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Posted by Tim Bryce on September 22, 2011

Over the last year we have been watching a major upgrade to the highway in front of our office. It’s not a large project, just an enhancement of a two-lane highway (three-lanes in some parts) spanning approximately five miles. It is being implemented by the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT), and not by the county, which I guess we should be grateful for. Nonetheless, the project has been a model of bureaucracy and inefficiency. Planners consulted with local property owners to advise them how their establishments would be affected by new curbing and sidewalks. Some of it will likely hinder business and when the merchants complained, the DOT turned a deaf ear to them. They quickly discovered their voices were not being heard and the DOT took the arrogant attitude of presuming they knew what was best for business, not the merchants.

Following the planning phase, work began on the highway’s infrastructure, specifically the sewer system and utility lines. It was at this time when we spotted our first set of orange cones to redirect traffic and protect the workers, a handful at first, which quickly multiplied like rabbits. Next came the installation of the sidewalks which we thought a bit odd as they seemed detached from everything. Again, more orange cones. Interestingly, it seems there are about ten flag men to every true worker; state workers are very safety conscious you know. Of the real workers I don’t think I ever saw more than three working at the same time. There were plenty of supervisors and inspectors checking their work, but only a handful of real workers which probably explains why progress is slow.

In most commercial construction projects, workers are 25% effective which means out of an eight hour work day, they only perform a total of two hours of real work. The remainder of the time is spent on interferences and inconsequential activity. Contractors have known this for years and takes this into consideration as part of their scheduling algorithm. Outsiders may consider 25% rather low, but actually it is not too bad. However, I would wager the DOT workers are at just 10%, if that. You may see a flurry of activity for a few minutes, but most of the time is spent setting up, instructing, supervising, inspecting, moving the orange cones, and worrying about the bureaucratic red tape, but comparatively little time is spent on the actual work itself. The difference between government-run construction projects and similar commercial undertakings is that one is obsessed with adhering to rules and political correctness, while the other is more interested in getting the job done.

Now they are just starting the construction of the highway portion itself, which is already two weeks behind schedule despite all of their planning. Massive trucks, equipment, and materials sit idly next to the highway waiting for operators. When the workers do materialize, we only see them up until noon, but they never seem to return from their lunch break, just the orange cones.

So here we have a highway project where merchants are alarmed and confused about how the road will affect their businesses, lots of equipment and materials sitting idly by the side of the road, workers with a paltry 10% effectiveness rate, and enough orange cones that could easily crisscross the state. Is this anyway to run a project? Well, that’s how we do things down here in the South. I guess we’re more of an Orange Cone city as opposed to Blue Chip.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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