A FedEx delivery person talking to a customer.

QDM stories: BLADE initiative

QDM stories: BLADE initiative

Innovation uncaged: How FedEx team members improved customs clearance through data and analytics

How did a group of FedEx team members with limited experience in international shipping dramatically reduce the number of shipments held up by U.S. customs? With big data — and a process that combines design thinking with a FedEx quality improvement program.

When an international shipment has missing or incomplete paperwork, it’s “caged” — held at a secure holding area by customs until the correct information is provided. It’s a costly and negative experience for recipients and shippers alike, so a diverse FedEx team including engineers and analysts set out to improve the process for customers.

The BLADE (Business Leading Analytics Driving the Enterprise) team was determined to create a tool that provided a new level of visibility to international shipments and helped ensure there was a Commercial Invoice — a critical document for customs clearance — with every package.

Design thinking meets FedEx quality

The team moved extremely fast to produce a solution. The key to their speed: Design ABLE.

Quality Driven Management (QDM) is a unique FedEx approach to quality that helps drive continuous improvement. Design ABLE fuses QDM processes and tools with design thinking to enable rapid testing and the creation of innovative solutions. The team leaned heavily on the four-step QDM process known as ABLE — Assess, Build, Launch, Evaluate — says Ryan Honea, associate project management analyst, FedEx Express. 

A team photo of the BLADE initiative.

“We assessed the need. We worked together to build the tool and launched it. We evaluated it. We saw maybe this isn’t the perfect tool yet, we figured out what we needed to change and then we cycled back. And we kept doing that again and again.”

Innovation by design

That rapid iteration is a key feature of design thinking, which fits perfectly with QDM. A FedEx Express manager of planning and engineering describes the team’s approach: “We failed fast, listened to our customers and worked with them on the fly. But we first educated our leadership team, providing all the information they needed to ensure the couriers understood what was expected of them. We also provided means to measure performance and track it on a global scale.”

The analytics and near-real-time reporting technology the team created gave couriers and other team members information they could use to increase the number of shipments with the correct customs paperwork. Through weekly iterations, getting customer feedback on each one, “in 60 days, we went from a working prototype into our final vision of what’s out in operations now,” Honea says.

"Nothing short of phenomenal"

In just four months, the use of BLADE resulted in a 10% reduction in caged shipments due to incomplete or missing clearance paperwork — which resulted in improved quality measurements, cost savings and protected revenue. Most important, it helped create better international customer experiences.

“QDM is the backbone of how we were able to identify flaws in those processes and ways to make them better,” Honea says. Donna Cook, vice president of properties and facilities, FedEx Express, adds: “QDM gave a bunch of individual contributors that didn’t have a lot of background in the international shipping process a recipe for success.”

The FedEx Express manager says, “The results here have been nothing short of phenomenal, and it took every one of us working together to achieve them.”

Unlock innovation with QDM

With QDM, rapid innovation is within reach for businesses of all sizes in any industry.