The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

(No.3, February 2004)


A Guide to this Month’s Edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: Managing Your Spare Fleet

5. Quote of the Month

6. Ramblings

7. Announcements



Welcome to Issue No.3 of “ProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals.”


This month’s newsletter is filled with tips and thoughts to help with your professional development and to manage your business more profitably. My purpose is to stimulate your thinking; the industry benefits most when we all do our best.


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2. ProTips for Professional Development


Ask one more question…Often we think we have all the information we need, only to find out we fell short when making a decision. Whether working on a big project, interviewing a job applicant, or pondering a major decision, ask lots of questions. The more information we have, the easier a decision will be; the answer often lies just beyond what we already know. So when you think you “know it all,”, ask just one more question. Therein may lie the ah, ha!--the answer to help solve the problem or help make that final decision.


Follow up…After a meeting, telephone call, or conversation with a colleague, we often walk away with our minds racing with great thoughts and ideas that can flee all too quickly if we don’t take note of them. Take a few minutes to jot them down before they vaporize and are lost forever. Then organize, prioritize, and assign them to a date certain for follow-up. Without a system to capture and capitalize on ideas, we are doomed to mediocrity and rote assignments. Grasping that new idea or thought and following up on it will set you apart from the masses and on the road to success. Follow up and you won’t be disappointed! I guarantee it.


Follow-through…is the cornerstone of integrity. It provides the foundation to build a reputation as someone who can be counted on to get things done. How many times have you encountered an individual or company that didn’t deliver on their promise? How did you feel? Would you trust or count on them again? It’s doubtful. That’s why it’s important to follow through on your commitments.


The Colonel, Jim Reed, one of my favorite bosses, used to tell me, “Don’t promise more than you can deliver, but deliver more than you promise and make sure you deliver.” In business we can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid making commitments. The key to success is to deliver on the ones we do make. Without follow-through, our integrity will sag, and our careers will sag right along with it.



3. ProTips for Operational Profitability


Early morning maintenance…is the bane of every Maintenance Manager. It’s amazing how many trucks break overnight while they are parked, sitting there doing nothing, or as soon as they leave the yard. These are costly repairs, because they are done in a hurry to accommodate the drivers, or on the road with minimum parts and tools.


What’s a manager to do? Every morning, review all work orders completed before the shop’s regular starting time. Scrutinize them; make sure they represent valid repair work and are not the result of the driver’s failure to report a problem the day before.


If the work order is for valid repair work, determine how the failure could have been identified during preventive maintenance service. If the problem is the driver’s failure to report the need for a repair, then take the necessary action to correct the poor behavior. Continued driver failure to report minor problems at the end of the day will eventually result in failure to report major problems that will result in costly repairs.


Manage your warranties…We are so intent on completing the day’s work that we often overlook the cost of sending our mechanics to fix minor breakdowns, having forgotten that the equipment is under warranty. With a little breakdown here and a little breakdown there, before you know it, your mechanics have logged too many hours doing warranty work at your expense. Although in the short run it may be more expedient to handle new equipment rollouts with your mechanics, in the long run it will drain your maintenance budget.


Here are two suggestions to manage your warranties: first, make sure any work you do doesn’t null the warranty. Second, if you want to keep your equipment rolling while the bugs are being worked out, make arrangements with vendors to reimburse you for any warranty work you perform. Both of these suggestions will help you maximize your warranties, minimize your expenses, and keep your equipment humming along.


Overloads…In addition to the legal ramifications, there are costly maintenance impacts from overloads. Overloading trucks can cause excessive brake wear and failure, broken springs and spring hangers, failed hydraulic cylinders and blown hydraulic hoses (we know these are costly), and body and chassis damage, to name just a few of the problems.


Overloads are a simple problem to fix. Develop a variance report that tells you which drivers overload their trucks. You may have to engage the services of your IT department or someone who manages your computer database to do this, but once it’s in place, you’ll be able to manage overloads on a daily basis. This will reduce your maintenance costs and your liability substantially.



4. Topic of the Month


Spare trucks are like lifeboats on a ship; you only need them when you go down. Why then, is so little attention paid to spare trucks? If you’re a doubting Thomas, walk back to where you park your spares, take a beep breath, and don’t scream. You can fix it. There’s no doubt--managing a spare fleet is a daunting task and not for the faint of heart, but those well-maintained trucks will pay dividends. It’s good for driver morale, will maintain productivity, and will project a professional image to the community you serve. However, if you neglect them, the hidden costs will eat away your bottom line, and you won’t even notice it.


Here are six things you can do to ease the pain of managing a spare fleet, save money, and maintain a professional image.


