From managing iron to managing charts

Maintenance managers are always trying to be controlled by the bean counters. And in some cases they need to be, for there is no question about the value of measuring cash in versus cash out; of drilling down into the business plan of income and expenses to find savings.

For the last 35 years, managers of iron have found ways to reduce cost because they had to in order to keep their jobs; they had to be creative and make cuts to stay alive. Many needed to be forced, though, as some old iron men needed to truly understand where their costs where hiding.

But now maintenance managers face a new trend for trying to control costs that are rising and rising fast.

Costs are going through the roof for tires, emission systems, labor, and parts, and the maintenance manager no longer can find “magical methods” to reduce or maintain costs as done in the past.

Sure, we have VMRS (vehicle maintenance reporting standards) to guide us. Oh sure, if properly utilized and you have 100% of your labor and 100% of your parts, you will get the total cost of the vehicle in dollars. Then you have to find the common denominator you want to measure to – be it miles, hours, tons, cases, pounds, months, weeks, gallons, etc.

But at the highest level, costs are measured by general ledger accounting, established by how finance wants to code expenses for payment, with the higher forces wanting to see it in a much simpler, non-diluted form.

Yet this new generation of mangers using emails, texts, and Facebook perceives value by measuring charts, graphs, predictions, and benchmarking – all in a way to reduce costs or fix the perceived problem on a short-term, cost-cutting basis.

But the fact remains that the person sending the charts, in some cases, is now the cousin of the person receiving the charts, and that’s causing new problems.

A short story: a new manager is hired by a fleet. He is saddled with the maintenance department, yet maintenance is not his forte – his forte is organization from behind the desk, charts on the wall. He’s been hired by the owner, a guy with similar thought processes who is also driven by numbers, who has been unhappy for years with the condition of the fleet, maintenance facility costs, customer disruptions, as well as other missed operational opportunities.

So the new guy’s style and approach is to measure – make charts and graphs. His boss is happy because now they both can look at the same reports and both conclude that the costs are too high. They are not meeting the budget so they plan to drive cost out without seeing in real life where the money is being spent, such as the upkeep for an aging fleet of trucks with only a sprinkling of new 2017 units within it.

In summary, we’ve gotten to a point where no one cares or knows about how to fix trucks; what it’s going to take, how are we going to do it, or how much money will it really cost?

What truly works still, though, are the basic methods; basic simplified methods where good maintenance practices and elbow grease fix the problems, with “micro-measurement” through charts and graphs only required to understand that process – not control it. If you fix the basic issues, then the numbers fall into line.

Yet there is no more room at the top for such “iron guys” who know how to fix trucks but not necessarily now to measure that process. That is the never-ending challenge; make the repairs fit the numbers, rather than understanding the iron.

By the way, both groups have their missions: we iron guys need to understand numbers and data people need to understand iron. I would also state that without the push of measuring, bread would be $8 a loaf.

Thus, while you must measure, you must also understand and work jointly with the iron guys; all towards the common goal of being the low cost maintenance provider. Value and understand the iron guy’s position. He is the one who has to drive the cost out of truck maintenance, not continue to defend him or herself by the minute, in lieu of cost-reduction efforts.

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