Spec’ing vehicles – the continual process improvement

Published in the April 2019 issue of Fleet Affiliation

With the end of winter, it’s time to put the snow plows away if you’re in the snowbelt. Spring is a time of  transition. Winter equipment gets stored, spring and summer equipment emerges. This sometimes signals ordering season for fleets. Much like Six Sigma, this is an opportunity to look at process. Six Sigma’s foundation is continual process improvement. While much more complex than three simple words, the principle is sound. When it comes to spec writing and procurement, there’s often a huge opportunity for basic process improvement. 

Beginning the process
Many strive to improve our organization’s specification process. Effective specifications provide the foundation for product standardization which has widely recognized virtues for controlling costs and improving both reliability and user safety. Specifications allow for effective design, construction and equipment procurement. Providing effective specifications is an evolutionary process. It is noteworthy that sometimes during the ordering cycle, fleet managers lean on the standardization thought process. While standardization can be an important cost controlling tool, it is just one of many available tools. Too often, purchasing professionals look at what was previously ordered, talk to the manufacturer and simply update the specification with the minor model year changes. While this may be adequate, I urge fleet and purchasing professionals to put their process under a magnifying glass. There are several key questions that need to be asked and answered. First, and possibly the most critical, is the question: Has the core mission changed from an organizational level, an operational level or an equipment usage level? If the needs have changed, then it is critical to provide the proper tools to support the needs.

Critical communication
This column continues to convey the importance of critical communication. Think of communication as data. Making a data-driven decision with accurate data leads to informed decision making. When asking the questions about needs changing, it is crucial to have proper and complete communication (data). Regular meetings with users in the field and upper management will provide a large, usable data set. In addition, giving consideration regarding who will write the specification is important. In the end, there may be one author; however, this should essentially be a collaborative effort. Again, it is critical to engage many parts of the organization with a stake in the end-product. While fleet purchasers go through a large supply chain for vocational vehicles and supporting equipment, it may coincide with fleet as the supplier for end-users and internal customers. Providing the correct tools makes the entire organization more efficient and ultimately reduces costs. In the end take, time to look at the entire process, asking three main questions: Has the mission changed? Has technology and new product been introduced? Have the end-users and customers been consulted? 

If you would like to discuss this, or other fleet issues with NTEA, contact Chris Lyon, NTEA director of fleet relations.