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TED@UPS: Are you a fixer or a builder?

Mark Modesti speaks on stage during TED@UPS

As a self-described "professional troublemaker," Mark Modesti of the UPS Customer Solutions group spends his days helping his business customers identify and solve supply chain and logistics problems.

The businesses, he has found, can be separated into two distinct groups: whack-a-mole players and high-strikers.

Whack-a-mole players are inherent "fixers," addressing troubles as they arise. High-strikers, on the other hand, are "builders," preferring to swing a heavy mallet high off the ground to solve their problems with measured, focused impact.

Which type of problem-solver are you, the fixer or the builder? We sat down with Modesti to chat more about problem-solving in logistics, carnival games and everywhere in between.

Q: What kind of trouble do you look for in logistics?

A: Sometimes trouble is obvious, like orders that don't go out on time and carry over to the next day. Another clue? Having to incur a lot of overtime.

Q: How would a "fixer" address problems like this?

The typical "whack-a-mole" approach would be to throw more people or money at the problem, when what is truly required is a more process-oriented approach.

Q. In what other ways does the "whack-a-mole" approach affect results?

A. If you are playing "whack-a-mole," you will not hit all of them. They will breed and grow. The first impact is probably on customer service, but supply chain issues affect everything, from supplier to inventory management to accounts payable to cash flow to even morale.

Q. What approach would a "builder" take?

A. Builders are focused on opportunities. They look at the big picture or the process. If a manager tells me that they produce a certain number of items in an hour, it means they are tracking productivity and trying to build on that. In contrast, if I ask what a good day looks like for a "fixer," he or she may only be satisfied that everything went out the door in time. That suggests they are just keeping up, rather than looking down the road.

Q. Is there another common example you come across?

A. Trouble means taking a pick-list to a location in a warehouse and not finding what you need to fill an order. That's an indicator of an opportunity for significant improvement. There could be an inventory management issue. How much are you ordering and how often? What is your visibility into incoming shipments? These are process issues to address.

Q. Why aren't more businesses builders as opposed to fixers?

A. They often lack the bandwidth, time or in-house expertise. Part of the reason they lack bandwidth is because they haven't taken the time to do this work. Most of us are immersed in the immediate and don't distance ourselves from the issues. You need to ask, "Is the way we do this the best way to do it?" Growth introduces new problems. As one customer said to me, "I need you to help me predict the next failure." He knows that things break with growth.

Watch Modesti's full TED@UPS Talk here.

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