Learning to Share Hard Truths Boosts Traylor Equipment Quality

Infrastructure contractor trains its people to examine their own work and collaborate without finger-pointing to avoid repeating mistakes

The Traylor Bros. equipment-quality inspections do a great job identifying problems. But only people provide solutions.

“One thing that bubbled up out of our quality inspections is that we have personality issues,” says Thad Pirtle, vice president of equipment at the Evansville, IN,-based infrastructure contractor. “It’s been a big issue with us, getting people to where they can discuss something civilly, rather than point fingers.”

Conducting an exit inspection, as each machine leaves a jobsite, and an arrival inspection, as each transferred machine arrives on a site, makes it pretty clear where damage or excessive wear occurred. And that is the object, after all; assigning costs where they are incurred and holding operating groups accountable for how they use equipment.

But there’s little hope of progress reducing costs if individual projects and the company’s equipment division aren’t working together.

“It makes a big difference, how you communicate to somebody that the loader you just shipped from your site had the cab door ripped off of it,” Pirtle says. Of course the facts are reviewed and the equipment division has the discretion to pay for damage that occurred through nobody’s fault. But that’s rare. Pirtle says it’s usually easy to determine who caused the damage, and the system is designed to improve future project estimates by making sure they pay for it. “You can communicate who pays the right way, or you can immediately make a guy pretty mad.”

The company deliberately invests in preventing adversarial relationships that waste a lot of time bickering over who pays for what, rather than finding the root cause of excessive wear and figuring out how to avoid repeats.

“We do at least a four-hour session on some type of personality training with all of our equipment-division people where they learn to communicate better with project management and with each other.

“The people we supply equipment to are our customers. If they’re not happy then there’s something wrong – whether their perception of the machine’s quality isn’t correct, or the piece of equipment isn’t ready to do the job,” says Pirtle. “One way or the other, it’s still the equipment guy’s problem.

“He can either convince the project guy that there’s nothing wrong with the machine – that it’s the way it is supposed to be and it’ll do the job they want to do – or replace or fix the piece of equipment.”

An annual equipment-quality meeting convenes Traylor’s equipment-division staff with field supervisors and managers to talk about equipment-quality deficiencies uncovered by inspections, and to work on strategies that prevent repeats.

“We measure our deficiencies as a percentage of transfers – the number of times machines are shipped. So now we have a scorecard or a barometer to see how well we’re doing,” says Pirtle. “It’s painful, I’d have to say, particularly when we first got started about ten years ago. Quite painful to see what we were doing wrong and what wasn’t getting done.

“We learned that the equipment division probably wasn’t as thorough as we thought we were,” Pirtle admits. “And the people doing the inspections and the people doing repair and maintenance work weren’t as qualified as we thought they were. We really kicked up our training since then, a lot.”

Swallowing the pill – even as it becomes less bitter – continues to work.

“We get the field superintendent talking to the shop manager; get them all working together as one team on company-wide solutions, rather than snapping at each other about this problem or that one over the phone.

“We’ve learned that quality is a journey, not a destination,” Pirtle says. “That’s probably one of the hardest parts: the quality effort never stops. Nothing is ever perfect. You get close to your goals, and as you start new jobs and hire new people, you fall back a little. You work hard and get close again, and then you back away again. It’s tough, but we keep getting better.”