The night Bill Griffiths, division chief, Fleet Management Services, Montgomery County Government, Md., first thought about submitting an application for Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, he was stuck at work overnight in a snow storm. He didn’t have to be there — but if the rest of the fleet crew was going to stay over because of the storm, he was going to be with them, working shoulder to shoulder.
That night, the team took advantage of the extra office time to work on its Leading Fleets application. As the staff members looked at all they’d done, they realized they’d accomplished a lot over the last year — and that’s when they realized maybe Griffiths should go out for Fleet Manager of the Year, an individual award sponsored by General Motors.
Griffiths knew the team had accomplished a great deal, but he never imagined he’d actually win. So when the announcement was made at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference (GFX) on June 10, it came as a very pleasant surprise. “I was totally floored. The other two finalists are so experienced and talented. Even though I’ve been doing this for 24 years, I’m still relatively young in comparison to most of the guys out there, so I never imagined I’d hear my name called. It’s really an amazing honor,” he said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I wouldn’t have been on the stage if it weren’t for my team. We work so well together, and I’m very lucky to have them.”
This sense of team is a driving force behind the many achievements of Griffiths’ fleet. It’s clear from his successes that his efforts to connect his team — from technicians, to supervisors, to senior leadership — with his customers has allowed the fleet division to achieve more together than it ever could apart.
It All Started With a Plan
Each year, Griffiths’ team develops a comprehensive business plan for the fleet that ties into its five-year strategic plan and the division’s core goals of strong leadership, innovative programs, cost-effective and efficient operations, high-performing teams, and customer satisfaction. In fiscal-year 2014, the focus was on safety, quality service, and reliability. The team accomplished these and more.
Specific tactics to achieve these goals included improved preventive maintenance (PM) procedures, increased technical expertise, and reduced breakdowns. Each of these focus areas has performance measures that are tied to division targets and employee performance evaluations. Each month, the Division of Fleet Management Services (DFMS) publishes 40 key performance indicators, all of which are published publicly to promote transparency and accountability.
Having a plan worked. In 2014, fleet equipment reliability increased 43%, PM compliance increased 15%, and downtime decreased 20%. These improvements in turn lowered fleet cost per mile by 8%, even in the face of a 20% increase in fleet mileage. The division saw major budget wins, too, finishing the year with a positive fund balance for the second consecutive year in a row, and saving more than $2.1 million in capital and operating costs as a result of fleet initiatives.
“The strategic plan was a grass roots effort conceptualized by all levels of our organization, from technicians to senior managers to leadership, for how to achieve our goals. That was the road map for where we want to go,” Griffiths explained. “We developed a strategy that leadership bought into and that our Office of Management and Budget supported because it’s a sound, fact-based plan.”
Reviving the Replacement Program
Among all of his fleet’s accomplishments, Griffiths names the county’s replacement program as the initiative that makes him most proud.
After a six-year moratorium on replacement funding and a 1,024 vehicle replacement backlog, Griffiths and his team rewrote the fleet replacement policy and developed a replacement methodology based on lifecycle costs. The points-based system takes a number of factors into consideration: vehicle age, mileage, maintenance, reliability, mission criticality, and condition. The team developed lifecycle models for each class of equipment, with the result being a more advanced replacement schedule that aims to maximize cost savings and reduce future operating costs.
“When you have over 1,000 vehicles that need to be replaced, how do you defensibly whittle that number down? Fortunately, we had data to help us make the best decisions,” Griffiths said. “Relying on data took away any bias. We were able to clearly explain how we made our decisions.”
The program has helped the fleet return the fleet replacement fund to a positive balance for both years it has been in place. Likewise, by optimizing and right-sizing the fleet, the division has reduced fleet size by more than 50 vehicles and has saved $2.8 million in capital and operating costs over the last two years.
Part and parcel to the county’s replacement program is its utilization strategy. Each year, fleet gives each department a list of vehicles and equipment that do not meet the established class utilization standard. Each has 30 days to submit a waiver request for units that are underutilized but are mission critical.
If a waiver is approved, telematics devices are installed in these vehicles and are reviewed quarterly. Vehicles for which no waiver request was submitted — or a waiver request was not approved — must be turned in for redistribution or remarketing.
Another aspect of the fleet’s utilization strategy is its motor pool. With some state grant funding, DFMS installed motor pool key and reservation kiosks at three sites across the county. This Web-based program allows drivers to sign up and reserve vehicles from their desktop. Once a reservation is made, users can retrieve keys to pooled vehicles at the kiosks. Centralized pooling has increased utilization and eliminated 15 vehicles, saving more than $500,000 in capital costs.
