Program Flames Winds of Change for the Better
Army personnel from across the Benelux region participate in a course to apply the tools of Lean Six Sigma, experiencing the potential of process improvements that target customer demands.

SCHINNEN, the Netherlands - Picture every member of an Army platoon stranded in the middle of the ocean, trapped on a burning platform. Jumping from the structure and abandoning the post is not an option. Every Soldier must turn to fight the fire.

That was an analogy used to encourage Installation Management Command-Europe employees from across the Benelux region while studying a management tool that is shaping how the Army will adapt to meet expectations in a resource-constrained world. Moreover, to face transnational threats and win the ongoing war against terrorism.

The tool is called Lean Six Sigma. It enables every person in an organization to stay on the burning platform, fighting forces that undermine standards of quality and burn precious resources, which attendees from the Benelux learned during the Project Sponsor class.

Lean Six Sigma aims to improve quality, save time and lower costs. With a proven track record, it enables organizations to make efficiencies real, to introduce changes for the better and to meet customer demands.

"I can see this initiative staying with the Army for a long time," said Randy Garfield, operations supervisor for U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen's directorate for plans, training, mobilization and security.

"It's clear that this management tool will be integrated into our day-to-day operations. The methods we practiced during the course make it obvious how this tool can make a real difference to our customers and, ultimately, the warfighter," Garfield said.

Indeed, the "burning platform we're on" represents an opportunity for many across the theater. For the organizations of IMCOM-Europe, analyzing how to improve in- and out-processing is already underway.

Overall, the Army began embracing Lean Six Sigma when the "burning platform" for the entire service was marked by budget cuts and the Global War on Terrorism, on top of sustaining normal operations.

That's where "Elmo" comes in.

Yes, instructors used the Sesame Street character's name as an acronym to remind participants to never be afraid to say, "Enough! Let's move on!" So while leadership wants organizations to find ways to eliminate waste, streamline processes and reduce costs, they are also keenly aware that sometimes the energy it takes to make some improvements does not always result in a worthwhile benefit.

"It's one thing to assert that we need to change or do things better," said Tom Budzyna, USAG Schinnen's pubic affairs officer and graduate of the Lean Six Sigma Project Sponsor course. "It's also important to invest time on projects that will make real improvements and not jump on every idea."

"That's some of the common sense that comes with Lean Six Sigma," added Karen Acosta, an LSS black-belt (level of expertise) candidate for USAG Benelux. "We've identified more than 15 projects - including one completed this year, improved non-tactical vehicle use - that will save USAG Benelux more than $1.1 million."

For the Project Sponsor class, instructors showed students the ease of discovering and making positive changes to processes. Once an analysis proved the how, what and where in making improvements, students could readily see how to make changes happen or to simply say, "Enough, let's move on. Elmo."

A distinct feature of Lean Six Sigma is that organizations will dedicate a portion of their personnel structure to a cadre of LSS experts. Instead of teaching a management method and leaving them to apply it, LSS will build into an organization the ability to sustain the effort and provide continuity of projects over time.

These cadres, who perform advisor roles as green and black belts, monitor a priority list of projects identified for analysis by commanders. This enables organizations to quickly identify quick win improvements or prioritize projects that demand more time to analyze

"Deploying Lean Six Sigma into an organization means one percent of its overall strength will be filled with full-time black belts and five percent with full-time green belts ... that's the model," Acosta said. "Persons are carefully selected to ensure they have a full understanding of Lean Six Sigma, are able to facilitate positive change and are linked with Project Sponsors who have a stake in the process (or processes) under analysis."

Lean Six Sigma is actually two management tools in one. Lean is a management philosophy that focuses on reducing seven areas of waste: overproduction, waiting time, transportation, over-processing, inventory, motion and scrap. The results of eliminating waste' Quality is improved. Production time is reduced. Costs are eliminated.

Six Sigma is a management philosophy that applies the five phases of the DMAIC analysis process: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. Sigma is a mathematical term to define the standard deviation from the norm. If an organization applies the DMAIC process to achieve a six sigma improvement, then their process is about 97 percent perfect. It is common for an organization using Lean Six Sigma to achieve and sustain a four sigma improvement.

During the Benelux Project Sponsor course, students were given an administrative process to practice and analyze. By scenario's end, participants realized processing-time improvements from several minutes to only seconds, learned the value of meeting customer demands, lowered costs 10-fold (or more) - and didn't need to eliminate any job positions.

"The project sponsor instruction was an eye-opening experience," Budzyna said. "Some participants anticipate difficulty in making Lean Six Sigma work perfectly in every part of an organization, but the instruction proved improvements are very possible."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16