In 2016, Kenya Airways embarked on a project to increase its baggage handling efficiency. The way that it applied tools from both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies showcases how adaptable these concepts can be and that they are applicable well beyond the industries that they are most commonly associated with.

Kenya Airways was able to address its baggage problem by utilizing tools that are common in Lean and Six Sigma methods, such as Voice of the Customer and DMAIC. Of particular note in this case study is the utilization of two theories that acted as acceleration devices for the Lean Six Sigma process: the Theory of Constraints and the Queueing Theory.

Kenya Airways Had a Problem

Kenya Airways started in 1977 and was the first airline in Kenya. The airline has proven to be both popular and successful, receiving recognition as the top airline in all of Africa by the World Travel Awards in 2019.

The airline is a large contributor to its country’s economy. In 2017 alone, over 4.7 million passenger journeys were made to Kenya by both residents and tourists. This influx of passengers contributed approximately 3.2 billion dollars to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product, which in turn supported the income of over 400,000 jobs. Kenya Airways is the airline with the largest percentage of traffic at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the country’s capital and largest city. Thereby, it stands to reason that Kenya Airways’ success is more vital to the health of the nation’s economy than any other airline.

Kenya Airways found itself in recent years in a position where it needed to stay ahead of the competition, if it were to remain the busiest airline at Jomo Kenyatta. In East Africa, Ethiopian Airways and Rwanda Airways were showing major strides, with Ethiopian Airways even winning an award for the Best Overall Airline in Africa one year.

The mishandling of baggage has shown to be one of the biggest factors in a customer giving an airline repeat business, provided there are alternatives available. Customers tend to think of other factors first when choosing an airline for travel, such as price, comfort, convenience, and so on. Interestingly, though, most customers are more than willing to cut corners on these factors, once they have had an experience with an airline where their baggage was lost or delayed. They would rather choose an airline that offered less comfort and convenience if they had not had their baggage mishandled by that airline. Customers visiting that country as tourists would be more likely to pick another country as a future vacation destination after having baggage mishandling issues at an international airport during travel.

Globally, other airlines have been able to demonstrate how important baggage handling is to their success. Ryanair is considered one of the most profitable airlines in the world due to its low-cost model. However, it is unlikely patrons would be returning to fly on Ryanair if they had a bad experience with baggage. While Ryanair may be a low-cost leader by charging extra for many things that other airlines provide as part of their standard service, the airline has a much better reputation for baggage handling than many other airlines. Per its annual report, Ryanair misplaces an average of one bag per 3,000 customers. This is far better than traditional carriers, which report an average of one bag lost per 60 customers. So, while customers may grumble about the comforts that they forego to get flights at a low cost on Ryanair, not having a bad experience with baggage handling is likely a massive factor in having them come back.

An example of this in relation to Kenya Airways comes from a prior customer of the airline. The customer was on an international flight and could not find his baggage at the ramp station. He proceeded to call the airline as well as send emails for several days without a response. Ultimately, the airline finally got back to him and was able to retrieve his baggage a week later. The experience made the customer distrustful of the airline and reluctant to fly with them again.

In 2016, a survey was taken on the leading causes of dissatisfaction among Kenya Airways customers, as well as the airline’s staff. From the survey, it became clear that both were frustrated with baggage handling. When Kenya Airways looked at the number of customers that were complaining about the handling of their baggage, the organization understood that it would need to address the issue in a very impactful way in order to keep its customers coming back, maintain profitability, and keep ahead of its competitors.

Kenya Airways Decided To Use Voice of the Customer and DMAIC Techniques, As Well as a Couple of Lesser-Known Lean and Six Sigma Theories

While Kenya Airways utilized common Lean and Six Sigma techniques such as Voice of the Customer and DMAIC, they accelerated the work using theories that are less commonly heard about, such as the Theory of Constraints and Queueing Theory.

The Theory of Constraints is a method that takes a look at processes through a cause-and-effect lens. Through this lens, the theory puts its focus on managing constraints in the system, interdependencies, and variability. The theory states that constraints are anything that puts a limit on a system from achieving its goal, with the Theory of Constraints acting as a performance measure of the system. It serves to show where bottlenecks may be in a process that needs controlling. This theory is integrated into Lean and Six Sigma using the SDAIS model. The letters in this acronym stand for Strategy, Design, Activate, Improve, and Sustain. Its phases, at first, look very similar to DMAIC, but it is more focused on the optimization of performance operation-wide as opposed to approaching separate individual functions.

Queueing Theory is a tool used in Lean Six Sigma for the reduction of bottlenecks with regard to customer arrivals and waiting duration.