“In the longer term, the kiosks allowed us to look closer at utilization and shared use, then remove vehicles from the fleet,” Griffiths said. “While some departments weren’t happy about losing vehicles, the upside is that as we replaced vehicles in the motor pool program, we could replace with newer, more modern vehicles — and that made the new motor pool more enticing.”
Providing Better Service in the Shop
It was important to Griffiths to also make sure all the active fleet vehicles in service were well taken care of. So last year the department made two changes in their shops: a full-time training program for technicians and an improved PM program.
To improve technician performance, Griffiths and his team created a three-month onboarding program for new employees focused on core items such as preventive maintenance, HVAC, multiplexing, brakes, safety, and FASTER software. With the help of hands-on training modules and a training group comprised of existing staff, the department has conducted more than 30 training sessions to date.
“The onboarding program is especially cool because we had a recruiting and retention program a few years ago that we’ve been able to turn around,” Griffiths said. “Where our onboarding program used to last just a few days, now when new employees come on board they’re in the training group for three to four months before they’re even on the shop floor. But once they are on the shop floor, they’re a productive member of that team.”
The department also overhauled its PM program, which included updating equipment checklists, PM procedures, and retraining staff, and to great results. The fleet division completed 86% of more than 2,500 PM procedures on time, a 5% increase from the previous year, and exceeded the Federal Transit Administration standard of 80%. And fleet mean distance between failure has increased by 19% in transit, 43% in light-duty vehicles, and 42% in heavy-duty vehicles.
“Increasing mean distance between failure is so important, because it demonstrates your PM program is effective, and it also means cars are staying on the road longer,” Griffiths said. “Our customers, who we’re working for each day, don’t have to come in to the shop as frequently. They have that critical resource to help them complete their jobs.”
Together, the division’s training and revamped PM programs have produced significant results: downtime has decreased 20%, technician productivity is higher than 85% (averaging more than 1,500 hours of direct time), PM compliance has increased 15%, and overall maintenance cost per mile has decreased 8%.
Getting to Know Customers
Griffiths knows good fleet management isn’t only about vehicles — it’s also about people. Following that philosophy, the DMFS has taken significant measures to improve the department’s customer service program. Tactics included developing fleet coordinator training, annual department reviews, a fleet newsletter, and an improved website for better access to fleet information and resources.
Griffiths said focus groups have been a big help in understanding the needs of his fleet customers — and for the fleet group, in turn, to contribute to their success.
“I’m a big believer in data, but data only tells you so much. To really help our customer departments to be successful, we needed to get to know their mission — where they are going and what they do,” Griffiths said. “So we ask important questions, like ‘Do you have the right types of vehicles?’ and ‘How does your vision for the future relate to fleet, and how can we help you achieve it?’ ”
Griffiths’ team also makes customers aware of fleet issues like number of crashes, number of rental cars used, utilization and more — information they wouldn’t have access to without the help of the fleet division.
Keeping Employees Safe
Another people-focused initiative at the division is its focus on safety. After some alarming injury rate numbers, Griffiths knew something had to be done.
“Focusing on safety is literally the most important thing you do,” he said. “A couple years ago we had an ungodly injury rate, something like 1,000 lost days from injuries. Injuries affect shop productivity, but think about what they do to a person’s home life. So we took a different approach and decided safety needs to be part of our everyday life, a part of our culture.”
The division has done just that, incorporating safety literally daily on the job with “toolbox talks,” 10-15 minute conversations about safety conducted every shift, every day. The division’s full-time safety manager also posts safety and wellness topics on digital bulletin boards in every shop.
A safety committee also meets regularly to bring safety issues to the table. And if a job task has been found to lead to multiple injuries, a Job Hazard Analysis takes place, with the injured employees, supervisors, and safety committee members meeting to break down the steps of the task and identify ways to prevent injury. “We work to identify what could prevent the problem from happening in the future. Is it the tools? The process? Training?” Griffiths said. “It’s not disciplinary, it’s simply a learning experience.”
Safety is a critical training component as well. Each month DMFS holds mandatory training classes, including OSHA 10-hour classes and Hazcom training.
Together, these efforts have increased awareness and led to a 33% reduction in on-the-job, lost time injuries from the previous year.
“All of the things we’ve done have reduced injury, down to only about 500 lost days,” Griffiths said. “That’s amazing progress.”
A Team Win
With so many successes — and a Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year award — under his belt, Griffiths gives all the credit to his team. Specifically, he credits his Chief of Maintenance Keith Stickley; Fuel Manager Calvin Jones; Asset Manager Kathleen Hynes; and the training team, Ahron Berney, Jack Kehoe, and Rodney Hunt.
“Accomplishing what we did over the last year has been such a team effort,” Griffiths said. “I’m fortunate to be the leader of this great team, and I’m honored to be able to say I’m here because of them. The award is a testament to my team.”