Lean Consumption at the Post Office


    Today I went to the local post office to buy holiday stamps and Priority Mail boxes. (An aside: Priority Mail for gift parcels is a great deal – you can cram as much stuff as possible into your free “flat rate” box that will arrive in about 3 days – all for about the price of the box alone at the UPS Store.)

    After waiting in line for 20 minutes, the clerk motioned me forward. (Note to self: avoid the PO at lunch time; half the clerks go on break just in time for their noon customer rush.)

    “I'd like to buy some Christmas stamps, please.”

    “I'm sorry sir, we're out of holiday stamps.”

    “When will you get some more?” I asked hopefully.

    “They're backordered now, but we should have them by the end of the month.”

    “But the end of the month is after Christmas.” I said lamely.

    “We have these salsa dance stamps – they have some nice holiday colors in them.” the clerk suggested.

    I appreciated the unexpected empathy; maybe the Post Office really does care. I pictured salsa dance stamps on my Christmas card envelopes and wondered if anyone would notice. Dancing is part of the holidays, isn't it? My mind went tilt. Next subject.

    “Well, how about some flat rate Priority Mail boxes?” I needed to ship some Christmas gifts.

    “I'm sorry, we're out. You can just use your own boxes and put Priority Mail stickers on them.”

    She didn't understand. Call me thrifty, but I like using the free Priority Mail boxes. Especially the flat rate variety that you can cram full with the heavy stuff for no extra charge. Besides, did I mention the price of boxes at the UPS Store?

    I left empty handed. I was an eager customer thwarted from spending money.

    The US Postal Service is experiencing monumental market shifts: email, on-line bill pay, FedEx Ground, UPS Stores, Google adwords. Their market share is shrinking all around.

    All that's left for them is neighborhood junk circulars and…holiday mail.

    A good first step might be for the post office to stock stamps and boxes so I can do business with them. Maybe if the Postmaster General read Womack's new book Lean Solutions, it would make a difference. I'll get their lean transformation started and just mail him a copy myself…damn, I don't have any Priortiy Mail boxes.

    See you at the UPS Store.

    (from Mark Graban –> here is an LEI case study on Canada Post using lean, great reading)

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    Mark Edmondson
    Mark Edmondson is passionate about achieving rapid, breakthrough results during a company’s lean transformation. With 30 years of front-line experience while working with over 80 companies, Mr. Edmondson developed a philosophy of helping companies create a culture that sustains operational excellence through low cost yet transformative changes.


    1. Thanks, Mark, that made me laugh out loud. I mean, I empathize with you too.

      Can’t the USPS hire whoever is leading the large lean effort going on up north at Canada Post? I’ve read a number of articles about how they apply lean thinking to make huge improvements.

      The typical post office branch needs some basic common sense and courtesty along with lean.

      Some post offices conveniently have those flat rate boxes available for you to just grab (they are free, after all). Some post offices make you stand in line (about 20 minutes!) just to get that free box.

      A huge time saver is the usps.com “print your own postage” which is great for priority mail boxes, etc. That allows you to skip the line altogether. At least the USPS is working on that, plus the self-service kiosks at the post offices. The typical customer experience, you’re right, it’s horrible


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