even if organization struggles Holistic organization
More is more Less is more
If it ain’t broke Break it
Stable Ever changing
Specialized Holistic/interdependent
Visible work, I am watching you Less visible work

The Management Doctor

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October 2010 – Alternative Development Review Processes

I’m currently bidding on a major overhaul of a large city’s development process. On top of this, I have been advising a number of cities on their development process and have been asked to share some of my thoughts with the 30 largest U.S. city Planning Directors at their annual Harvard get together. All of this has led me to being more rigid in thinking about the various alternatives that I have seen. Here they are:

  1. Informal – Multiple Departments
    This alternative is used by many cities and counties and tends not to work very well. A variety of independent departments are involved in the development process. Although planning, building and engineering are key functions, it is not unusual that there are four to six additional functions and sometimes even more. Although planning tends to coordinate the entitlement process and building coordinates the building permit process, there is little control and timelines are generally too long.
  2. Development Review Committees
    As an adjunct to #1, many communities have formed a development review committee that includes all the related functions. They meet weekly or as needed to review projects. Often this process has a number of problems including:
    • Members come to the meeting unprepared
    • Some functions come late or simply miss the meeting.
    • Those in attendance don’t have decision authority. The common phrase is, “I will have to get back to you on that” particularly the engineers.
    • The applicant is not allowed to attend so there is little direct feedback or problem solving taking place.
    • Decisions, at best, are by consensus.
  3. Co-location
    This option may include the same problems discussed in #2. However, having all, or most, of the related functions in one place is a convenience for the applicant. Additionally, co-location can improve the communication and teamwork between the functions and also facilitate better Development Review Committees. Other than the co-location, each function tends to operate as independent units with their own application intake. There are many good examples of co-location including San Antonio and Fort Worth, Texas and Redwood City, California.
  4. Co-location With Some Integration
    As an evolution of #3, some communities develop a joint counter and application intake function. They also set more rigid timeline performance standards and often have a system to monitor the timelines. If all the functions buy into the system and cooperate, this approach can work reasonably well. Henderson, Nevada used an approach similar to this one.
  5. Partial Merger With Co-location
    Under this option the norm is to have planning and building in the same department, with the development portions of engineering co-located. Of the 50 largest U.S. Cities, only 38% have building and planning in the same department. San Jose, California is a good example of where they are merged. Occasionally fire is also co-located, as they should be, but this is often difficult to accomplish. This option would include the features of #4.
  6. Partial Merger With Co-location and Management and Decision Integration
    This option is similar to #5 but takes it one step further. An example is the new Department of Building and Zoning Services we recently created for Columbus, Ohio. Planning and building are merged in one department. Relevant staff from engineering and utilities are co-located. Most importantly, these co-located staff are under the daily supervision of a manager from the Department of Building and Zoning Services. This manager has the responsibility and right to make decisions and move projects along. If any of the co-located staff have strong objections, there is an internal appeal process that goes back to their parent department. This has all been worked out through formal Memorandums of Understanding between the Department of Building and Zoning Services and the co-located functions. The new department began operating May 1, 2010 so it is early to measure success but signs are positive. It is a unique model that may offer ideas for your community.
  7. Almost Full Merger
    This option includes all the planning, building and engineering functions. Normally fire is not included but it should be. The merger often includes the engineering functions but not the Public Works operational functions. Transportation planning is sometimes included but also often remains an independent function. Ideally, it should be merged. The other issue is how to handle the engineering CIP function. Sometimes this is merged, sometimes it is not. A good example of this model is McKinney, Texas, a high growth community where we recently completed a study. In this model all of planning, building, and engineering were merged, including CIP. I feel that having CIP merged is particularly important for a high growth community. This is a good model for small to mid-sized communities but could present some problems for large communities. Sometimes, if organizations become too large, over 500 staff, organizational size alone can become counter-productive.

    However, I am currently working with Calgary, Canada which has a unique model. I like their model but they have asked me to look at it in depth and contrast it with three other large cities. There is a merged staff of some 600 employees that handle planning, building, engineering, and licensing. Transportation and parks are outside this function; however, they have created a unique approach to integration. Major projects are handled by a four person team consisting of a planner, engineer, transportation, and parks. Another unique feature is how all the engineering specialists are handled. This is an issue I see in many communities. When multiple engineering specialists are required, it is the responsibility of the team engineer to coordinate all of these specialists. The planner is the file manager but decisions are more or less by consensus. Performance standards are set and monitored.

  8. Other Features
    Irrespective of which organizational alternative is selected, I believe good systems need to include the following features:
    • Performance Standards agreed to by all functions and monitored.
    • 100% full cost recovery with a substantial reserve for downturns in activity. This reserve should at least be the equivalent of a normal full year’s budget for the functions.
    • Electronic plan submission, plan processing, plan review and files.
    • A clear path for making decisions and moving projects along.
    • Enough staff to get the job done. Applicants are more concerned about timelines than they are with the fees so make certain you have adequate staff.

