Readers outside the U.S. might not know the UPS advertising slogan of “What Can Brown Do For You?” This often refers to the iconic brown trucks that deliver packages (and the brown uniforms of the employees).
One of the challenges UPS faces is the busy holiday shipping season. As this article points out, they will deliver 26 million packages today (including one or two to my door) when the average normal day is 15 million packages. UPS is known to hire a lot of temporary labor for the holidays. Normally, a truck will have just the one driver. During busy times, a temporary second employee (who requires minimal training) will run packages to the door to reduce the “cycle time” per delivery.
Labor scales pretty effectively with the use of seasonal labor (for example, Zingerman's mail order business in Ann Arbor, Michigan goes from 50 employees to 450 for the holidays) — but what if they have too many packages for the trucks to handle?
It's a general Lean principle that you should have flexible capacity that scales up and down along with customer demand. UPS can probably charter additional planes for peak periods, but customers never see that. The brown UPS trucks are part of their branding and serve as advertising for the company.
But, they probably don't want a lot of trucks sitting around unused during the year… so what do they do?
Well, in my neighborhood (and probably others), UPS got creative. The have a “PODS” storage unit parked in a parking lot near the elementary school (paying rent to the HOA?). I assume that UPS makes deliveries to that POD or they deliver a new POD via a large truck. There's also a large truck parked there that probably serves as storage for their temporary holiday mobile delivery unit…. a golf cart. See below.
It's not even brown :-)
Now, the golf cart probably gets the job done in a cost effective way. But, UPS loses the branding of their ubiquitous brown trucks. How does this affect their image?
Texas has suffered from quite a severe drought this year. But, we've had a lot of rain the past few weeks. Here's where the golf cart strategy stumbles – a rainy day:
Even with the tarps, my packages were wetter than you'd expect. Nothing was ruined. But, again, is this the image UPS is really going for? I admire the creativity, but I wonder if this is something that UPS will really repeat in the future?
FedEx has delivered some packages using plain white vans that I assume are rented. There's more than one way to skin a cat… what do you think of the UPS approach?
What are the lessons from healthcare? How can we address daily or weekly variation in workloads or seasonal variation throughout the year? There's not really a “golf cart” parallel for a hospital, I'd assume. We can't treat patients in the equivalent of a golf cart during busy times. How do we flex staffing levels in a way that meets patient needs, while being financially responsible, and practicing respect for people? Leave a comment!
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