When is an idea good, when is it brilliant and when is it groundbreaking? Determining that is one of the most difficult things for companies that want to move with the times – or, even better, stay a step ahead of them. For us, the future is anything but far away – just one generation to be precise, as that’s the shortest unit that we can use for planning in a responsible, family-owned company like ours.
The future therefore holds a few challenges for us: climate change, global supply chains, increasing individualisation, new market players with disruptive business models, digital transformation with e-commercialisation, affordable technologies, available data and networked purchasing. It was with all this in mind that we launched the Planzer Workbench innovation programme back in 2021.
We are using the Planzer Workbench to look for new and bold approaches to the problems that we are facing now or can expect in the future. The Workbench treats new ideas as a precious commodity. They can come from our employees, customers, external experts, scientific or academic institutions. And sometimes even from the market itself.
All Planzer Group employees can submit their ideas via the Workbench Teams app or bring them along to our team in the Workbench room in Dietikon once a week. This room is equipped with an antique workbench, a white wall for sketches and notes, a coffee machine and plenty of work materials. There are also two people in charge of it who specialise in working with smart people and approaches.
We want to use the Workbench to speed up our innovation process, because there is a dynamism and volatility to the current times that we will only be able to respond to if we act quickly and remain agile. That said, the Workbench process is more of a neatly prepared ski slope than a freestyle course because speed requires guidance and direction – otherwise it will send us off course at some point.
Once an idea is submitted to the Workbench, our two idea workers, Björn Lindner and Miguel Aires, take it in hand. They add detail and prepare it for initial discussion by the diverse team. If the team agrees, a prototype is created: for example as a process design, visualisation or draft of a landing page. The divisional managers then have to approve the idea – which can be a painful decision, as not every prototype passes this audition.
If it does, the Workbench team then launches a pilot project, working with selected employees, customers or business partners, for example, and using state-of-the-art software and new technologies. The idea becomes a reality for the first time and we are able to check how well the proposed solution fits us or our customers and what its chances of success are. The Workbench team summarises all of the findings in a report and presents this to the Executive Board with its recommendation. If we get an OK from the very top, the idea is transferred to the normal development process.
Sometimes it’s the small things – however simple they may be – that have the biggest impact and can make the working day genuinely easier. For example, our employees can now use Twint to pay in the Plazito restaurant. This idea came from an employee and we implemented it quickly and easily. The Workbench isn’t just looking for the egg of Columbus. Ideas are everywhere and anyone can come up with them. It often takes a certain amount of time to find out if they are good, or even innovative. It’s crucial that this time is used to analyse the problem closely and not to rush into thinking about the implementation or the solution, because the more precisely you understand the problem, the better the solution will be. That’s why, among other things, we use the Design Thinking process method (see below).
It’s all about e-commerce right now, especially since the pandemic. However, until recently, having your own online shop was expensive, the fees for marketplaces were high and there were numerous restrictions. These days, anyone and everyone can start up an online shop. This is where the ‘Plug & Planzer Parcel’ workbench idea comes in. The free plug-in combines the logistics of an online shop with the benefits of Planzer Parcel. To put it another way, ‘Plug & Planzer Parcel’ can be installed incredibly easily into the shop CMS. You don’t need to enter any shipping details manually, the shipping labels are printed automatically, and Planzer Parcel collects the parcels by arrangement from the store operator and delivers them the following day.
The idea behind ‘Plug & Planzer Parcel’ didn’t come from us, but we worked with our parcel sales team, our EDI team and a digital agency to develop the concept, look for (and find) test customers, develop a prototype and start a pilot project. In December 2021, we went live with the first Planzer Parcel plug-in for Woocommerce.
An idea for improving the drivers’ experience came via the Workbench app. It requires us to listen better to Planzer Parcel employees, access their feedback from delivery runs, support them in their demanding work and, finally, keep an eye on their work-life balance. A driver experience chain was created as a result of the Workbench process, which serves as the basis for developing new ideas. For example, we are working on giving drivers a guaranteed home time – if not every day, then at least on a regular basis. We are also going to develop an innovative new catering concept, and automatically incorporate driver feedback about their own and local conditions into the route planning for subsequent runs.
Driverless parcel delivery – just a pipe dream? Not at all. We’re talking about sustainable urban logistics. To that end, we have established a collaboration with Udelv. This start-up specialises in autonomous delivery vehicles for deliveries to homes or post office boxes. The electric vehicles are ideal for congested inner cities with high emission levels. They are less error-prone, considerably cheaper than driver-controlled services and also allow providers a few extra hours of service capacity. For parcel recipients, it means paying less and getting faster delivery. Our Workbench team examined Udelv’s vision and then, in summer 2021, reserved five autonomous electric delivery vehicles. We will be using them very soon on designated shuttle corridors in Swiss cities in order to gain some initial experience. Longer term, we want to use the Udelv vehicles to save our drivers the stress of working in the city and to deploy them in more rural areas instead. That way, we will also be able to deliver to our customers there on time and with a smile.
Design Thinking is a method used for understanding problems and developing innovative solutions for them. It focuses on people and what they need. The process follows the stages of understand, observe, define, ideate, prototype and test. Design Thinking works best when everyone involved comes with openness, creativity and a range of skills and experience.
To keep track of the variety of different ideas submitted, we have defined five subject areas for categorising them:
The future of working is an area particularly close to our hearts. Here, we explore questions like:
The Planzer Workbench helps us to remain forward-thinking by picking up on and developing issues that will determine the future. We can think outside the box, try out and reject different ideas. This means that we are able to create a dynamic that would never be possible in our everyday work and to strengthen our innovative ability. And finally, we are turning our employees into valuable entrepreneurs that we can involve in the future of our company.
‘Innovation is no guarantee against failure, but without innovation, failure is guaranteed.’© Stefan R. Munz (*1961), product and organisation developer
Together with the IML, we developed a self-learning algorithm and provided it with a range of influencing factors, criteria and priorities. These included orders with a same-day collection or delivery date, the number of available drivers, distances, stop times and much more. Using these specifications, our algorithm sets about its calculations the night before the delivery date and outputs the optimal routes. In addition to the above specifications, these routes have to take account of redeliveries, the time frames you have requested and – most important of all – ensure that we keep the number of kilometres we travel to a minimum.