Lean Six Sigma Applied to Air Cargo Handling Environment?

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    Dear colleagues,

    I’m looking to hear from LSS experts with experience of deploying LSS programs/projecrs within high volume air cargo handling operations.

    High level process activities include; warehouse pick, pack, move, load, air transit, off load, move, sort, store, pick, pack, land transit.

    Advice relating to lessons learnt; what works well, the things to avoid and how to engage and impact mindsets and behaviours of low skilled, low cost labor.



    Hi @cmcardle,

    I have facilitated some logistics CPI projects recently and I may have some suggestions:

    a. Do not limit your research to air cargo handling operations: From ports to railroad operations, main logistics processes, problems and KPIs are similar. Widen your scope into those areas.

    b.  Especially with low skilled, low cost labor what’s in it for me is more important to what’s in it for the process. You can emphasize, safety, smart-work, less physical burden, etc. personal impact of improvements for fewer mistakes and better OP compliance. Also do not emphasize cost-saving if benefits are not reflected on their earnings.

    c. Focus on interim output as well as the final output. A high-level process map with inputs and outputs identified for every step will take you far and fast.

    d. Start with a problem identification session with parties involved. That will secure your stand as the CPI process owner.



    Marc Thys

    I was consulting in Europe for a global express parcels company. Very interesting environment.

    I am assuming you are looking at lean tools and value stream analysis mainly.

    • LOOK for all sources of waste, starting with WIP (inventory) and waiting time.
    • Also look for mura (uneveness) – like arrival / departure schedules, loading schedules, picking schedules…
    • value stream mapping helps, but because WIP in these operations tends to fluctuate heavily in the course of a day, you need additional WIP graphs over time to see what is happening
    • Same for line balancing charts. See what happens over time, not just averages or snapshots
    • WIP buildups are inevitable but need to be managed. Unlimited buildups tend to choke the system.
    • In these operations very few people have the “big picture”. Make sure that becomes clear.
    • Metrics (on visual boards) need to be relevant to the operators – what they mean and how they can influence them. So focus on what they can see / experience in their area

    Just a couple of thoughts.

    Good luck,




    Mike Carnell

    @cmcardle Just to restate a point made earlier, This is a quote from W. Edwards Deming. “A common disease that afflicts management and government administration the world over is the impression that “Our problems are different.” They are different, to be sure, but the principles that will help to improve quality of product and of service are universal in nature.”

    I am not a big fan of relying on quotes to make a point. Typically when someone tries to kill you with quotes it is because they lack original thought of their own. Unfortunately your “we are different” comment is so common and so old Deming wrote about it decades ago.

    He also listed as an obstacle to improvement that people believe the only people that can help them is people who understand (have experience) with the problem. Basically we become incestuous in our belief of who can help us. If you look at your list of activities in your second paragraph there is one activity that is indigenous to “air cargo” So there is absolutely no point in truncating ideas and concepts to people who are in the same business you are in.

    If you look at people who deal in healthcare. They are always doing the we are different response because peoples lives depend on them. Really? If I am a jet engine mechanic on a 747-400 high density jet and I screw up there could be as many as 600 peoples lives at risk. Some one in healthcare, generally, does not have that many peoples lives in their hands due to one task.  That plumber out there installing a gas line into your house – same thing.

    Read a book called “All I Need to Know About Manufacturing I Learned in Joe’s Garage: World Class Manufacturing Made Simple.” You can see how ideas and concepts can be extrapolated between activities.



    Dear colleagues – many thanks for the responses.

    All very helpful indeed.

    Mike – many thanks for your constructive feedback and I will procure the book.

    I preach the same but unfortunately our clients, in this case a VP & COO of a world wide Cargo handing company think they are different! Our clients do not engage unless you can demonstrate expertise within their sector/domain. This is the reality, where our clients want consulting companies to hit the ground running due to their ‘insider industry’ knowledge. Hence my question directly related to Air Cargo Handling. Thanks again Mike

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