The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and its member departments are committed to continually improving the quality of their organizations and activities---a process often referred to as Total Quality Management (TQM). For example, AASHTO, along with the Federal Highway Administration and industry representatives, has become party to a National Quality Initiative and signed a National Policy on the Quality of Highways.
Many organizational efforts on quality begin with concerns about products and employees. However, in recent years, American businesses have been more successful when they took a broader approach and focused on "customer-based" quality. Quality achievements in products and by employees are necessary and commendable, but a quality-oriented program must be firmly grounded in "customer-based" quality.
Efforts to improve product development and employee performance can fail unless there is a clear understanding of the needs, desires, and expectations of the customer. Therefore, state DOTs must determine (1) what the "transportation customer" needs, desires, and expects; (2) the components and indicators of quality as discerned by the customer; (3) transportation program objectives and performance measures for the movement of both people and goods; and (4) strategies for improving product development and employee efforts.
Through interviews with selected state DOT officials and focus groups with state DOT customers, these issues were addressed by the contract research agency. Research is complete; the agency final report has been published as NCHRP Report 376, "Customer-Based Quality in Transportation."
Although certainly not the only tool, focus groups are important to understanding DOT customers. Focus groups do not produce statistically valid data for direct application in all states but do establish clear benchmarks and provide much needed insights for any CBQ programs. Accordingly, the research agency also produced Guidelines for Conducting Focus Groups, which is an Appendix to the published report.