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The hardest defects to see

June 9, 2020
Finding and fixing hidden flaws in a fleet’s maintenance system can help streamline vehicle service.

When considering defects in commercial vehicle maintenance, we can start by thinking about the top five defects as highlighted by Winston Ledet in his book: Don’t Just Fix It, Improve It.

  • Defects flowing in, on, or with the diesel fuel and engine oils
  • Defects from misoperation of the asset or equipment
  • Defects from maintenance craftsmanship
  • Defects from bad, counterfeit, old, or damaged spare parts and materials
  • Defects from design insufficiency or mistakes in design or installation

Behind these big five are the business systems that feed information, procurement, materials, permissions, custody, and storage. For example, if an incorrect but similar part is pulled for a repair, then the defect is an incompatible spare. If it happens occasionally, it is human error. But if it occurs weekly or monthly, then the cause of the wrong spare concerns the business system that identifies, shelves, and issues parts.

These system causes can be difficult to identify and become so ingrained that they truly fade into the background. The defect producer becomes so intertwined with the business system and everything else that without effort, it is invisible.

Seeing the unseeable

While we cannot see these systems directly, we can quickly uncover problems in them by answering some simple questions. The questioning can be done privately or in a team setting using brainstorming or other idea-generating techniques. Note that the questions will seem oblique, but using logic, you will get a look at the performance of the underlying business system.

There are dozens of questions that can be asked to uncover defects in the business system. First, we’ll review a few of the questions. Then we will break down the approach for one of the questions.

These questions should be answered either by data or by the opinion of the people involved. Using data versus opinion might uncover different issues, but either one can be used.

Questions to uncover hidden problems in business systems

  • What complaints does operations have about maintenance?
  • What complaints do maintenance personnel have about everything, including operations?
  • What are some reasons for low worker productivity?
  • What specific spare parts does the fleet use the most of?
  • What specific spare parts cost the most?
  • What jobs are performed most frequently?
  • What maintenance jobs cost the fleet the most?
  • Why was there a schedule miss?
  • What are the leading causes of downtime incidents?

Of course, the initial reaction when the answer sounds like criticism is to get defensive. In order to get useful answers, it can be helpful to adopt innocent listening, or listening without judgment. For a few minutes, don’t be defensive and pretend its not about you. Forget everything you know about the people and circumstances, and listen innocently.

Let’s look at some possible complaints from maintenance and operations.

Maintenance

Drivers abuse trucks, don’t know the first thing about their trucks, and don’t inform us when something is going wrong until it is too late. We don’t get trucks when scheduled for preventive maintenance (PM), we never have the right spare parts, we aren’t provided enough quality tools, we don’t have anywhere to do benchwork, and we aren’t respected.

Again, don’t question the veracity of the answers; operate as if they are right. Try to name the systems these complaints highlight. Each complaint points to a specific breakdown in a particular business system or process. Not having the spare parts needed is one system, and lack of space to work is another. These answers open up a view of reality that may be fundamentally different from yours.

For example, one statement you might be able to make from some of the comments is that the role of the drivers in maintenance (simple inspections, driver trouble reports) is not understood or followed.

Operations

Maintenance never returns the vehicle when they say they will, they always take longer than they promise, they are always having coffee and standing around. I don’t see them working, and it takes them an excessive amount of time to respond to a road call. Sometimes we ask for work and it never comes out; they don’t show us respect.

With the operations complaints, many seem to flow from a lack of adequate planning and scheduling. No matter how good a fleet’s planning and scheduling may seem, the customers do not see it. Customers suffer from something broken in the system. Also, why are people standing around? Are they waiting for parts? Are they waiting for a shared tool? Whatever systems or processes drive what is missing and being waited on might need an adjustment.

A fleet can look indirectly at its systems and see evidence that there are problems. Of course, the fix requires the cooperation of all the stakeholders. That is one reason this activity should be a diverse team initiative.

As superficial defects are eliminated, a fleet may find itself turning more and more often to the business systems as the place to make improvements. Fixing business systems can take care of a wide range of defects.

Joel Levitt is the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues. Levitt has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations in 38 countries. He is also the creator of Laser-Focused Training, a flexible training program that provides specific, targeted training on your schedule, online to one to 250 people in maintenance management, asset management, and reliability.   

About the Author

Joel Levitt | President, Springfield Resources

Joel Levitt has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations in 24 countries. He is the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues www.maintenancetraining.com. He is also the designer of Laser-Focused Training, a flexible training program that provides specific targeted training on your schedule, online to one to 250 people in maintenance management, asset management and reliability.  

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