The USPS Should Error Proof This


Express Mail: USPS Says Guaranteed Overnight Isn't Guaranteed. What?

Saw this post on The Consumerist blog about how the United States Postal Service does NOT guarantee overnight delivery of “guaranteed” overnight documents…. IF you place the package in a drop box instead of handing it to an agent at the counter.


According to the blog report:

Dorothy found out that the USPS's guaranteed overnight delivery doesn't apply if you use their Express Mail boxes, because “Letters get stuck up in the top of the box all the time. Sometimes, it takes days or even a week before we find them.” Hey post office, maybe you should try to check the top of the box every day. Problem solved!

Checking the box every day would be a form of inspection — that's waste.

It would be better if the USPS could design a drop box that prevents letters from getting stuck. It's called “error proofing” (or “poka yoke” if you insist on the Japanese term). It's not really a new concept. How hard is it to design a box that works perfectly?

Again, from the Consumerist:

…nowhere on the website, while purchasing the Express Mail option did it state that items needed to be taken to the window/desk in order for the guarantee to apply.

I asked her, “Where on the box does it say that?” She then told me she had handed my form over to her supervisor.

I was given my full refund without any further discussion, but we did have to wait for half an hour while all this occurred. Although the supervisor did not want to give me the refund. She actually explained, “Letters get stuck up in the top of the box all the time. Sometimes, it takes days or even a week before we find them.”

Consider yourself warned. Does FedEx have this problem? Or DHL?

To top it all off, one commenter claims:

This is absolutely true. I worked as a USPS letter carrier and when I had to empty collection boxes at least half the time there would be a letter or two stuck against the side of the box or at the very top of the box. To combat this, the USPS has a company send out test letters to see how long it takes for them to reach their destination. They also do random checks after you leave to make sure you grabbed every single letter. People have been fired over this.

Step 1: Design a box that doesn't meet customer or employee needs
Step 2: Do inspections to see how badly it works
Step 3: Blame and fire people

If you believe that, it's not a very encouraging thought process they are following. Typical bad management, eh?

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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. Why do you think these people are getting the ax? They believe in their mind since they work for USPS org they do not need to serve or perform, they just need to get the ticket (be employed).
    That’s why it is so easy for anybody else to win over them (UPS, FedEx, etc), all you need to do is to deliver!

  2. No, Juan, I don’t think it’s that simple. If the USPS tests show that it’s very common for pieces of mail to get stuck, how can you blame the individual carriers for not getting everything? If the USPS has strict productivity standards (I’m guessing) that force the carriers to rush and be in a hurry, maybe they can’t take time to check for stuck mail?

    I think there’s a more systemic fix than just trying to fire people.


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