Management: Scarce Resources

I’ve been speaking to groups about using fewer resources to conduct our businesses. Some would say this is our sacred responsibility to deliver our services or products while using the least amount of resources as we can.

Some people, however, have written to me that they don’t have the time, that they are sinking with the work load they already have. I completely agree because I see that when I travel and visit organizations.

What if there was a way to save resources without a huge time investment? If we just walk around and look at things we can get some savings without a big investment. Once we have some provable savings we can sell the bosses on bigger projects with greater commitment.

There are four dimensions to the area of Lean Maintenance. Even if you choose to only skim the surface it is useful to know the four areas so that you can stand in the right place as you do your mini-projects.

Lean Maintenance can be thought of as a set of practices and attitudes toward maintenance. These practices (like never sending someone to repair something without at least thinking about it) are like exercising, eating right or self improvement. The improvement from the practice comes from its application over a long period of time. The good Lean Maintenance practices will carry you along, with gradual improvements over several years.

Having the right attitude is related to practices. We are trying to produce our product or service with the least input possible because it makes sense from a profit motive and because it is the right thing to do for our environment and for our world. Like someone exercising, even if your attitude flags (I don’t want to exercise today!), the habit of the practice will carry you over (you don’t have to like it—just do it!).

Breakthroughs in technology can happen at any time. Innovation is either continuous (incremental improvement) or discontinuous (giant leap in improvement involving shift to new approaches). Maintenance professionals who want to practice Lean Maintenance will have to be in a constant search for new technology. The key to using technology is to wait for others (who like living on the bleeding edge of technology) to do the initial “beta” testing and to put a program in place to benefit from some of their successes. Testing new technology in a scientific way (that is, with rigorous testing and a control) is essential to knowing if a new technology is indeed better than the old.

Savings (of resources or money) from Lean projects are like little rivulets of water flowing back to the company. Over time and with ongoing attention they gather together into massive streams and then rivers of savings. The key is time or duration. One project will not make much difference, but dozens of projects over a few years can make a substantial, quantifiable difference.

Ideas for action:
With these four dimensions in place and fully understood take a look around your shop:

  • When (if) your shop is ever quiet, walk around and listen for compressed air. That sound is the sound of money being flushed (to pay for the electricity), coal being burnt (to generate the electricity), and the compressor being used up (to make the air).
  • Look at the ground where you park your mobile fleet or the spaces around any hydraulic machine—see any leaks? That’s more low hanging fruit.
  • Look at your work benches and rebuild area—see trash, old parts, random tools, coffee cans filled with this or that? That’s more low hanging fruit.
  • Heavy dust and grime on spares in the stockroom? That’s may be low hanging fruit, but be careful on this one since you don’t want to get rid of something hard to get that you might need in the future.
  • See people waiting around for a job assignment in the morning (or any time)? That’s more low hanging fruit.

Joel Levitt has designed a short seminar (only 2-½ day sessions) called ‘Lean Maintenance.’ It is based on his new book, ‘Lean Maintenance,’ and shows how to start-up a cost cutting, Lean Maintenance program. If you are interested in an agenda and a free proposal please send an E-mail to with your location and the size of your crew.