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Enhancing the Research Product: Applying Project Management Tracking Tools, Systems, and Dashboards for Research Program and Project Management


This proposal is to conduct an NCHRP Synthesis Project to survey and document transportation research management programs on their use and experiences with project management tracking systems. This proposal is submitted by the TRB Conduct of Research Committee (COR), in conjunction with the AASHTO Research Advisory Committee (RAC).

The research and innovation life cycle begins with stakeholder engagement and research need generation, flowing through a series of activities including research topic selection, project conduct and monitoring, evaluation, measurement, and implementation. Many research programs continue to use labor intensive, and highly variable, methods to track research project activities throughout this research and innovation life cycle. In the era of performance management, projects that veer off track or become problematic cost valuable resources, both financial and time-based. The use of project tracking software, tools, processes, and documentation has entered the discussion and its use needs to be thoroughly documented and assessed.

A 2015 Washington DOT report found that a majority of states are not satisfied with their existing research management tracking and database system. A 2013 survey detailed that 40% of state DOT research respondents used spreadsheets for project management while 60% used databases (Casey, 2013). Every state DOT research organization has its own set of methodologies, research cycles, processes, templates, and best practices, designed to fit into the organizational flow and procedure. These items guide the research project manager, but many do not provide outcomes focused guidance and monitoring. There is a great variety of in what states currently track, how it is tracked, and what things are called in existing databases (Washington DOT, 2015).

The growth and promulgation of a host of online collaborative tools, project management tracking software, dashboards, and other allocation and communication packages may be overwhelming to research managers to address individually.

Collaborative tools can help plan projects while taking previous track record into account and provide scope, communications, schedule, and resource management. Tracking software provides useful reporting and trigger or alert management. Project management dashboards perform a vital function for research project managers and teams. They provide stakeholders with an overview of a project’s progress: capturing data about team performance, cataloging critical decisions and milestone achievements, then collating that information in an easy-to-scan display or report.

Despite sizeable investment in research program activities, there are few tools or resources available to state DOTs, universities and other agencies on how to effectively use project tracking and collaboration tools. TRB has created a new initiative called “Ahead of the Curve: Mastering the Art of Transportation Research Management” to provide training for research program managers at DOTs, universities and other agencies. While this initiative will greatly aid in training for individuals, there are still gaps in information about practices that can enhance and support the methods presented in the course materials.

There are numerous reviews of project management software tools, including Gartner Methodology’s look at a range of existing collaboration products. However, there is little information available on the use of these products in a transportation research project management setting. A pooled fund effort TPF-5(181) has looked at research project databases as part of knowledge management and coordination efforts. This work identified business processes worth tracking and managing closely for the research life cycle. During recent research program management peer exchanges, several states expressed interest in better understanding what tools and practices, including non-software methodologies, are used currently and could be used in the future for research monitoring and communications with project champions and stakeholders. The review will build upon these existing project management database pooled fund efforts, and should include how the tools and practices can be used to address performance management and measurement.


The product of this synthesis would include two key products: (1) a summary document identifying usage and experiences focused on research project management tracking and tools; and (2) a compilation of a handful of detailed case studies on individual programs that could be suitable for transfer to and use in other agencies.


Both products – the summary and detailed compilation – will have several uses:

  • The results of this synthesis will be highly beneficial to the Ahead of the Curve Running the Program and Program Quality Improvement core courses. Both of these courses provide detailed emphasis on research monitoring and performance reporting.

  • The results can enhance the use and exchange of information on the Research Project and Program Management (RPPM) website and supplement the findings of the Research Project Management Database pooled fund research effort.

  • Top managers of research program sponsor agencies can use the information to evaluate existing programs and consider changes to improve program effectiveness, especially as it relates to performance management.

  • Direct managers and staff within research programs can utilize the information for internal program evaluation and to suggest ideas for improvement.

  • Provide research program management officers with a tailored synthesis of existing tools and processes.

  • Help meet requirements of 2 CFR 200, ensuring adequate risk management, time and financial controls are in place.

Related Research:

There are examples of information systems to support research collaboration and the dissemination of results. Examples include the European Union Transportation Research & Innovation Portal (TRIP, https://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/research/tripen ) provides a single entry point for all transport research conducted at European and national levels in the European Research Area (ERA. http://ec.europa.edu/research/era/indexen.htm ). The Water Network (https://thewaternetwork.com/ ) uses TallyFox (https://www.tallyfox.com/ ) to support inquiry, need identification, partnerships, and dissemination of information amongst the scientific community around the world. Currently, the United States and the transportation sector, lack these type of knowledge networks.

Information sources

TPF-5(181) originally intended to tailor and transfer a database used by the California DOT to other states. The study now will generate business needs for a research program and project management system.

Kentucky developed a research tracking tool that included a review of research management systems in Louisiana, Minnesota, Washington, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas and Virginia – as well as FHWA’s Turner Fairbank HRC.

The 2015 Washington report detailed information on existing business tools for management databases. This study described key attributes available in state datasets. RAC and CUTC surveys, fact sheets and other information from member agencies provide portions of this material.

NCHRP synthesis 49-07 looks at skill sets and performance measures for research management, but will not address specific tools and practices.


Casey, Pat, “Managing Transportation Research with Databases and Spreadsheets: Survey of State Approaches and Capabilities” July, 2013

Crabtree, Joe, Development of a Research Project Tracking System (project KYSPR 14‐491) Deliverable #1: Identification and Assessment of Effective Online Project Management Systems in Other States, Kentucky Transportation Center July, 2014

Spy Pond Partners. Research Management Database Business Analysis TPF-5(181) March, 2017

Washington State Department of Transportation, 2015. Information Compilation for TPF-5(181)



If implemented, this synthesis would benefit from a panel comprised of COR, RAC and CUTC members. Some attention to the variation in size and organizational structure would also be valuable for panel recruitment.

Sponsoring Committee:AJE35, Research and Innovation Management
Source Info:This statement was developed in collaboration with the Committee on Conduct of Research. Editorial comments were provided by Emily Parkany, Sue Sillick, Joe Horton, Ann Scholz, and others.
Date Posted:04/27/2018
Date Modified:05/02/2019
Index Terms:Project management, Research management, Research projects, Spreadsheets, Databases,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology
Transportation (General)

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