Process improvement in the 13th century

Recently my daughter is watching the timeless Once Upon a Time… The Explorers by Albert Barillé.

One of her favourite episodes is “The Taxis and the first Postal System”.

Watching it with her I noticed the brilliant idea that allowed the Taxis family build their postal service.

Remember the quote?

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.


In this episode it was shown how the traditional approach (horse riders travailing across many countries with the post) could not compete with the new business model.

What was the difference? Traditionally travel was long, expensive and dangerous since the post riders:

  1. did not change the horses (so they had to avoid too fast ride)
  2. did not know the whole route (many countries with different languages -> delays due to communication problems)
  3. could get robbed

Generally this job expected great commitment from the post riders.

The new business model introduced by Taxis was based on a different assumptions:

  1. Instead of professional post riders they employed local people who knew the land, language and would not get lost (plus they would be robbed less often since they knew the dangerous places).
  2. Instead of having the riders take the whole route they asked them only to travel few kilometers where they passed the mail bag to the next person. It also allowed them to ride faster as they did not have to worry about exhausting the horse.

The result?

Well designed system using non-professional employees doing simple things very well (Adam Smith anyone?) outperformed the “business as usual” way of handling the post where expectations towards post riders were very high, but the system did not support them.

For the customers (e.g. kings) this led to messages reaching the destination point days faster than before, which resulted in Taxis family obtaining the monopoly for the postal services in few countries plus got elevated to knights (and later to princes).

The change did not require great investments (at least on a basis of the movie 🙂 but new way of thinking and continuous improvement approach (I loved the part when they did PDCA experiments and found out that blowing the horn can make other riders prepare in advance for taking over the mail bag).

So – if some medieval guys could transform the whole industry by using the simple process improvement techniques what results can you get? Maybe you will also become a prince or a princess (at least for your happy customers)? 😉

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