Thursday, November 22, 2007

A formidable process: Indian Postal Service

Last week, as a part of our general training, we were being introduced to Software Engineering, wherein we came across the three most important things which render a project successful. They are: people, process and technology. The instructor gave an example of how a formidable process can make the entire organization superior. He took an example of the Indian Postal Service (officially known as India Post), which, in spite of a lot of difficulties, has been giving a promising service for over 150 years. I think that example is extremely thought provoking, and that is the reason I'm jotting down this article.

Let us quickly review the conditions under which the Indian Postal Service is working:
  • Letters can be sent to any place in India, from Ladakh to Kanyakumari, from East to West, from metros to remote villages and delivery is ensured.
  • With 20+ official languages and 24 languages being spoken by more than a million people, the diversity itself is a serious problem for India Post. But there is no rule that instructs people to write address in a particular language; you can write a letter to Uttar Pradesh writing address in Kannada, and still it reaches.
  • Address in any part of India (excepting a few regions) is messed up, with "near" and "Opp." taking most of the address lines and sometimes only name and city is mentioned (Yes, it's hard to believe, but I am not exaggerating. It happened with my father, in which only the surname and city was mentioned in the address). As against this, for the postal services of other countries, door number/street is compulsory.
  • Most people sending letters will not know the PIN (Postal Index Number) of the destination or they won't write it. Even worse, they sometimes write wrong PINs, but the people in the Post Offices are generous enough to correct the PINs and send it to the correct recipient. Contracting this, postal services in many other countries require PIN or ZIP codes specified, or the post will not be delivered.
Had we ever thought about all these? This is not a era when someone discusses why a postal card or an inland letter is not reaching properly. With telephones and mobile phones becoming a necessity and the Internet being the medium of fast communication, no one bothers about the snail mail. Also, when it comes to the public services, India is considered to be a close competitor for the last position. But, as I said, the example of the Indian Postal Service instantly changed my mindset and made me think and rethink.

Apart from all those constraints mentioned before, the number of posts undelivered is just about 5 per million. Very close to Six Sigma quality. And all this happens with no written rule. Such a quality service is possible only due to a formidable process and equally eminent people working in India Post who adhere to this process. There are a very few other such systems in the world, which always provide their 100%, yet remain unnoticed... Shouldn't we be proud of such systems?