Trucks at Work

Getting organized

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” -A. A. Milne, author.

It‘s a boring subject, organization, though it fills up a lot of books about business I can tell you. Yet when everything is organized and in its proper place, it becomes just so much easier to get the job done - especially when you‘re not hunting around for tools, keys, parts, and other such items.

Had a long talk about this very subject with Corey Lowe, regional manager for Rush Truck Centers of Oklahoma a few weeks back. Lowe - who manages four Rush dealerships in Okalahoma - agreed to be part of what‘s called a High Impact Kaizen Event or “HIKE” last year.

The term “Kaizen Event” originated in Japan and refers to a focused, short-term project designed to improve a process. It includes training followed by analysis, design, and, often, re-arrangement of a product line or area. Lowe chose his Oklahoma City dealership to undergo a HIKE in 2007, as it was the oldest in his area.

The HIKE entailed bringing in a Six Sigma-qualified moderator who would help employees selected by Lowe go over all the work processes in Rush‘s Oklahoma City shop step by step to see where they could be improved - thus helping the shop boost productivity, in terms of getting more trucks repaired faster. Lowe also chose two front line technicians to handle this overhaul - Matt Wheeler and Mike Willoughby (who you‘ve met in this space before). They would create new processes under the guidance of their business moderator, then put them out to the shop for feedback.

“I didn‘t much at all in this - just put these guys in a room and bought them lunch for a month,” Lowe told me. That‘s a big understatement, for to my mind, it‘s a stroke of genius to have the guys who do all the repair work day in and day out guide a massive shop reorganization like this.

And this was a very detailed reorganization, let me tell you. Buckets for old rags, for example, were painted red and had a red dot on the floor - one the side of the bucket‘s bottom - identifying where they needed to be placed. Instead of having technicians leave their station to get parts, or manuals, or get manager input, Wheeler and Willoughby designed a light stand so a tech could flick a switch and thus call particular personnel to his or her station - allowing the tech to stay on task and not break stride on a repair.

“They hashed out everything, with the moderator guiding them,” Lowe explained. “When they got hung up on stuff, he kept it relevant. He‘d say, ‘OK, now this process you‘re trying to resolve. How important is it? Do you perform it every hour? Every day? Once a week? Once a month?‘ That kept everything from bogging down.”

In the end, with their plan in hand, Lowe shut down the entire shop for a weekend and totally reorganized it - including repainting the entire parking lot, which spanned almost an acre of space. “One issue is that our employees parked their cars and trucks being brought in for repairs all over the place - there wasn‘t a designated employee parking area,” he said. “So we re-lined the entire space, designating parking for our workers and specific spots for trucks coming in for repairs, those going out, etc.”

To Lowe, the results aren‘t so much about measuring dollars saved as it is about improving productivity. “It‘s all about making iron easier to move into our shop, get it fixed, and get it back to the customer,” he told me. “That‘s at the heart of why we went through this.”