Category: Food for Thought

Just the facts: “A Budding Network” by Frederick W. Smith

Dispensing with all commentary:

“A Budding Network” by Frederick W. Smith in Forbes 2007-05-07 (registration required)

  • FedEx spends ~1.5 billion /year on IT
  • Employs 7000 people in IT
  • FedEx Handles 3000 transactions every second
  • FedEx Receives 1000 package status inquiries every second
  • Orders are distributed to 70,000 handheld devices
  • FedEx handles 6 million shipments globally
  • FedEx has 275,000 team members
  • FedEx has 677 aircraft
  • FedEx has more than 70,000 trucks
  • The FedEx world hub in Memphis handles 400 flights / day
  • The FedEx World Hub handles 1.5 million packages / day
  • 15,000 FedEx employees can sort up to 500,000 packages / hour
  • A package sent from Miami to Phoenix will be scanned up to 2414 times

Fred Smith knew it in 1978

According to Fred Smith, in Forbes 2007-05-07 (registration required), in 1978 only 5 years after starting FedEx he said “Information about the package is as important as the package itself.” So here is an exercise fill in the blanks.

Information about ________ is as important as the __________ itself.

For example:

Information about the motor is as important as the motor itself.
Information about the customer is as important as the customer themselves.

This is a critical understanding, corporations need to consider deeply the value of their information assets. Listening to the master data discussions at Sapphire, many companies have a long way to go before they fully realize Fred Smith’s statement in 1978.

Under Communication Limits our Effectiveness

Why do we have so many meetings that have few observable results?

Under communication creates over congregation.

We have so many meetings because the participants spend a great deal of time and effort removing ambiguity and aligning expectations. The ambiguity and misaligned expectation are the symptoms of to little communication. Face to face communication is rich and powerful but it is expensive, requiring parties to be present at the same point in time and space, and has a limited scope of accountability. There are techniques to increase the accountability of people who use face to face communication as a primary communication mechanism. Techniques like formalized follow-up and written recaps create artifacts of the communication.

The lack of communication in any organization forces people to seek the richest form of communication. Over communication is key to reducing the number of meetings and managers must be conduits for and facilitators of communication. I found that when I feel like I am communicating to much, I am really just communicating enough.

So over communicate you might find that you have fewer meeting and become more effective.

Documents as conversation pieces

Many times people are unable to sustain a dialog without some concrete representation to reference. In many organizations critical decisions, direction, assumptions and goals go under communicated. A document creates an opportunity to hold critical information but importantly it creates a relationship between the interested parties. The parties may have little opportunity to communicate and without the formality of a document the dialog never reaches critical mass or never occurs.

For example a report card really is a conversation piece to be used by the parent, teacher and student/child. In the end the value of dialog generated by the report card will eclipse the document itself.

The importance of the document is eclipsed by the dialog that is triggered and focused by the existence of the document. At some level the document is simply a conversation piece used to focus the exchange and create a reason for meaningful discussion. Once the conversations are complete and a meaningful result is achieved the document becomes a reference to the dialog that can be used to remind all parties of the exchange and commitments.

I know this is not some formal methodology where the documents are the critical and substantive. Pragmatically the value of the document will rarely exceed the value of the collaborative dialog that surrounds its creation, socialization, and acceptance. In the end the document is just a piece of corporate art that inspires passions, opinions and is left as a memory of it all.