Metrics for Zoning Administration

Dear Management Doctor:

Do you have any suggestions of possible sources on "metrics" for zoning administration? Our new mayor is a businessman. He is pushing implementing various business concepts. Having us re-examine our activities is probably a good, if painful, endeavor. However, the obvious measurements, like number of cases or permits this year versus last year, do not seem appropriate for an agency which basically reacts to submitted petitions and applications.

Glen R. Boise, A. I. C. P.
City of Kokomo, Howard County, IN

Dear Glen:

Your mayor is right on and is following a national trend, often called performance measurement. There is considerable confusion and trial and error as these concepts are being implemented around the country. Think of metrics as a continuum, starting with inputs (number of cases, staff, budgets), to outputs (number of cases processed, cases per staff, cost per case), to outcomes. Outcomes can also be viewed in a continuum from Initial to Intermediate to Long-term. The Long-term outcome isódid the zoning code and the way we processed the case and the final conditions really make any difference and build a better community? Outcomes are tough to do and planners seem afraid to get very deep into this subject.

There are a number of areas where I suggest you concentrate.

  1. You do need to know how many cases of which type come in each month, along with the staff and budget each case requires. How else can you set the appropriate staffing level, hold staff accountable and set your fees?
  2. Next, your customers want to know how long it takes to process a case. Avoid using averages for these calculations. A better approach is "we will process 95% of the cases within ____ days."
  3. While you want to calculate the overall time it takes to process, you also want to calculate the time you take versus the time the applicant takes. When you receive an application, how long do you take before responding to the applicant? When the applicant makes changes and brings in changes, how long do you take the second time? Each time the application cycles, I suggest you cut the time in half. For example, if you take 30 days the first time, take 15 the second and 7 the third.
  4. You should also monitor how many cycles applications are taking. Repeat cycles may mean that staff is not doing a good review the first time or giving the applicant adequate instructions on what they need to do. I like the theory that the planners "should only get one slice of the baloney." What I mean is, do a comprehensive review the first time and don't keep coming up with new requirements. It drives the customers nuts.
  5. Next, you want to know how your batting average is with the Planning Commission and elected officials. Are you on the same page? Are you working hard enough to "get the votes" for your position?
  6. When the project gets built, how well were the conditions placed on the project implemented?
  7. Finally, examine the project and neighborhood a year or two later. What was the impact of the project? Are you building a better community?

There are many subtopics to the above points. Several resources that may be of interest include:

  1. Municipal Benchmarks by David Ammons, Sage Publications, 2001.
  2. We are currently Beta testing a new product called Z Diagnostics which will benchmark planning departments against a variety of national criteria. It should be available on our website before the end of the year.
  3. The Management Doctor's consulting firm, Zucker Systems, specializes in these issues and has now worked with some 150 cities and counties in 23 states. They can be reached at 800-870-6306.
  4. I also discussed this topic in some previous questions to the Management Doctor. Look under the topics, Levels of Service and Performance Measures.

I hope this gets you started. Best regards to you and the Mayor.

The Management Doctor

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