December 16, 2013
- As in business, the best measure of the success of this program is repeat customers. Certified green belts are now returning to expand their LSS skill sets through black belt certification.
The introduction most federal employees get to Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a single sentence: "Lean Six Sigma makes sense for industry, but not for the government." Twenty-one months and $312 million in cost reductions later, I'm not convinced.
In FY12 and the first three quarters of FY13, the Army certified 29 green belts and six black belts at the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications -- Tactical (PEO C3T), including 17 majors and one captain. The PEO's 37 gated projects and 18 non-gated projects resulted in more than $24 million in cost savings and $287.8 million in cost avoidance from FY12 through FY19.
All of the financial benefits enumerated in this article represent the difference between the cost of the effort or process before, and the cost after executing the efficiency. The numbers are calculated, with inflation, through the end of the Program Objective Memorandum. Values were independently validated by verifying the assumptions, inflation indices and calculations.
PEO C3T's LSS program does not stand alone, however. We've consolidated it with value engineering and better buying power, all managed by one office. In addition to the financial benefits that resulted from LSS, the PEO has documented $65.7 million in cost savings and $1.7 billion in cost avoidance through value engineering and better buying power.
Leadership sets the tone for PEO C3T's successful LSS program, and for efficiency-seeking behavior in general. Efficiencies are reinforced at town halls, encouraging the workforce at all levels to find better ways of accomplishing the mission--to get more and better equipment to the Soldier faster while being a responsible steward of the taxpayer's dollar. That twin focus--the Soldier and the taxpayer--helps guide decision-making throughout the organization. Majors are required by policy to complete certification at the green belt level, ensuring that our future leaders are prepared to deal with a resource-constrained environment over the long term.
Meeting the training needs of an expanding group of interested employees at first proved expensive. With local classes few and far between, we often had to fund weeks of temporary duty to send our employees to Washington, DC, or even farther, depending on schedules. As one organization, we had neither the resources nor the need to justify holding our own classes.
To solve this problem, we reached out to local commands, teamed with PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, began pooling resources and developed consolidated instruction that consisted of two green belt classes in FY12, and three green belt and two black belt classes in FY13, training students from the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), MD, area.
There was a time when employees were warned away from seeking LSS certification, with the fear that the required bureaucracy slowed the pace of progress. We set out to change that perception. Without increasing resources, we cross-trained our core deployment team to eliminate bottlenecks in training, mentoring and certification. No one would be delayed by LSS itself, only by the competing demands of their own schedules. Although green- and black-belt candidates still occasionally exceed the 90- and 120-day targets for completing their respective projects, we showed that motivated candidates could finish a project in as few as 29 days.
Once an employee has been through training and completed a project, we invoke another key stakeholder, our certification authority at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, who reviews the tollgates to ensure that each candidate has demonstrated proficiency with the LSS tool set. The fact that this review rarely takes more than a day or two provides the nearly instant gratification of a completed project resulting in certification.
As in business, the best measure of the success of this program is repeat customers. Certified green belts are now returning to expand their LSS skill sets through black belt certification. Here are a few stories of how LSS makes sense for the government.
--Mr. Thom Hawkins
BRINGING ORDER TO DEPLOYMENT
After traveling from APG to Fort Bragg, N.C., for my green belt training, I was very glad to learn that training classes would be available at my home station in Maryland.
Because deploying to Afghanistan was a chaotic process, I decided to develop methods of improvement around my green belt project. During my pre-deployment preparation, I became aware that there was no definitive source from APG outlining the pre-deployment steps to follow, or visibility at the PEO level of when those steps were completed.
My LSS team created standard operating procedures for deployment by combining the APG garrison's policies and the PEO's policies, so that the PEO could track progress. The local classes have allowed me to continue my LSS training, and I am working on my LSS black belt through classes at APG.
One of the things I'll carry with me from my LSS training is a structured method for process improvement. Whether I wrestle with fielding issues or supply chain management, LSS taught me a new way to think about and solve root problems, instead of peripheral issues.
--Maj. Michael J. Williams
ELIMINATING THE MIDDLEMAN
Laptops come back from Iraq and Afghanistan in rough shape. To ensure that they're in proper working order, they need to be reset, which includes cleaning, software installation, and a thorough check of cables, batteries and any damaged or missing parts.
For PEO C3T's Project Manager Warfighter Information Network -- Tactical (PM WIN-T), the process for resetting laptops was excessively lengthy. They went out to contractors for reset, and although the contractors mostly met their obligations, sometimes the computers did not return on time.
Even when they did, the process was simply too long. Through LSS, I found that if Soldiers could do the reset work themselves, that saved not only turnaround time, but also money--almost $10 million over the next five years.
After testing the new process with two units at their home stations in the United States, Soldiers overwhelmingly reported improved results. They reduced turnaround times from 30 days to only a few hours of work, eliminating shipping costs and increasing accountability--since the laptops remained in the Soldiers' possession--with no loss in quality of service.
Although the LSS project began with an accountability problem, I realized there were also potentially significant cost savings. Through LSS, it was just a matter of developing a process that is tested and proven, using metrics. Now I'm hoping to implement this procedural change for other commercial off-the-shelf systems.
--Mr. Kevin Joyce
REVAMPING SLOW DISTRIBUTION
Before my LSS project, it took an average of 51 days for PEO C3T's Project Manager Joint Battle Command -- Platform (PM JBC-P) to send software to various vendors and customers. Using a database and automated process adopted as a result of my team's LSS project, the delivery time has decreased to three days between request and delivery of software.
The Continuous Performance Improvement team at PEO C3T helped me see that my initial thoughts for a solution would not have realized as much efficiency as attacking the root causes of the problem.
As part of our analysis, my team created a process map of the software distribution process as it existed and then identified steps having limited or no value. We also found that a comprehensive information database did not exist; the database was a manila folder containing customers' past requests for software. Supporting our customers with new software upgrades by leafing through papers was highly inefficient.
Because the new process is more efficient, JBC-P did not need to hire an additional person to manage this effort. Instead, this is one employee's additional duty. The cost avoidance for the project was more than $11,000 per year for JBC-P.
Although this is not a high monetary return, we did save on manpower, and the whole process is much smoother for everyone involved. The new process allows for a quick turnaround from request to software distribution; the real benefit was efficiency and reliable customer service.
Because of my LSS training, I'm able to identify the root cause of a problem and develop targeted solutions to mitigate recurrence or its effects.
--Maj. Charles F. Faison