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Launch the Story of My Short Term Assignment (STA)

As I pen this blog, DAL3, Amazon’s newest robotics sortable facility in Dallas, Texas is just days from opening. And what will not be apparent to the uninformed or causal passer-by is the sheer technical, educational and personal development investment that the company has afforded the onboarding team prior to a single item being shipped. Not only has Amazon formed one of the most talented group of leaders and managers in the operational space to run this state of the art facility, but it has done so in the midst of an international pandemic and the COVID-19 national crisis. I am in awe of the flexibility and depth of the launch program and its first class contributors. My newly formed understanding of the company and business because of their efforts has taken an exponential leap and has prepared me for what is to come and more.

To illustrate the entire construct of a launch and properly outline what goes into the establishment of an Amazon facility would definitely take more words that I can dedicate to a single readable blog. Just know that what I share is a fraction of the resources, teams and technical preparation that went into the opening of DAL3. More specifically I will touch on a few key points of my own personal experience. The fact is that I am more technically prepared because of the efforts of the Operations Development and Launch Teams. I have spent weeks breaking things in someone else’s building without direct attribution to my new facility. And I have had the opportunity to develop a team, establish operational procedures and create a culture with no risk to the current processes of DAL3.

Everyone has seen the illustration of the team building the plane while it is flight. A launch at Amazon is the exact opposite of that experience because you get to build your operation on someone else’s dime before you even get off of the ground. It is like going into a high performing restaurant and getting to replace all of their staff with yours, try out your recipes instead of theirs and the whole time affecting their profits and take home pay while they sit there smile and watch you break their ice machine. Or for you military guys it’s like going to 29 Palms, the National Training Center (NTC) or the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), but you get to sleep at home or in a hotel instead of at the foot of the whale while it is snowing outside.

One of the key aspects of a launch is the short term assignment that you spend in another facility while the final touches are being made to your new building. As part of the DAL3 management team I spent the last three months in FTW6, a benchmarking AR sortable facility in Coppell, Texas. I cannot say that FTW6 is better off for my meddling, tinkering and testing of our DAL3 operational procedures, but I can say that our systems are now tried and the team has experienced adversity and failure without risk to the new building. Amazon has to be unique in its willingness to pay two entire leadership teams to manage one building in an effort to get the second team ready to run a building in a subsequent quarter. If it is not unique then I applaud the other companies for the herculean investment that will only pay dividends in quarters to come.

My thanks go out to the Operations Development team, a newly formed team of experts (read Spec Ops) that really taught me all things Amazon Robotics (AR). This team is the brain child of an Amazon legend that was tasked with understanding and addressing the issues that had plagued recent Amazon launches. Bottom line is that Amazon decided to invest time, effort and education in our senior management team who may or may not have launched a building before. In my short tenor at Amazon I definitely have not launched a building so the time they spent teaching me about floor health, delivery estimate accuracy (DEA), inbound destination and recommendation, key performance indicators (KPI) and much much more did not fall on deaf ears. And to say that these were just classes would marginalize the long term relationships and peer mentors that we established. This team not only spent weeks with myself and my other four senior peers, but they created a lifeline for us to resource and utilize at any time.

Because of this short term assignment I have had the opportunity to develop a team, establish operational procedures and create a culture with no risk to the current processes of DAL3. I have had the opportunity to evaluate talent, shore up weaknesses and establish camaraderie before our deployment into our new facility. Definitely rare. And to say the team is ready to go is an understatement. No more of this is what it will be like, or wait until we get to…it is time to show me the money. Our eclectic team is made up of a diverse group that on the outside may look like an episode of the bad news bears, but in reality is entirely capable of beating the Yankees on any given day. Retail specialists, college hires, a Marine, an Army Chief Warrant officer, a chemical engineer, Amazon lifers, golfers, a professional soccer player, financial analysts and myself of course…all make up the DAL3 leadership team and are absolutely capable of hitting a homerun on any given day.

We all know that we have not experienced our last bit of adversity. Hard and tough times await us in the coming months, but after spending the last three months with this team learning the ins and outs of business at Amazon I am positive that I would want to face it with this same exact team due in large part to the investment in my and their professional and personal development, but also because I categorically know we are ready. Let’s Go!!

Lee Flemming, is a retired Army Colonel currently working in Dallas 3 (DAL3) Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas as a Military Pathways Senior Operations Manager. 28-year Army Veteran with extensive operations and management experience. The Boots to Amazon series includes regular installments meant to inform and educate Service Members and the public about transitioning into employment at Amazon.


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