Yongsan Garrison 'Ninjas' slash costs, improve processes
June 25, 2008
<b>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea </b> - Tae "Ted" Yu had an idea that was as easy as flipping a switch.
In wintertime, by simply turning off the voltage transformers that power air conditioning units, he saved about $54,000 annually in energy costs.
"When a transformer is on, it consumes electricity, even if the chiller is turned off," said Yu, the Directorate of Public Works chief electrician. "We were wasting that much energy. Why don't we just turn them off'"
It was quickly implemented, just one of several ideas that Yu and more than 30 other U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan employees are coming up with to improve a process or save money under a relatively new U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan program.
A spin-off of the more formal Lean Six Sigma program, the "Just Do It," or JDI, program promotes a faster way to implement changes to programs that improve a process or save money. So far, approved JDI projects are estimated to save about $3.275 million each year.
"It's about making us more efficient in what we're doing," said Chet Witkowski, USAG-Yongsan lead management analyst who created the JDI-"Ninja "program. "If we're more efficient, then the quality of the product and service to the customers is just going to increase."
The Ninja idea came after reviewing the results of the USAG-Yongsan Organizational Self-Assessment Survey at the beginning of 2008. The feedback showed that employees had lots of ideas to improve processes within their organizations but didn't think they had the ownership and empowerment to make changes.
"JDI changed all that," Witkowski said. "When someone has an idea, they usually already know what the solution is. Under JDI, you document what you're going to do and how you're going to implement it. Get it approve, then you just do it."
This is an alternative method to the Lean Six Sigma process the Army uses to make processes more efficient. People schooled in LSS tactics, techniques and procedures use specific quality management methods and steps to determine if an improvement idea would work. These are usually large projects that require months of research and analysis.
"An improvement project under LSS is a lot more detailed and can take several months," Witkowski explained. "You might have to do hundreds of customer surveys to determine the impact."
Under the more complex LSS system, trained experts even hold titles, or belts, similar to martial arts levels, such as Green or Black. An LSS Green Belt is one who works improvement projects along with their normal job responsibilities. USAG-Yongsan has seven trained Green Belts.
Under the JDI program, Witkowski calls them Ninjas because their projects can be implemented quickly and efficiently. From the initial JDI Ninja training in February, 28 employees walked away with the 26 potential improvement projects. Since, 11 have been approved for implementation.
Yu has two projects to his credit that will yield a savings of about $100,000 in annual energy costs. The first was turning off the air conditioner transformers.
His second JDI project involves replacing about 3,000 outside lights, or "porch" lights, on office buildings with motion-sensing lights.
"Right now, they stay on all the time," he said. "The motion-sensing lights will only come on at night and when it detects motion."
Most lights will cost from $15 and up, with some larger ones costing upwards of $90, depending on the size of the building. The initial cost of the lights would be offset with the first year's savings, estimated to be about $59,000.
Another idea that could save up to $1 million in unaccompanied baggage shipping costs Korea-wide is coming closer to reality.
Transparent to the customer, the plan calls for redirecting 25 percent of the 10,000 annual shipments to a commercial air cargo company contracted by the government instead of going military air, said Kum Chong-hui, transportation specialist at Yongsan's Installation Transportation Office, which manages personal property shipments.
The savings are substantial, and your hold baggage could be delivered an average of seven days sooner. The project is undergoing a test phase with unaccompanied baggage shipments out of Camp Casey.
A good idea is a good idea, Witkowski said. These, along with others, come from employees who might not have surfaced them if they weren't encouraged and empowered to open up.
"The JDI Ninjas are front-line employees who got a crash-course in LSS," Witkowski said. "With JDI, you don't need a full Green Belt tool box and two full weeks of training to be able to make the change. We have a lot of intelligent people working here, a lot of strategic thinking people. They are the best ones to know how to improve their areas."