  1. Pull all the keys out of the spare trucks and lock them up. Like all keys, keep a spare set in a safe place, which is also locked. Manage the keys like you manage your cash--with care. Managing the keys is the key (pun intended) to a well-managed spare fleet.
  2. Assign the spare fleet to one person, preferably a manager who reports directly to the general manager and is readily available. When a driver needs a spare truck s/he needs it now. Let’s call this hero the Spare Fleet Custodian (SFC). (We’re not letting the general manager off the hook on this one, because everything starts at the top--good, bad, or indifferent. Just don’t delegate this task too far down the line.)
  3. Insist that drivers sign-out and sign-in for a spare truck. This gives them a sense of responsibility and allows the SFC to track any misdeeds with the truck.
  4. Develop and communicate a policy that requires drivers to maintain the spare truck just as they would a regular truck. This means they report repairs, clean out the cab, clean behind the blade, wash the exterior, etc.--whatever your policy. The idea is to instill in the drivers the mentality that spare trucks must be maintained in first-class condition, just as if they are front line trucks.
  5. The SLC should inspect spare trucks at least weekly with the drivers who are using them, and also at the end of the term of use. This will send the message to all drivers that you are serious about maintaining your spare fleet in good operating condition.
  6. Once a week the boss, general manager, district manager--whatever the title of the person with bottom line responsibility--should inspect the spare fleet. Do it less often, and things can quickly get out of control.


The key here is to pay attention. What you pay attention to gets done. My friend Jeffery House, who spent 20 years in the Navy, likes to tell me, when things don’t always go right, “Ron, you don’t get what you expect; you get what you inspect.” Amen!



5. Quote of the Month


“Doubt whom you will, but never yourself.”Christian Nevell Bovee


It’s easy to fill your head with negative thoughts when you have a daunting task ahead of you. Don’t! Create an opposing force of positive thoughts. Remember “The Little Engine That Could”… so can you.



6. Ramblings


When it comes to customer service, I’m tough to please. Although I’m complimentary when I receive good service, my wife and family refuse to acknowledge knowing me when I get poor service. They generally step aside and pretend they’re not with me.


Every once in a while, though, there’s a silver lining behind the customer service cloud. It’s a beauty to behold when you see it in action.


I was returning home from the gym early one morning when I came upon an automated truck collecting its way up a street in my neighborhood. I decided to follow it to see how well the system worked. My ever-critical eye was watching every move the driver made. You see, I know how garbage service should be delivered.


I followed the truck for quite some time as it snaked its way around the neighborhood. The driver maneuvered the monster truck with ease as he picked up every cart and gently returned it where he found it. I was amazed; this driver was virtually flawless.


The driver had a tough time positioning the truck, especially on the steep hills, because so many cars were parked on the streets. A couple of times he got out of the truck to right a tipped cart or to relocate one for safe pickup. He never failed to relocate the other carts so the second driver had an easier go of it.

He continued his route street by street, never skipping a beat. He guided that big truck at a safe, productive, and courteous speed. I use courteous because he was aware that his customers were out and about, leaving their homes to go to work or drop the kids off at school.


I decided I’d seen enough, so I drove my car around the truck and parked ahead of it. I had to meet this driver who showed this customer service critic a thing or two. After I talked to him for a while, it became clear why he was so good at what he does.


His name was Jody. He’s been a garbage man for seventeen years, working in the Oakland, California hills for 14 of those years, packing garbage in a hook barrel hanging from his shoulder, walking up and down stairs. The Oakland hills are a tough gig, and 14 years is a long time. The only other person I know who worked the Oakland hills that long is my good friend Paul Cerruti, the master of uncompromised service. He’s an example to all that know him.


I asked Jody where he worked in the hills and he mentioned Montclair, on Snake Road all the way up to Skyline. I said, “That’s route 26.” His eyes lit up as he smiled, “How do you know that?” he asked. I told him who I was and that I had worked for Oakland Scavenger Company long ago. We instantly bonded.


Before I departed, I left Jody with this observation, “Jody, you’re a good garbage man, a fine equipment operator, and a credit to your profession. You’re a great partner to have; I saw how you watched out for the other driver. You should be very proud of yourself.” We both smiled, he thanked me, and we shook hands as I left.


As I was driving home I thought, “Whoever trained him did a wonderful job! It’s a shame we don’t have more trainers like that in our industry. Hey, Jody could be a trainer. Nah, the new system doesn’t allow for one-on-one training like it used to.”


You see, Jody was trained in an era of backyard service with two or three crewmembers on a route. Yes, the work was hard, but the service was uncompromised. The crew was always looking out for one another, training and coaching each other along the way. It wasn’t formal, but it was effective.


Someone, I can’t remember who, recently said to me, “The challenge facing our industry today is to provide the same quality service we gave in the backyard, but now, we have to do it at the curb.”


Jody is already living that message, because he provides backyard-quality service at the curb… A tip of the hat to you my friend; keep up the good work!



7. Announcements


“ProTips, the E-newsletter For Waste Industry Professionals” is produced and distributed monthly by R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc. I encourage you to share it with your colleagues and friends. You may reproduce this electronic newsletter in whole or in part, as long as you include the correct copyright notice (at the end of this newsletter), with a link to my website,


Your submissions are always welcome. Send them to If I use your submission, I’ll give you credit, unless you wish to remain anonymous. All submissions become the property of R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc., unless otherwise requested by the writer. (Sorry, that’s my lawyer friend).


If you would like more information on any of the above topics, contact me at, and please visit my website at for more ideas on professional development and operational improvements.


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Copyright 2004 Ronald J. Proto. All rights reserved.