Posted by: Knightbird | January 30, 2015

Lean Applied to Government Vehicles

The Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) uses a lot of vehicles. Add on vehicle use by the State of Alaska, the Anchorage School District and the University of Alaska, and government vehicle use constitute a significant expenditure within our municipal boundaries. Think about it. Vehicles are used to maintain roads, buildings and other vehicles. They are used for public safety—fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles. Transportation by bus is the only way for many to get around, but there are also vans for transporting the handicapped. Employees also use vehicles for multiple uses. It’s a big business within a big business.

Are there ways that Lean Thinking can improve vehicle utilization? Absolutely. The first exposure I had to this concept actually came from the Anchorage Police Department. One of their executives was concerned because it took a long, long time for putting a new cruiser on the street—as I recall, almost 2 years. The vehicle had to be purchased and modified for police use. It was, as my limited understanding of the facts informed me at the time, rejected as a lean event. The Champion of the change has since retired, and I doubt there is much change management thinking happening any more. But I thought I would write about the huge potential for gain with a simple application of 5S to government vehicle use. Here’s an introduction to 5S with photos showing some changes.

Many vehicles have a repair or maintenance purpose. They carry tools, parts and analytics. Vehicles are compact, and organization is necessary for putting all that is needed on the vehicle. Safety is critical, and so is security. Vehicle acquisition is a complex process starting with procurement. The vehicles have to be integrated into inventory, prepared for their purpose, maintained, and fueled. Some vehicles are multiple-use, some single-use. There is a lot of variability in vehicle use, and just keeping track of vehicles can be complicated. I believe it’s a perfect area to apply Lean Thinking. In fact, it’s probably critical since the vehicles are used in our harsh environment, and public safety is a mission for many of them. They absolutely have to work when called upon.

The first step to improving vehicle utilization in government is to organize all of the workplaces that impact vehicle use. A good, basic 5S can do wonders. Think about key storage and use. Many different employees use vehicles, and just dealing with key management can be complex. Vehicle storage, inventory, tool organization and location, records management and a host of activities impact vehicle use. All can benefit from a goo 5S event.

There are plenty of examples in the Lean Government workplace that demonstrate Lean effectiveness. And since the U.S. Military has used Lean Thinking since 2002, there are actually success stories in much more complex circumstances. If you think of an airplane as a vehicle, then any lean tools applied to maintaining planes are far more complex than anything MOA will encounter. Here’s a PowerPoint from the British Military demonstrating huge gains from their Lean Deployment. As you work your way through the slides, you start to see photos of taped areas on floors, labeling on storage racks and generally good 5S sustain. The military also understands how to focus on different levels of maintenance—classified as O Level (locally done at the site); I Level (done at regional Depots); and D Level (most complex done at

The City of Tyler, Texas, has implemented “Lean Six Sigma” and reports the following regarding its inventory of auto parts: “Vehicle services inventory: Improved the manner in which vehicle replacement parts were ordered and stored in inventory. The team was able to implement Kanbans and reduce the quantity of inventory that was held at any given time. Savings = $810,562.”

I will briefly enter the debate over differences in implementation of a “Lean Six Sigma” program. It has been my experience that Six Sigma is not necessary because of its complexity, reward system and training requirements. Most Lean Six Sigma implementations are just Lean Implementations. There is an interesting discussion that went on in Erie Country, NY over their Six Sigma introduction. A County Executive introduced it, and his successor, a Green Belt, got rid of it. The successor said all they need was Lean, and that the prior executive executed a somewhat mean spirited six sigma program. I agree that Lean is all that’s necessary.

This story describes a phenomenal improvement: from .5 vehicles repaired daily to 32. Calculate the improvement. (hint—it’s 6,400%). I have been engaged in Lean Thinking for a lot of years, and this increase in productivity does not surprise me. When you approach a workplace that has operated on a random and chaotic basis, the initial improvements can be shocking to people in the system.

There are many other vehicle use issues to address. While CEO at Maniilaq, I had frequent reports of company vehicles being used for personal errands. Children were being dropped off and picked up. Visits were made to the Post Office and Store. After hours and on weekends, vehicles were being used for cruising. I enlisted a Leadership team to devise a strategy to monitor use. When implemented, we saw immediate improvement through reduced gas consumption, less mileage placed on vehicles. We actually concluded that we didn’t need all the vehicles we had and started the process of reducing inventory.

I have only touched the tip of the process involving vehicle use by a local government. There are so many other beneficial improvements that can be made. I will discuss more of them in future posts.

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