News | August 12, 2003

Big Success in a Small City: Implementing a New Maintenance Management Approach

Mike Mahoney, Public Works Superintendent, City of Emeryville, CA
Nicholas Nguyen, Senior Associate, LA Consulting, Manhattan Beach, CA

The City of Emeryville, California recently implemented a new management approach in maintenance operations designed to enhance teamwork, morale, communication, and performance. The implemented maintenance management system was an innovative approach to improving not only operations, but also improving City officials' understanding of maintenance.

Emeryville, located east across the Bay from San Francisco, has a nighttime population of 7,300. Due to its central location in one of America's most urban areas and thriving business environment, the daytime population of the City increases to over 25,000. This city in transition is 1.5 square miles in size. Historically a heavy industrial town with steel mills and the like, it has now changed into a mixed-use destination with high-end retail, high-tech and biotech industries, and multi-cultural residences. In focus is how to improve and maintain the quality of life issues for this diverse set of interests. Its maintenance division (MD), which consists of eight full-time employees along with the consistent use of furlough (county work release program) and contract workers, maintains 19 road miles, 5,000 traffic and regulatory signs, nine parks and various medians.

As a developing small city with large city demands, the City of Emeryville foresaw a need to strengthen its maintenance operation with a more defined vision and provide a tool for its staff to effectively manage an ever changing and growing list of maintenance tasks with its existing staff.

Before implementation, the MD observed that there was a lack of understanding on the part of City officials as to what maintenance really does. In addition, there was the perception that it was as effective as it could be.

Public Works leadership, going along with the mission of the City (which is to build and maintain public works infrastructure which is superior in the area, manage public works as a business which is driven by providing quality service to its customers, and develop within its employees an attitude of "ownership" in the facilities they maintain), had a vision for the maintenance department. That vision included increasing automation, preparing more effective schedules of tasks, use activity based costing, initiating work request system, evaluating work methods, conducting inventory and condition assessments, and applying a continuous improvement process.

To achieve these goals the MD decided to embark upon a systematic approach to implement a maintenance management system (MMS) approach that would improve efficiency and effectiveness within the operation by establishing a "business like" approach of planning, budgeting, scheduling, performing, and reporting maintenance work, as well as provide an automated system that could facilitate this process. This would enable City officials to realize the importance of maintenance and the valuable work that the MD was doing daily. Although the MD did not have a large operating budget (approximately $700,000) to work with they have gotten large results by implementing an MMS.

"The beauty of the system is that it is not necessarily cookie cutter. It is tailored to our needs and the things we do," said Public Works Director Hank Van Dyke.

Implementation, System Automation, and Usage

The first step was to establish the fundamental management processes of planning, organizing, directing and controlling/improving. This was accomplished with a review and analysis of the operation to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Findings were developed and recommendations for improvement were made. From the recommendations, new processes were instituted to provide the fundamental framework that managers and supervisors currently use to oversee the City's infrastructure and maintenance needs.

Annual planning was implemented to help set the vision for the MD. It involved determining the major maintenance activities, defining activity guidelines, obtaining resource information, performing general condition assessment and establishing levels of effort for maintenance. When the planning process was complete, a work program and budget had been established. In the organizing phase the MD took the process one step further by dividing the work plan on a monthly basis to determine resource requirements for each month. Improved direction integrated this calendar with routine maintenance programs, work backlog and work requests to generate a schedule that is used in the assignment of work.

Lastly, a continuous improvement aspect was applied. It ensured that the initial gains from the first year of implementation would continue to be seen in the next. The effort involved entering the work into a work management software program. Using the MMS, a series of reports can be generated that are used by crew chiefs to determine planned versus actual maintenance effort, providing valuable information on the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation. These reports are then used to make management decisions based on actual information and update annual plans to reflect work that was accomplished.

A software system was implemented to facilitate the new management processes. Emeryville chose to implement a network (via peer-to-peer connection) and DOS-based system that is efficient and cost-effective to own and use. The system is used in the maintenance yard where MD employees have access to it.

