What's happening in many fleets is that they're trying to be so high tech in everything, they're losing sight of the basic principles of what it takes to properly and efficiently manage the business of maintaining trucks and equipment.

Fleet managers have been distracted or forgotten management principles that include some pretty basic stuff, actual physical housekeeping and organization. As seen in most maintenance facilities, problems pile up in dirty, dark disorganized shops and parts rooms. Then they’re compounded by well-meaning, but overwhelmed middle managers and end up snowballing to the point that no computer system, no general ledger reports and no senior manager can make a dent in the resulting inefficiencies.

Shop computerization is an important tool, but by itself is not the answer. Long before the numbers hit the computer and generate a report, management should be able to see and feel the issues in front of their face if they are looking. But be cautious -- the tendency is to try to increase productivity by setting unrealistic job standards that put extreme performance pressures on technicians.

The answer is to get real, starting with that most basic and ancient of productivity measures -- the clock.

It's a straight forward solution. Management must first measure what it actually costs the fleet to have a tech working. Once that value is understood, managers should become motivated to remove all obstacles that prevent shop personnel from being fully productive.

The cost of a tech on duty is close to $ 1.00 a minute. If you focus on that figure — 100 cents a minute, it is a tremendous cost that needs managing.

If  it sounds simple, that's because it is. Take the lowly broom for instance. Not much thought of as a shop tool, it is nonetheless essential for a clean and safe working environment. One should ask,  “Where is the broom?”  At $1.00 a minute, it can cost more for the tech to find the broom he needs than to sweep with it.

Parts are another time-killer. If the parts room is not clean, organized and sorted by VMRS codes, a tech can easily spend 15 minutes.  That's $15-searching for a $2 part. A sure way to take costs out of the shop is to have a parts room that’s as clean and neat as a supermarket.

Another way for a fleet to get its $1.00 worth every minute from every tech is what I call the five-minute rule. If a tech can't figure out what is wrong or where they should be headed with a problem after five minutes, then they should seek out supervision for the advice or direction that may be needed.

As I see it, the bottom line is that techs are in control of the maintenance checkbook by default. Instead, fleets should tutor shop managers to understand costs and run their operation like it was their own business. That should include how to motivate, lead, explain costs and help good  techs to make decisions.

Use your computer system to captures data and to give yourself an understanding of where costs are, but do not forget the basics. Look around! Apply the cost per minute to each and everything thing you observe, good or bad. At $1.00 per minute you may target your next management opportunity a little easier. 

So, where are you spending your dollars and minutes?