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How UNH IT PMO Aided the MUB to Provide a Better Service to Our Students
Change takes on many shapes and sizes. In the case of the Granite Square Station (GSS), UNH’s student mailroom located in the MUB, a sea change in its daily inventory necessitated a complete rework of a system that had been in place for decades. Email and texts have replaced letters. Online catalogs have mostly replaced printed ones. And the tide of packages from Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers created a greater need for space and a serious shift in the workflow.
“I've been working at UNH for over 25 years,” said Ken Barrows, Assistant Director of MUB Operations. “20 years ago, I would pick up a 15 passenger van full of mail and maybe five, 10 packages. Now we're getting maybe three flats of mail a day, depending on the season, and we're getting over 100,000 packages a year. It's led by Amazon. Our students are just ordering tons and tons of packages, and (with) email, there’s just no mail anymore.”
Theresa Faist has supervised GSS for three-plus years. When she arrived, the parcel problem was already an epidemic. Packages were stacked in two locations: at Granite Square Station and at a shipping store across the hall. Meanwhile, the mailroom’s primary space hog, student mailboxes, sat empty collecting dust. Long lines of frustrated students looking to pick up their packages flooded the MUB hallways. Student employees worked well into the night just to keep up with the volume. Something had to give, and it had to give fast.
“Our greatest challenge was space,” Faist said. “On a busy day, we were intaking about 1,800 packages a day and could touch them up to as many times as eight times, each package, because we had packages in two locations. Students would have to pick up a delivery slip in their mailbox first, which verified which location their package was at. At the beginning of the school year, I would have students work until 10 at night just to keep up, and sometimes we didn’t finish until the next morning.”
Lean at UNH is about improving processes to better serve UNH students, and to inspire and facilitate employee innovation on how best to add value while stretching UNH dollars to the benefit of the university community. Lean is fostered and curated by the UNH IT Project Management Office (PMO), who train employees of the university system in New Hampshire on the value of Lean, and also work with UNH departments to ensure its influence is properly leveraged.
Two years ago, Barrows and his colleagues attended both the Intro to Lean and Yellow Belt Lean training courses led by the PMO. It became immediately apparent they could use this methodology to solve the GSS dilemma.
“During the Intro class, this mailroom project was already cooking,” Barrows said. “I went to the first class and knew right away it was the perfect solution.”
Over the past two years, Barrows, Faist, and their colleagues worked closely with the PMO to help renovate GSS and streamline its operations. As a result, the MUB was able to close its shipping store while using the existing GSS footprint to conduct its work and business.
“Every year our package intake increases 10-15% and with that increase happening every year,” Faist said. “This year, we were able to process packages by 5:00 pm every day. The students are so much happier. They're not waiting in line as long. They don't have to get a package slip out of their mailbox to come and get their package. Instead, they receive an email notification when their package arrives. They just come up, we swipe their ID, and (we're) able to quickly locate their packages. They're happy, and we're happy we're able to serve them in a timely manner. I think it's been overall really good change.”
A reconfiguration of Granite Square Station included both eliminating the mailboxes while also creating space for the new workflow. A new file folder system replaced mailboxes, and packages are now handled two or three times instead of eight.
“Without having the mailboxes and using a file folder system, we now email the students when they receive mail as well as packages,” Faist said. “They really like that aspect, that they don't have to come here and check their mailbox. They just know when mail has arrived. With our new software, we also have an almost 100% pickup rate for a month's period. That is a great efficiency that we've added.”
Eliminating mailboxes also eliminated the need for mailbox keys, which students often misplaced during semester breaks or over the summer. These lost keys would result in an unwanted fee.
“We saved a lot of money on not having keys,” Barrows said. “All the management of the keys, the distribution, and collection. Fixing the boxes. It caused a lot of unnecessary work.”
Another offshoot of this project is improved staff morale, as GSS now boasts wide aisles and neatly-organized shelves.
“I like to see the staff being comfortable during work,” Faist said. “They are now much more comfortable in their space. They can move, it's not as confusing. They know their jobs better because we're just not all bundled up together. They have space to work and they're better able to provide services to the students.”
For more information on UNH IT's Project Management Office or Lean at UNH, go to http://unh.edu/it/project-management-office.