Improving a process – US Airways’ on-time performance

Believe it or not, US Airways is now a lot better with on-time performance, even better than all of the other airlines (and this is hard to believe if you live in Philly, one of their hubs).  Apparently they are doing this with some good old basic process improvement techniques. For example:

– They have created a “rallying cry” to emphasize the importance of on-time performance.
– They support their rallying cry with financial incentives when goals are met.
– They have installed electronic displays for the baggage handlers so that they can monitor flight status and prioritize effort. A good example of providing workers with the necessary information needed to achieve a goal.
– They have runners that move bags between connecting flights when necessary.  This can be controversial. On the one hand it creates another process, which adds to variability. On the other hand, it prioritizes service where most needed.
– Buffer times has been added to schedules. And instead of doing this haphazardly, they appear to be adding buffers where buffers are most needed – on routes that experience the most uncertainty. This makes for a more efficient use of buffers.

To summarize, they are applying behavioral techniques (goals, incentives) and process changes to demonstrate that good on-time performance can be achieved by anyone.

Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2008 – How US Airways Vaulted to First Place


One Response to Improving a process – US Airways’ on-time performance

  1. Tom Tan says:

    “Apparently they are doing this with some good old basic process improvement techniques.”
    This post reminds me of the importance of working on basics. The basics are the first things that the successful practitioners start with. For example, singers need to control their breath. Martial artists have to know how to punch. Built on the basics, practitioners excel in their techniques, which are so fantastic to look at that we tend to neglect its association with the basics. We have also taken for granted that the successful practitioners must be the experts of the basics. However, the “successful” practitioners still need to rework on the basics.
    Without paying attention to the basics can come with big cost. In the recent Olympics 2008 in Beijing, some famed athletes lost their matches because of their unforced errors on the simple basics. The Brazilian beach volleyball players Fabio and Marcio, also the most Gold medal potentials, made consecutive unforced errors of passing and setting the balls, which are the basics in volleyball, and eventually lost the game to the US team, who was newly formed and less experienced.
    Grasping the basics can not only help you win gold medals in the Olympics, but also climb to the apex of scientific research. Scientists need to follow the rules of the lab experiments, and be very detail-oriented. For scientific research, there is no royal roads to take. XXX, a famous Nobel Prize laureate was once asked what was the secret of winning the Prize. He said: “The secret is pretty simple. You have to be like a Kindergarten kid. You should wash your hands after going to toilet and before eating. You should not cut the line. You should say hi to everybody. (something like that)” We had expected a Nobel Prize winner to say something really sophisticated about tackling research problems, but he disclosed such a simple “secret of success”-working back on the basics.
    US Airways seems to figure out how to turn around by working on the basics of process improvement. Me, as a graduate student, should also really patiently take the current learning opportunity to grasp the basics. Let’s start working from the basics.

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