ArticleDecember 16, 2022 · 3 min read time
A player in the aviation industry wanted to experiment with continuous improvement in a multi-vendor environment. An airline makes money when the aircraft is in the air. This motivates them to minimise the time the plane spends on the ground. During the six-month-long pilot program, the parties created a shared understanding of how to optimise the aircraft’s turnaround process using data analytics. The business environment has multiple companies working together for a common goal.
Most agile frameworks share a common set of values and principles based on lean and agile thinking. Lean practices were the best fit to start optimising the operations of the customer working in the aviation industry.
Data analytics formed the base for the cooperation model and revealed bottlenecks
In aviation, precisely defined processes create strict frameworks for airline operations. There can, however, be a lot of variation within these frames. The customer had a strong desire to improve their operations and optimise the time it takes to turn the aircraft around.
The turnaround process of an aircraft refers to the time an aircraft spends at the airport between flights. Here, time is money, as the airline makes money when the aeroplane is airborne. Multiple tasks need to be completed in a given order during the time the aircraft spends on the ground. These tasks, which different suppliers perform, include emptying the aircraft of passengers, cleaning, receiving new passengers, refueling, and catering, among others.
Multiple suppliers participated in the pilot program as a different entity is responsible for each subtask, such as cleaning or catering. The customer had previously optimised the process but had not reached the desired results. The previous attempt lacked a cooperation model that would bring a number of different suppliers together. Data analytics and process mining were vital in building this cooperation model because these encouraged each party to examine their actions objectively. Access to acquired data also makes it easy to pinpoint what needs to be done, providing an accurate view of the big picture from the beginning.
Process mining means modeling an organisation's current processes based on collected data. The events are gathered from the organisation’s information systems, after which they are visualised and analysed for business development.
The customer had a lot of operative data but did not have the tools or a systematic approach for analysing it. Hence, a data analysis model of the aircraft’s turnaround process was built. The data includes everything that happens when a plane is at the airport between flights. A visual representation of the process was made based on the data, and everyone involved could easily see the challenges in the process.
The bottlenecks of the turnaround process were visualised through process mining. Lean practices helped the participants find the root causes of the bottlenecks and solve them in the joint workshops. Data analytics thus formed a systematic and solid foundation for the workshops.
Creating a model of continuous improvement with Lean practices
Aviation is an interesting yet challenging environment for development due to strict regulations. Diverse sub-contractors and many locations characterise the field. Joint workshops of all parties involved formed the foundation for this pilot program. The objective data formed the basis for the work which meant that discussing different issues and challenges in these workshops was constructive from the start.
Representatives from different entities attended the workshops like flight captains, catering, cleaning, and refueling. All participants were trained on the basics of Lean and Kaizen, the main tools for the development work. Then, during the workshops, a routine for continuous improvement was created, which extensively involved the various parties in the process. Lean practices were also the key to strengthening a culture of continuous improvement.
Kaizen (改善) is Japanese and means continuous improvement in small steps. Kaizen is based on Lean thinking and is used to improve different processes.
Having several parties participate in the workshops and bring their expertise to the table made it possible to create all-encompassing visibility for the turnaround process of the aircraft. The data collected for process mining brought transparency to the current state and enabled an open discussion about the root causes of the challenges. Finally, openness made it easier to find solutions together.
Discussing the challenges with the right expertise regardless of which company the expert belonged to was perceived as a success. Practical experiments were the concrete results of the Lean workshops. Experiments were validated immediately in the field, resulting in more understanding and a solid base for further decisions.