As I look back over my career, I now understand that my applying process improvement started when I was an auto parts store manager in 1979. At that time, I really didn’t understand what I was doing could be considered process improvement, I was just seeing a challenge and looking at ways to improve the situation and better meet customer requirements.
We had several delivery vehicles, and we were in the midst of the 1979 oil crisis and gas rationing. We were only able to buy gas based upon the license plate number of the vehicle. We needed to figure out how to maximize the gasoline we had for each vehicle so we could still make deliveries to our garage and repair center customers.
At the time, everyone understood the challenges we faced of only being able to purchase gasoline on alternating days based on the last digit of a license plate.
We worked with our customers, garage and repair centers, and mapped out the most efficient delivery routes. When we had a delivery going to their area we called them to check if they needed any parts for vehicles that they had scheduled for that day. We told them that it was OK to order everything they thought they might need, and that they could just return what they didn’t use the next time we came to their shop.
Ultimately, we were able to meet all of our customers needs and business actually went up because we were responsive to our customer.
Planning like this is much like UPS who plans their driver routes so they only make right turns, UPS estimates this saves them 10 million gallons of fuel per year.
This was my start on my lifelong journey of operations and process improvement.