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Improving shop productivity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – How do you boost shop productivity? Darry Stuart, owner of DWS Fleet Management suggests employing a management style he dubbed MBWA, or: Management By Wandering Around.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – How do you boost shop productivity? Darry Stuart, owner of DWS Fleet Management suggests employing a management style he dubbed MBWA, or: Management By Wandering Around.

During a Shop Talk discussion at this year’s Technology & Maintenance Council meetings, Stuart suggested maintenance managers grab a notepad and walk around the shop, seeing how many technicians are working with wrench in hand, while also removing any hurdles to productivity that are encountered. Presence on the shop floor is vital, he suggested, if you want to run an efficient shop.

Likewise, Lew Flowers, owner of Flowers Fleet Service, suggested in an earlier TMC session on How to Manage Total Labour/Time Productivity, to “walk by each day with a notebook. If a guy has a wrench in his hand and is under a truck, give him credit and keep on going. That’s our labour efficiency. I’d challenge you to go and do that.”

Flowers said too many maintenance operations have little understanding of the true costs to perform a job, because they don’t accurately account for indirect labour, or work that can’t be charged to a vehicle. In a recent survey, he listed six common maintenance procedures and polled various shop managers on the total cost to do the jobs. The answers ranged from 10 hours to more than 30.

Indirect labour is a costly hindrance to any shop. This could include anything from standing in a parts line, to cleaning the shop floor, repairing tools or cutting the grass, Flowers explained.

Glen McDonald, director of maintenance with Ozark Motor Lines, participated on the panel, playing the role of a “frustrated fleet guy” who struggles with productivity.

“We don’t generate revenue. We end up being given hand-me-down computers and asked to use outdated software to get the job done. We should learn to operate as a profit centre, but we can’t seem to get that done,” he lamented.

McDonald has faced the challenge of managing the maintenance of a growing fleet, requiring more technicians and facilities, making it increasingly difficult to track productivity.

“In small shops, you can see everyone is busy. In big shops, everyone can look busy,” he said. “It’s a little harder to see if everyone is busy. You have to rely on software. We do a good job of tracking labour and accounting for technicians’ time, but how do you know that time is productive time?”

The goal, McDonald said, is to be able to account for all a technicians’ time and to ensure as much of it as possible is billed.
“We get upset when parts walk out the door unbilled because they didn’t get on a ticket, and we shouldn’t be any less upset by unbilled labour,” he said. “You have to have a system to track and measure it.”

Part of the problem is that some technicians can work much more quickly than others, but that doesn’t always mean the fast ones are the best, Stuart noted.

“Not everybody can run the 100-metre dash in the same time, but it doesn’t make them any better or worse,” he said.

Most maintenance managers in attendance admitted they’re willing to put up with slower-working technicians, because they often do a good, thorough job with little rework required.

Scott Witt, vice-president and general operations manager with Virginia Truck Center, said “We have some technicians who are just not as fast as others. That doesn’t mean they don’t do good work. They might be a little slower, but it’s great quality work. It just depends on the technician.”

Asked how his shop bills work performed by slower-working technicians, Witt said “We’re going to bill the customer what’s fair, no matter how long it takes our technician to do it. If it’s 10 hours for a clutch job, that’s what we’re going to charge and unfortunately, we eat the rest.”

However, Witt added his shop has customers who request the slower-working technicians by name, because they know they do a good job and the truck won’t need the work done a second time.

Witt’s company has installed monitors in its shops, which display key performance indicators such as time spent on a job vs. the time quoted to the customer, so the technician can see at a glance if he’s falling behind.

“That has made a difference in our shops where we’ve put that in,” Witt said. “They have become more efficient.”

Another key to maximizing shop productivity is to keep it properly staffed. Witt said he tracks several metrics, while keeping a close eye on “available time,” or the amount of time a technician isn’t working on a vehicle.

“If I see available time really low and we’re struggling to get work out, I may need to hire another technician,” he said.

“Available time is a key indicator for me on when it’s time to hire technicians.”

Finding qualified technicians is another challenge altogether, one that was echoed throughout this year’s TMC.

Bryan Leskowsky, director of service with Peach State Freightliner, said his company has found success in implementing a comprehensive mentoring program. Half of its mechanics at one location are now under the age of 35, and they all came up through the mentoring program, he said. New hires are paired with a seasoned mentor, who gets paid extra for helping bring the new technician up to speed.

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