Prior to the introduction of Lean Six Sigma to the baggage handling issue, employees stated that there were significant costs associated with mishandling baggage at the airline. There were reimbursement costs and overtime wages for employees who would need to work extra in order to clear out backlogs. Prior to the implementation of Lean Six Sigma, there was also a regular push and pull between employees on the ramp and the dispatch team. This was found to be due to differences in process flow. Upon analysis, this difference in process was found to be the biggest root cause. There was a lack of alignment between dispatchers and the ramp team in regard to key deliverables. The ramp team handles offloading of baggage and was using the First-Bag-Last-Bag principle with the airport arrival belt. The dispatchers, on the other hand, used a totally different process. They were working off of the Bags Misconnections process. This was leading to major delays in baggage handling due to the two teams having conflicting process flows, resulting in process waste from too many movements with the baggage, trolley steering, and sorting.

Using the DMAIC process from Six Sigma helped to provide further clarity as to what the problem was and what to do about it. Data gathered using the Voice of the Customer technique showed that customer feedback revealed that unsatisfactory baggage handling amounted to 64% of customer complaints. This information was gathered through social media polling and helped solidy the Define phase. For the Measure phase, Kenya Airways looked at the information gathered and confirmed its accuracy in order to establish a baseline. For the Analyze phase, the team looked at the top five reasons for the baggage delays. The five top reasons amounted to a total of 702 hours a year spent on delays, accounting for 87% of the total delay time. From these five reasons, load connection was shown to be the largest delayer, accounting for 536 of the hours. This amounted to 67% of the total delays.

Having a major impact on the total delay time would be as simple as improving communication between the ramp division and the dispatchers while making sure that they were working together on the same system.

Pilot cases were run for inbound flights from set countries, with Dubai being the first location where such a case was tested. After a successful trial run of pilot cases, the process was implemented across all flight departures and arrivals.

The Outcome Was Impressive

After the implementation of Lean and Six Sigma techniques, the airline was able to report a 65% reduction in baggage connection delays. Management reported that team synergy is now existent between ramp and dispatch teams. Turnaround time has been greatly improved in the loading and unloading of baggage. Kenya Airways is now able to manage the process of connecting baggage with the controls it has put in place. This is accomplished through careful monitoring of the connecting baggage accessibility as well as compliance with the proper procedure for the loading sequence.

Management did admit that the airline had recently not been as devoted to the Lean and Six Sigma processes as the focus has been on emerging partnerships and executive change-ups. The managers interviewed stressed that there would be a need for refresher training on Lean and Six Sigma concepts for the staff to continue and build upon the improvements that came from the baggage handling project. Buy-in would be required from upper management so that the process could be refreshed and falling back to the previous state could be avoided.

3 Best Practices When Implementing Lean and Six Sigma Techniques at Your Organization

Kenya Airways was able to significantly cut down on its baggage handling delay time by utilizing Lean and Six Sigma techniques. Here are some lessons to take from their approach to the project:

1. Explore all of the tools available through these methodologies

Anyone with even a passing understanding of Lean and Six Sigma is aware of the Voice of the Customer and DMAIC tools. Kenya Airways utilized these tools, but also put some lesser-known tools to work that managed to help accelerate the progress of the project. Do as much research as possible in advance of launching a project so that you do not overlook tools available in both methodologies that can complement its more well-known techniques.

2. Address the cause that will have the biggest impact

While the team at Kenya Airways found several causes for the baggage delay time, it chose to address the single cause that was responsible for the most delay time. This is an important lesson because there will be a temptation to devote resources to addressing all of the causes. This can actually do less to fix the issues because it is spreading resources around too much instead of directing focus. Once one cause of a problem is eliminated, the others can always be addressed in future projects.

3. Continue your improvement

After Kenya Airways had success with its baggage delay project, it put control measures in place and eventually put its focus on other matters. Management has voiced concern about how this may eventually undo the improvements made over time.

If you have success with a Lean or Six Sigma project in your organization, try not to just stop with that project. Continue to find ways to improve using the methodologies and make adjustments to prior projects in order to make sure that those previous improvements can be built upon. Try to set things up so that, while you may need to do refreshers in the concepts, not enough time passes that you have to reintroduce the methods completely from scratch for your entire team.

The Adaptability of Lean and Six Sigma

Kenya Airways was able to make massive strides using Lean and Sigma techniques to address its baggage delay issue. By adapting the lessons learned from this project and applying them to other issues throughout the organization, the airline could get a massive leg-up on its competition and continue to be an industry leader.

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