At the start of the coronavirus crisis, when the nationwide lockdown came into force, the daily snarl-ups on Dutch roads suddenly vanished overnight. The lockdown has since been lifted and employees are increasingly going back into the office. Although many people are still working from home, figures from the National Data Warehouse for Traffic Information (NDW) show that the number of road users has pretty much returned to the pre-crisis level, but with one major difference: this year, the end of the school holidays wasn’t accompanied by the traditional surge in traffic jams. So why is it that the roads are still virtually congestion-free?
The answer lies in the relative distribution of the traffic throughout the day. Although the total traffic volume is approximately back to the pre-coronavirus level, the rush-hour traffic intensity is now around 15% lower. In contrast, the intensity during the rest of the day has increased slightly.
The key takeaway is that spreading the traffic supply more evenly so that there is less variability throughout the day has given us more room on the roads.
Another factor that has reduced the traffic variability is that there are still fewer trucks on the roads than before the crisis. Because trucks tend to drive more slowly than passenger cars, fewer trucks means less variability in speed which fosters a better traffic flow and frees up space.
The same principle holds true in supply chain management: reducing variability increases the total production capacity. Stable demand is easier to meet than fluctuating demand.
In today’s coronavirus era, we’re learning that we can do much more than we realized – work from home, hold online meetings, etc. Who would have thought that working from home a little more frequently and commuting to the office at slightly different times could prevent so many traffic jams? And yet we’re now seeing the results for ourselves!
Could this lesson be applied to supply chain management too? Could it be possible to significantly improve your supply chain flow by taking steps that appear difficult but are relatively simple in hindsight?
From experience, I know that this is the case. By uncovering the source of unnecessary variability, it’s possible to achieve substantial gains by making small adjustments in your portfolio, demand forecasting or manufacturing frequency, for example. It’s certainly worth trying!