Management and Employee Involvement Key to Success

One of the key factors to the project's success was management support and employee involvement. At every stage of the implementation employees were involved. It is through this continuous involvement that employees could take ownership of the work and an employee "buy-in" was established. This has improved employee morale and helped them work more effectively. As a result, employees are now more proactive in each phase of the work process, they are evaluated on the basis of contribution to the team effort rather than as a collection of individuals and work productivity is a goal which, when achieved, is a source of pride and empowerment. Managers now have a tool to make educated decisions to improve operations. Ways in which management and employee involvement was encouraged includes:

  • The establishment of an activity list. Employees at all levels were an integral part in determining the important activities the City performs to maintain public safety and appearance. Major activities were determined by using Pareto's law of 20 percent of activities makes up 80 percent of the work. Overall 57 activities were identified for streets, parks, and administration.
  • Development of work methods: For each activity that was entered into the work management program, an activity guideline was developed with the assistance of consultants. An activity guideline includes a step-by-step process in which the activity is to be performed as well as the resources required. Production and work measurements were also developed in this process.
  • Work scheduling process: Supervisors schedule work on a weekly basis assigning tasks daily for a week using a combination of routines and service requests.
  • Tracking accomplishment: Employees track the work that is being done on daily work sheets including activity performed, resources used, and accomplishments.
  • Training in system use: Employees were trained to enter daily work sheets. Management was trained in the use and understanding of reports.
  • Understanding system inputs and outputs: Management and employees understand how the data entered into the system relates to the reports that it generates.
Effective Use of Resources

As a result of the MMS, Emeryville has established a very effective way of managing resources. During the planning and organizing processes Emeryville established a plan that includes the allocation of their eight full-time employees and various furlough workers. On average Emeryville has about four full-time-equivalent (FTE) furlough workers performing maintenance tasks. As a result, the City's "Clean City Program," which is done mainly by furlough workers, accounts for 40 percent of total labor days but only accounts for 15 percent of total maintenance cost. For Emeryville this represents an efficient and effective use of labor through a proper mix of job classifications and specifications.

The majority of maintenance tasks that require skilled maintenance workers to prolong the life of the City's assets are performed by the eight full-time employees.

Now and Then

Before implementing a system Emeryville had many unanswered questions. Was the City managing public works maintenance in the most appropriate manner? Can it be more effective, and can it demonstrate the work to those who may be reviewing the City? Finally, how can the City empower its employees?

Using a vision of what Emeryville wanted its Maintenance Division to be, Emeryville established a maintenance management system approach. The division is now able to plan, track, and document the work they are doing. The system can help provide easy to access and accurate data that can justify resources and financial need to the public and City officials.

As a result, the MMS has established various improvements including an open forum to integrate ideas from staff, informative management information, application of best management processes, use of automated record keeping and tracking, improved scheduling practices, and employee/resident satisfaction.

From a management point of view the MMS is providing information at the "bottom line," and provides a basis for discussion of levels of service and manpower distribution with City officials.

"There has been a dramatic change when comparing City Council and citizen reactions to Public Works Maintenance from before starting to use the MMS and now," Van Dyke said. "There are no longer complaints at the City Council meetings."

The perception of the City Council has improved knowing that there is a management system in place that produces the results they want to see. Referring to the new maintenance management approach, Councilwoman Nora Davis remarked, "Emeryville has been changing dramatically in the last decade; from a decaying industrial inner city to a vibrant mixture of retail, commercial and housing uses. These changes brought new challenges to Public Works. The addition of new parks, new streets, hundreds of new trees all placed a higher and more visible demands on our Public Works street crews. The Maintenance Management System has not only helped to respond to increasing demands placed on our Public Works but has provided a rational framework to manage our limited resources. Complaints are down and quality of life is up."

Tangible Results

The system has done more than just improve employee moral and management processes. It has provided tangible results the Public Works can see and feel. Since implementation the City has seen less service requests and has been complimented on the state of the City's assets. Emeryville's productivity (hours per unit of work) has now improved over 34 percent in Legend Painting and over 24 percent in Walk-behind Mowing. Although other activities decreased in productivities (e.g. Litter Collection) as a result of employee injury, the net effect continues to be a positive performance improvement when compared to previous years prior to the implementation of the MMS.

Moreover, one of the City's greatest strengths has been its overall cost effectiveness as measured by total dollars per available labor hour. Through a comprehensive use of furlough workers Emeryville has kept costs to $26 per hour as compared to other agencies that range at least $35-$45 per hour. This use of city staff and furlough workers equates to approximately 33 percent less in overall hourly costs.


Although the initial effort was not easy, through employee involvement and management support Emeryville has successfully established a new MMS approach that continues to improve operations and build employee moral. Although Emeryville, California, is a small city the task at hand was not. The effort given by staff has given the City the ability to manage their operations efficiently and effectively with an appropriate amount of resources while gaining public support for their efforts.

Mike Mahoney serves as Public Works Superintendent for the City of Emeryville. Contact Mr. Mahoney at Nicholas T. Nguyen is Senior Associate with Manhattan Beach-based LA Consulting. Established in 1993, the firm provides a wide variety of planning, systems and technology services applied to public agencies and municipalities, with an emphasis on systems implementation and technical support for public works operations and maintenance. Contact Mr. Nguyen at