Who’s sabotaging your optimization results?

<!– –>It was puzzling.

We’d identified hidden optimization potential and our customer – a transportation company – was excited about realizing that potential with an intelligent decision support system.

And so we implemented the system, tested it thoroughly with their planners, and waited expectantly for the dramatic improvements we’d predicted.


While the schedules achieved significant reductions in the number of trucks and trailers required, the results didn’t reflect this. Why?

We began our investigation by sitting next to the people who actually executed the plans – the fleet managers – and watched what happened. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the plans weren’t being executed, at least not in their original form. Every schedule had to be ‘tweaked’ and each ‘tweak’ sent changes cascading through the schedules that wrecked the optimization potential the planners had achieved.

Were the fleet managers sabotaging their company’s optimization results?

Not at all.

The real culprit was reality – or rather the fact that the schedules did not reflect it: Rules that were important to the fleet managers and drivers weren’t in the system. Yet.

An example of such a rule was the ‘trailer swap’ where drivers coming from opposite directions swapped trailers so they could end their shifts at their respective bases. While the system and the planners recognized the fact that there were trailer swaps, the planners had assumed the swaps could take place anywhere. Which simply wasn’t the case.

It turned out that the drivers had very specific preferences about where the swaps should take place, and the fleet managers regularly tweaked plans to accommodate them.

The ‘swaps-in-specific-places’ rule was just one of many that were known to fleet managers and drivers but not to planners and – by implication –  the intelligent decision support system the planners were working with.

Once the problem had been identified, fixing it was a simple matter of adding a few crucial rules.

The difference was immediate: As we’d predicted, the company was able to operate with far fewer resources while maintaining its excellent reputation for on-time deliveries.

Discovering hidden optimization potential is always exciting. But as this account shows, there’s more to realizing that potential than meets the eye.

It’s critical to capture exactly ‘how things are really done’ for unless you do your carefully optimized plans are sure to be sabotaged.

By reality.

Interested in learning more about optimization? Download your free copy of The top 2 myths about optimization.