The making of a UPS driver


FORTUNE Magazine – November 12, 2007

I always enjoy reading about UPS, with their roots and background of strong Industrial Engineering. Not Lean, per se, but a strong focus on finding the best way to do things. This article from FORTUNE gives some good insight into that approach. The focus of the article is on changes UPS is making to make their training more relevant and effective for younger employees, but it seems like a good approach and maybe somewhat reminiscent of the Training Within Industry approach to training and employee development.

UPS is known for specifying small details, such as avoiding left turns (which are slower and cause delays). I actually saw my neighborhood UPS driver waiting to make a left turn Friday in our area, so they can't manage to avoid it 100%. Granted, it wasn't a left turn onto a real major street, but he did have to wait for another car, namely me.

So, back to the FORTUNE article. The author watched the driver demonstrate and explain their standardized work, including:

At 9:08, he demonstrated “three points of contact” – UPS for stepping off the truck – with a hand holding the handrail, one foot on the package-car step, and one foot on the ground below, to minimize impact on the ankles.

Here's a great example of “explaining why.” That's the best method for exiting a vehicle because it reduces wear and tear on the body, not because some manager said you have to do it that way. They have training that simulates and tests to see if employees are learning that proper method. The training is hands-on and participatory, instead of being lecture based. Did anyone, of any generation, ever learn effectively from lectures and procedure manuals?

Down the line, another package car is equipped with force sensors in its handrail, in its bottom step, and on a large plate on the ground below. In a job as physical as a UPS driver's is – he must be able to “continuously lift and lower packages that range up to 70 pounds each … while ‘unloading' at a rate of 800 to 1,300 packages per hour and while ‘loading' at a rate of 500 to 800 packages per hour,” says a casual list of essential job functions – one of the most difficult things to teach young Supermen is how frail their bodies really are. Grow lax with your three points of contact and you can be sure you'll be growing old – with a hobble and a cane – before your time. And what better way to show that than with a computer-generated force diagram? Students take a few hops off the truck with and without the handrail, and immediately, they can see a representation of the impact on their bodies.

Generation Y is called “Generation Why?” as if it's a negative. In the Toyota Production System, we want people to ask why and to challenge things. Managers and leaders have a responsibility to explain why — that's a major component of the respect for people principle. Questioning things is only considered bad in a very traditional, top-down organization.

Because the young people they're trying to train aren't just Generation Y, they're Generation Why? – a tribe of disbelievers who've learned to question absolutely everything. And they need the obstacle course of Integrad not because they won't take notes in a lecture but because without these demonstrations they may not believe a word of what they hear.

Anyway, lots of interesting stuff there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I also read this article, and found it very interesting. I am a 29 year UPS driver, and I know the difficulties the company is having in finding young people who can handle the very challenging training. The training facility described in the article sounds great, and I wish we had one where I work.

    Just one comment about the left turns. I don’t know where this left turn thing came from because we all have to make left turns, naturally in traffic all the time. Left turns cannot be avoided. A left turn is no different than a right turn. We are required to clear the intersection before turning, left or right.

    I have never had anyone from UPS tell me to avoid left turns. I think this is an urban legend of some kind.

  2. I don’t think it’s so untrue as to be “urban legend” but the supposed “no left turns” rule is a bit of an exaggeration.

    From Business Week, it says:

    “So sophisticated is the software that it designs each route to minimize the number of left turns, thus reducing the time and gas that drivers waste idling at stoplights.”

    I think the key there is “minimize.” This software is pretty new, so it seems like “minimize/no left turns” isn’t an old company rule.

    On there was a discussion that included:

    “UPS just stopped by our house to make a delivery, so I walked over to the truck and asked the driver, “So, is it true you guys aren’t allowed to make left turns?”

    He laughed and replied, “You know, they never told us anything about it. I thought it was a joke, but I keep hearing about it more and more.”

    I think “UPS drivers aren’t allowed to make left turns” is a simplification and exaggeration of the company’s efforts to make deliveries more efficient in some heavily traffic-congested areas by planning routes for their drivers that avoid or eliminate left turns.”

  3. I saw on a news report that when they plan out each driver’s route for the day they try to eliminate as many left turns as possible. I don’t recall the report stating that they could eliminate them altogether.

  4. Planning out a route that eliminates or even minimizes left turns? Yeah right. I cant even get these guys to put the deliveries in the correct sequence. The no left turns thing sounds really cool, but it doesnt exist in out there in real life.


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