Furniture giant Wayfair is committed not only to providing customers with a wide variety of quality products, but reevaluating and improving their own processes as well. That’s why they initially tasked a team of Operations Lab (Ops-Lab) students with streamlining their Wayfair Delivery Network, which moves large products between suppliers and customers by truck.
“I have always had a really strong interest in retail in general,” says MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) student Rebecca Cohen. “In my past work, I got to work with products that went to market, but not really on the direct B2C side. And so that’s what really drew me to Wayfair, is getting to actually see what that process looked like.”
Uncovering patterns in overtime data
Together, the Ops-Lab students and their hosts narrowed down the project scope to focus on how Wayfair can make more informed business decisions on whether a site should run overtime.
Through personnel and stakeholder interviews, data collection, and analyses, the Ops-Lab team helped Wayfair better understand the historical overtime hours and cost trends of their middle-mile logistics network. Once they uncovered these trends, the students presented their host with several recommendations, including staffing more heavily on days when overtime hours tend to be high and improving communications across teams.
“Our recommendations were really the fundamentals of execution: Communicate really well up and down the chain, share information, be more proactive in driving decision-making with data, and make decisions that are driven by actual data and not patterns or behavioral assumptions,” says MIT Sloan Fellows MBA student Taiwo Ajetunmobi.
The Ops-Lab students made a strong impact: Wayfair is now hosting a series of workshops and discussions that will likely lead to the implementation of the team’s proposed process improvements.
"The insights uncovered by the Ops-Lab students via their stakeholder interviews and analyses have been very helpful as we work to better align our labor planning with our desired inbound and outbound volume flows,” says Casey Biggs, associate director of network planning at Wayfair. “The work is still ongoing, but the students' work helped to create a jumping off point for us to build on."
Insights for future leaders
This hands-on project also provided the students with invaluable insights. Cameron Hoffman, LGO ’24, found it particularly helpful in preparation for his six-month internship.
I think just understanding how you ask questions to get data or how you get engaged with stakeholders early on is really valuable. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to take this class, as it felt like a good preview before the internship and working with a company.
“While this project wasn’t as data-heavy as I originally thought it was going to be, I also was pleasantly surprised that a smaller data project in Excel can make a difference, because that’s really what we did, and we still provided them with insights. Not everything needs to be complicated in order to get the impact you want,” says Cohen.
Happily, the Wayfair team was responsive to new feedback, leading to a good rapport.
“They were very, super-engaged on the project from start to finish,” says Ajetunmobi.