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Staples Uses Business Process Modeling to Improve Fulfillment

Staples wanted to reduce excessive packaging but still keep its goal of next-day delivery for orders placed by 5 p.m. A Business Process Model helped map the way.

By Bisk
 Staples Uses Business Process Modeling to Improve Fulfillment

When Staples had a packaging problem, it didn’t just think outside the box – the company figured out how to customize the box itself to ensure every item shipped through its e-commerce centers went in the right size container.

That’s no small task for a company that trails only Amazon in its e-commerce fulfillment business. In fact, it earned Staples the annual Supply Chain Innovation Award sponsored by SupplyChainBrain and CSCMP.

Staples set out to address a top complaint of its customers – excessive packaging. At the same time it reduced waste and environmental impacts. At one point the boxes were so much larger than their contents that the company’s shipping volume was nearly half air.

A Solution Through Business Process Modeling

Staples attacked the problem using Business Process Modeling (BPM).

Companies use BPM to optimize efficiency and at the same time improve customer service and add value. Extremely useful in change management, BPM can reduce waste.

Flow diagrams are a central feature of BPM. Commonly called notations, the diagrams typically represent a sequence of activities. They show events, actions and links or connection points in the sequence from beginning to end.

Two types of BPM are known as “as is” and “to be”.

The “as is” BPM is a baseline model reflecting the current situation and the “to be” BPM reflects the intended new situation.

In the case of Staples, the “as is” model resulted in excessive packaging. The “to be” would reduce packaging.

The modeling is intended to illustrate a complete process which makes it possible for managers, consultants and staff to improve the flow and to streamline its steps.

Staples had to develop a process that cut the amount of packaging but maintained the company’s promise that any order placed before 5 p.m. would be delivered the next day for nearly every customer. The change also had to be cost effective and not impose more work on employees.

The company mapped its workflow of how orders were filled. The BPM tracked the process starting with the company’s order management system, through how the product moved toward a packing station and ultimately to where the product was packed. The BPM outlined the placement and layout of equipment and how new automated systems would be integrated.

Some Questions to Ask

Despite advantages a BPM can offer, some questions must be asked: Can the modeling show improvements and gains to justify effort put into the change? Is it structured to avoid becoming too sweeping? Will people involved, including workers, understand how they benefit?

Staples found positive answers to those questions.

The company had been purchasing pre-made boxes of various sizes and storing them until they were needed. Because the boxes often were too large for their contents, the company was essentially shipping a significant amount of air and wasting corrugate.

In 2012, Staples collaborated with Packsize International and implemented a Smart-size Packaging Program that produces customized packaging for each order, allowing workers to create a box matching the product to be shipped.

The new process, though, still had to meet the fulfillment requirements. Packsize developed a system with an algorithm that matches each product moving toward a packing station with the box being made. The process not only calculated the optimal box size for every order and routed that to the proper fulfillment center, but also to the most suitable machine at that center.

As a result, Staples reduced its use of corrugate by more than 15% and reduced its use of air bags for packing by 60%.

Those improvements came while preserving the company’s priority of on-time delivery.

The smart-size packaging was achieved through a successful collaboration between two businesses. It also resulted in less waste, employee buy-in and happier customers -- all suitable outcomes of a successful BPM.

Sharpen your business process management expertise through a University of San Francisco 100% online Advanced Professional Business Process Management certificate program that includes courses on the functional perspective, tactical implementation and strategic best practices of business process management.

The University Alliance program gave me practical application of the BPM principles that are often theorized. I was able to put these items into practice in my current role.In July of 2011 I accepted a position as Business Process Mgr. I was given a project to “improve the processes within the implementation department at the company”. Part of the scope of this new role included implementing a BPMS within 4 months as well as deploying a project management tool to be used during the busiest time of the year when 60% of our volume is implemented.The result of my BPM project was a 10% reduction in cycle time and record year over year performance improvement in customer satisfaction in 11 out of 12 months of the fiscal year which resulted in a 10% increase in customer satisfaction.This performance was made possible only by the principles and training that I learned within my BPM class…and that was just the Applied BPM!! I can’t wait to Advanced BPM Methodology and BPM Design & Implementation!! Thanks University Alliance for a tremendous educational experience. 

Kurtis Richards
Atlanta, GA

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Category: Business Process Management