Consider that 3.5 million truck drivers moved 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019 – that’s three quarters of all freight moved in the United States. Truckers carry our economy on their wheels and 97% of them are small and mid-sized carriers. However, these small businesses that play a critical role in our economy usually do not have the resources to build technology that help them manage their fleet with much more efficiency and ease. As a result, they find a way to get it done through manual processes such as using spreadsheets or notepads to manage their day-to-day operations.
At Transfix, we view ourselves as long-term partners to our carriers. That’s why we built Fleet Planner, a free online tool that empowers carriers to run their businesses by helping them secure the best loads, centralize their fleet management activities and keep a pulse on the health of their business.
Below Josh Cohen, Senior Product Designer, goes behind the scenes to discuss the issues he heard dispatchers struggle with, how he designed Fleet Planner to meet their needs, and how he sees the product evolving in the future.
1. As you interviewed carriers over the last year, what was the most resounding pain point shared?
There are so many examples I could share, but one really exemplifies how hard it is to run a small trucking operation. About 6 months ago, I met a dispatcher named Michelle who also owns her trucking company. Like a lot of small business owners in trucking, Michelle is the only dispatcher at her company. So on top of running her business, it’s her job to dispatch drivers, find their next loads, negotiate rates with brokers, and help drivers solve problems they encounter on the road.
In her words, it’s like trying to put together a puzzle when the pieces are constantly changing. It became so much to handle that she scaled back her fleet from 16 drivers to only 7. We knew we could use our technology to help so we partnered with Michelle who became one of our “building buddies” to create Fleet Planner. We kept asking ourselves, “How can we help Michelle get back to 16 drivers?”
When you’re working with so many moving parts, it’s difficult to stay on top of everything and make smart business decisions. That’s the problem we wanted to help solve for our dispatchers.
2. Can you share your thought process behind the product design process? What were elements that you considered when designing the product?
At the end of the day, design is about problem solving. How do you identify the most important problems your customers are facing, create solutions to those problems, and then prove that they work? So before we put pen to paper, we spent time interviewing carriers and visiting their places of business to understand the problems they face during their day-to-day operations. We looked for their biggest pains and frustrations and tried to find their root causes.
A major theme that emerged from our research was the fragmentation of fleet information. Time and again, dispatchers told us how hard it was to make quick, well-informed decisions when their data lived in so many places across paper records, spreadsheets, and single-purpose software like ELD or GPS apps. We saw an opportunity to help dispatchers keep track of their loads and driver schedules all in one place, so they can plan loads with the speed and confidence.
During the design process, we carefully considered how to design a solution that would make sense based on how drivers and dispatchers already worked. For example, we’ve known for a long time that dispatchers and drivers prefer to communicate over text messages – it’s a fast and familiar technology. So instead of asking drivers to add one more app to their phone, we made sure that dispatchers could easily send loads and share important updates with their drivers via text, directly from the Fleet Planner web app.
3. How did you work together with carriers during the beta launch of Fleet Planner and how did that feedback impact your design?
We created strong relationships with a small group of carriers who represented our target audience of small and mid-sized trucking companies. We held regular weekly feedback sessions with these carriers, where they shared notes they’d taken throughout the week as they used Fleet Planner.
The feedback we received influenced our design in many ways. Before we had a working product or built out a new feature, we would share storyboards and talk about how well our ideas resonated with carriers. If they didn’t understand a feature or thought it wasn’t helpful, we would understand why and reevaluate.
Our carriers helped us find opportunities to design a better product, whether they were entirely new features or small improvements that made a big impact — like adding the ability to reassign a driver with one click, given how often driver changes occur. With every weekly check-in, we came closer to creating something that dispatchers wanted to use every day.
4. How do you see Fleet Planner evolving over the course of its use?
Now that we’ve launched, I’m looking forward to learning directly from our carriers about what’s working, what we can improve on, and what we can continue to build to help them grow their business.
One area that I’m especially excited to explore is asset utilization. There’s a huge opportunity to help carriers make more strategic booking decisions based on the shifting needs of their business and the lifestyles of their drivers. By using a tool like Fleet Planner, we can work to surface these opportunities for them.
About Josh Cohen, Senior Product Designer
Josh Cohen, Senior Product Designer at Transfix, began building products for shippers and carriers in 2016. Josh has lent his design talent to help Transfix build our digital freight marketplace, mobile app, and now Fleet Planner. With collaboration like none other when it comes to co-designing our products, Josh ensures our products are built and designed for real people. Carriers and truck drivers consistently shared their appreciation of our platform and product’s ease of use because we always build with them in mind.