I welcome your feedback and descriptions of other models.

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

The overview of Alternative Development Permit Review Processes is informative. Co-location and partial merger often leave engineering staff feeling like they’re “stuck” in Plan Check (as an example) and cannot move around to gain other experience. That is why with co-location and partial merger, it is important to ensure that Departments involved in the Development Permit Process have programs that encourage staff movement in engineering, public works, roads and waste management areas so they can gain a variety of experience in different functional areas. Full merger would seem to lend itself more to staff movement between Departments and is why umbrella agencies are formed to ensure that silos are not created that inhibit staff from gaining experience in different areas. Staff who are trained in a variety of functional areas are much more well-rounded in training and service to their customers than staff who remain in one functional area their entire careers.

Ted James

We utilize the 1 and 2 options above for development review. One way we augment is that the development review committee meets weekly. We require a two-week notice for plans to be submitted for review. It is a requirement of the positions on the committee to attend. Additionally, we require a two-day ahead of time submission of staff comments. That way Planning can coordinate a meeting notes sheet, which we use as an agenda of sorts for the meeting with the applicant and their agents. We go over items, possibly removing items, and adding any as needed. We then revise the list and email it out.  I have attached a sample of our note sheet.

Christopher G. Parker, AICP

City of Dover, NH

Sample Note Sheet

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November 2010 – Ideas – Ideas – Ideas

In a time of diminished resources, there is a need for new ideas. I suggest you have a brainstorming lunch with your staff to see how many ideas you can come up with. Also, take a couple of days out of your schedule and go visit another department or two. I just returned from speaking to 19 of the planning directors from the U.S. 30 largest cities. I was impressed by the ideas this group is generating. As part of another contract, I spent three days looking at the planning and development approach for Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa, Canada. The Canadian cities know how to do it and I will be sharing some of my findings in future articles. In the meantime, here is how the Harvard Business Review’s daily email discussed it.

November 3, 2010


To come up with a few good ideas, you need to generate a lot of bad ones. And to give your good ideas a chance of reaching their full potential, you need to do some serious pruning. But don’t just get rid of the bad ideas – kill some good ones as well. Focusing on many ideas requires thinly spreading your resources. For your truly good ideas to make it to market, they need a concentrated focus and the resources to fully develop them. Make the tough choices and pull the plug on good ideas that aren’t quite good enough.

The Management Doctor

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December 2010 – The Millennial Generation

The Millennial Generation is described as those born between 1977 and 1997. This and other generations are discussed in an interesting new book, The 2020 Workplace by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd. They reinforce the reason I am encouraging all my government clients to move faster into the electronic age. They make the following four key points.

  1. Never in the history of the modern world have there been four generations – much less five – in the workplace that bring such vastly different sets of values, beliefs, and expectations.
  2. Never has a generation entered the workplace using technologies so far ahead of those adopted by its employer. They (the Millennials) have grown up using technology as a part of their everyday lives, and they will expect employers to provide them with the same tools to collaborate, brainstorm, and network on the job that they use in their personal lives.
  3. Never has technology made it so possible to connect anyone anywhere asynchronously as a collaborator.
  4. Never before has society put as much pressure on organizations to be socially responsible.

By 2020 we should be out of the government recession so they make 20 predictions for the 2020 workplace. I have added an occasional side comment in italics.

  1. You will be hired and promoted based upon your reputation capital. (No more longevity.)
  2. Your mobile device will become your office, your classroom, and your concierge.
  3. The global talent shortage will be acute. (Planners, can you believe this?)
  4. Recruiting will start on social networking sites. (It already has begun.)
  5. Web commuters will force corporate offices to reinvent themselves. (The same is true for planning departments.)
  6. Companies will hire entire teams. (We are already seeing privatization of planning departments.)
  7. Job requirements for CEOs will include blogging. (And for Planning Directors, many who are already doing it.)
  8. The corporate curriculum will use video games, simulations, and alternate reality games as key delivery modes.
  9. A 2020 mindset will be required to thrive in a networked world.
  10. Human resources’ focus will move from outsourcing to crowd sourcing. (i.e. how you use the wisdom of crowds to develop solutions. I think this one has great potential for planning.)
  11. Corporate social networks will flourish and grow inside companies. (Government is already struggling with this one and needs to lighten up.)
  12. You will elect your leader.
  13. Lifelong learning will be a business requirement.
  14. Work-life flexibility will replace work-life balance.
  15. Companies will disclose their corporate social responsibility programs to attract and retain employees.
  16. Diversity will be a business issue rather than a human resources issue.
  17. The lines among marketing, communications, and learning will blur.
  18. Corporate app stores will offer ways to manage work and personal life better.
  19. Social media literacy will be required for all employees.
  20. Building a portfolio of contract jobs will be the path to obtaining permanent full-time employment.

The Management Doctor

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