Opening Story: Delivering Innovation Overnight

December 3

David smiled as he turned off the lights and headed for his car. The weekend had arrived and for the first time in several weeks, he wouldn't be coming in Saturday morning. Tomorrow, he would hang some Christmas lights and even do a little Christmas shopping—his least favorite holiday pastime. But, like many other things in life, it had to be done. As David approached his Mini Cooper, he heard someone call his name. Turning, David saw Matt Williams, his counterpart from warehousing running in his direction. He hadn't seen Matt for a while. Smiling he greeted his old friend, "How are you doing Matt? What brings you to corporate?"

Matt laughed, and said, "Work, what else? Seriously, between Susan's quest to conquer omni-channel and Emily's constant push to lean-up operations, I end up in way too many meetings over here. Anyway, I'm glad I saw you. I've wanted to reach out to you for a while. Do you have a minute? I'd like to share two thoughts."

"Sure, Matt. What's on your mind?" David replied.

"I guess my first point isn't so much a thought as it is a question. Fulfillment is a big deal for Olympus and warehousing plays a key role in making sure our customers get what they need when they need it. Why haven't you invited anyone from my team to join your task force?" Matt queried.

"That's a fair question," David said. "I don't have a good answer. Are you volunteering?"

It was Matt's turn to smile. He said, "I guess I am."

"Then, count yourself in! You said ‘two thoughts.' What's number two?" David asked.

"Given all of the change initiatives going on around here, I've been wondering how we can create a little more open space among the warehousing team for innovation. We're implementing lean principles—and with good results." Matt paused. Continuing, he said, "Now, I'm looking for something a little less structured. I'd like to see my team get out of the box—pun intended. I want members of my team to stretch their imaginations—to tackle the things we never seem to get around to. After doing a little exploring, I've decided to run an end-of-the-year FedEx Day on December 29th and 30th. I thought I'd invite you to come and see how it works. What do you think?"

"You've piqued my interest," David responded. "What exactly is a FedEx Day and how does it work?"

"I'm borrowing the concept from Atlassian, an Australian software company. They do this once a quarter. The concept is simple: Open up a 24-hour space for ideation and see what people come up with. Here's how we're going to do it. On Thursday afternoon, right after lunch, each individual or team will turn in a very brief, written ‘shipment order' describing what they intend to do, why they're doing it, and what they hope to accomplish over the next 24 hours. Then they go to work. Friday at 1:00 pm everyone will turn in a ‘delivery report.' But, we don't want a boring written report. We're looking for a video or blog post. Something out of the ordinary. Then each individual will get ten minutes to present their ideas to each other and to some members of our leadership team—like you. Everyone will then vote for the best idea. The bottom line: Everyone is competing for respect—for bragging rights. There's no penalty for failing. In fact, I expect failure. If we don't fail, we're not getting far enough out of the box. So, what do you think of the idea?" Matt asked.

"I love the idea. That's a great play on FedEx's old tagline: ‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.' It sounds like it could be a lot of fun. But, honestly, the idea seems a little 'techy.' No offense, but it doesn't sound like something a bunch of warehouse guys would think of—or do," David mocked. "I'd love to join the fun. Let me check my calendar."

Teaming can help you get out of the box

December 29 at 1:30 pm

"So, Matt, what do those delivery reports look like? What are the brilliant ideas your teams will be feverishly working on for the next 24 hours?" David asked.

"Let's take a look," Matt said with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. "This first one is going to explore the question, ‘What could be a warehouse?' Look at this: They propose setting up a mini AS/RS in the back room of retail stores to pick fast-moving items for home delivery. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"

"Well, Matt, you asked for out of the box." David said smiling. "But, is it so much crazier than sending an employee through a busy store to hand pick items off a shelf to fill Internet orders. I think that team is onto something. It's about time we started re-imagining our business models. What else is on the table?"

"This one is a quick benchmarking project. The team wants to take a look at the fiasco that took place among Amazon, P&G, and Target." After sighing, Matt continued, "I remember that. Target wasn't very happy when P&G allowed Amazon to deliver to customers straight out of P&G warehouses. The team calls the idea, ‘blurring the lines.'"

"Hey, Matt, am I reading this one right? This team wants to copy Amazon's predictive shipping model and start shipping straight to customers—before they place an order. That would certainly solve my fulfillment problems. What do you think we'd need to do to ever be able to do that?" David asked skeptically.

"No clue," Matt answered. "I guess that's what the team will tell us tomorrow. I can't wait."

"The next 24 hours should be a lot of fun," David agreed.

Consider as you read:

  1. Why do you think David left warehousing off the fulfillment task force?

  2. What are the pros and cons of a program like FedEx Days? (FYI: Atlassian now calls these open innovation spaces "ShipIt Days." 1

  3. What do you think of the ideas that Matt's teams are proposing? What innovative ideas would you propose to re-imagine warehousing's role in value creation?