Collaborative Process Is a Success at I90
Friday, February 18, 2011
FAA employees at Houston TRACON have welcomed a new collaborative process between NATCA and FAA management, and used it to tackle the issue of final approach procedures.
Air Traffic Manager Greg Motl and Dean Hall, the facility’s NATCA representative, agreed that the topic of final approach procedures should be addressed using the new collaborative process, which is being tested at Houston TRACON and nine other facilities around the country.
“To say that the finals procedures were contentious would be an understatement,” said Hall, “but Greg and I made a conscious decision to put the collaborative workgroup process to the test right away to meet our collective needs and goals, which will greatly benefit the facility and users of the airspace system.”
Over the past few years, Motl explained, controllers both new to Houston TRACON and new to the FAA have arrived at the facility. As the workforce’s familiarity with the airspace became more varied, more structure was put in place for the final approach procedures for Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
That structure was put in place two years ago, and since then there has been some concern among employees that refinements were necessary.
“There was some controversy around it — varying opinions about its effectiveness,” Motl said.
Motl and Hall set up a team of six — three representatives from NATCA and three from management — and gave them a well-considered scoping document and set them to work on the issue “with license to overhaul,” Motl said.
“It's not just tweaking, if they want to rebuild it, they can rebuild it,” he said.
The collaborative group meets on a weekly basis and is almost ready to provide its final product.
“While we’re still waiting on the final product, readdressing the finals procedures under this process alone is already paying huge dividends in reducing tension in the facility,” Hall said. “In the end, the procedures adopted will be something everyone will be able to embrace.”
Setting up well-defined guidelines for the work group is key to the collaboration’s success, said Motl. And that responsibility lies with the sponsors — the air traffic manager and the NATCA facility representative.
Motl sees advantages of the current program over the old Quality Through Partnership program.
Under QTP, a permanent committee was established at a facility, and they could choose which issues they wanted to address. That, Motl said, led to slow progress.
The new collaboration process creates a new group to address each issue, which Motl said helps keep things moving.
“They become very task oriented, very issue oriented,” he said. “And they work to completion in a relatively short period of time.”
The single-issue groups provide two other advantages over QTP: they spread participation throughout the workforce and they allow employees to work to their abilities and interests.
“The beauty of this process is that the participants bring uniquely different perspectives - whether a junior controller, a supervisor, a veteran controller or an operations manager - but everyone has equal say and ‘rank’ is left at the door,” said Hall.
“Rather than a jack-of-all trades, master-of-none approach, you can actually put people on a team who have a skill set and an interest in that particular issue,” Motl added. “And when you're able to do that you get a singular focus that you don't have with a standing team.”
Motl and Hall have been so pleased with the collaboration’s effectiveness that they’ve already assembled two more groups to address two other issues at Houston TRACON. And they have begun to talk about putting together a fourth team.
One of the two already assembled groups will work to provide greater standardization for the midnight shift, which saw significant procedural changes when the Houston Area Air Traffic System redesign project was fully implemented in September. The other group will work with controllers and management at Austin TRACON and Houston Center to make minor adjustments to the airspace setup that was created during the redesign.
Motl said he’s “very optimistic” about the program’s benefit to the workforce, especially when it comes to trust.
And Motl expects the process to help Houston TRACON to deal with issues in the future as everyone learns how hard it is to find solutions to complex problems.
“When you spread the wealth and you have greater cross-section involvement in all these different work groups, the ‘us-them’ thing starts breaking down and people have a greater understanding of what the process is like and how decisions are made,” he said. “And that greater appreciation, I think, will lead to greater support in the future.”
“The collaborative-workgroup process puts the right people, representing the diverse perspectives of the workforce and management, at the table to tackle complex issues. Collaboration puts the best ideas forward, and as we explore and resolve issues together, we build trust in each other and improve our ability to deliver excellence to the users and the Agency as a whole,” added Hall.
One of the aims of the collaborative process is to let employees working in the field apply their expertise to make the FAA a better place to work.
As well as Houston TRACON, the other test sites are: Boston Tower, Anchorage TRACON, Kansas City Center, Washington Center, Chicago O'Hare Tower, Salt Lake TRACON, San Juan CERAP, Oakland Center and Southwest Regional Office.
The FAA is also working with NATCA and other unions on collaboration through the National Labor-Management Forum. The forum is a product of President Obama's executive order that calls for federal agencies to create labor-management forums as a tool to improve labor relations within the federal government. The group has committed itself to building a collaborative working relationship.