Lean Six Sigma graduates
The graduates of the first Lean Six Sigma class at the Army Logistics University, Fort Lee, listen to remarks by ALU President John Hall during a March 7 ceremony in Dickerson Auditorium.

FORT LEE, Va. (March 13, 2013) -- A first-time graduation at the Army Logistics University here March 7 is worthy of attention not only because of its novelty but also its potential of saving the Army bucket-loads of money.

During the inaugural event, 19 students -- both military and government civilians -- were recognized for completing the required coursework for black belt certification in the Army's Lean Six Sigma program. It took more than four months to do so, and in between one-week blocks of instruction, each class member tackled "homework" consisting of a process-improvement project that would increase efficiency at their home installation and/or command. They will have to complete those projects to earn full black belt certification.

"Lean Six Sigma basically boils down to three words: faster, better, cheaper," said Rod Norris, the master black belt for Training and Doctrine Command, who shared a lead role in creating the ALU course and served as one of its instructors.

"Through training programs like this one," he said, "we show individuals how to examine existing business practices -- things like in-processing military personnel, running a dining facility, conducting a routine training exercise, any process that can be mapped -- and focus on eliminating waste and defects while ensuring that it's delivering equal or better results."

During the recent class, Norris noted, a student -- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Neil Beebe from Fort Eustis -- completed a project that could save the Army as much as $200,000 a year. The effort involved test administration at the Army Aviation Maintenance School, and the final solution incorporated a computer software solution to reduce nine hours of test processing down to 30 minutes or less. Another student project involves ways to improve data collection for personnel rosters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The LSS curriculum also shows students how to overcome resistance to change, noted Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Freeman, the lead instructor for the recent course and a master black belt candidate from Fort Knox, Ky., where he works for the U.S. Army Medical Command.

"It's not always easy to sell a new idea to someone who thinks the only way of doing it is the way the Army has done it for years," Freeman said. "This course shows them how to win that much-needed support through meaningful data collection and analysis. In many ways, it's more about being a team builder and business leader. It requires a lot of salesmanship."

Lean Six Sigma was developed by the Motorola Corporation in the 1980s. The Army formally deployed the program in 2006, and it has generated around $6 billion in efficiencies each year. Typically, LSS projects are completed at the installation level and any money saved is redistributed within the organization, which usually benefits the Soldiers, families and civilian employees in the community, Norris said.

Describing ALU as the "perfect setting" for Lean Six Sigma instruction, Norris said he envisions similar training sessions in the future for most of the warrant officer courses taught at the facility. That will greatly benefit the Army since those graduates are bound for positions in which they will be "administering supplies and supporting troops."

"If we do this right, it's going to help a lot of key logistics professionals who will be out there one day ordering parts, managing inventory, and supporting unit training and other vital sustainment tasks," Norris said. "The payoff is pretty obvious if we can give them the kind of training that helps them do what they do in a more efficient manner."

In the meantime, Norris said the latest class is the first step in building "organic capability" so Fort Lee can run its own Lean Six Sigma program. Currently, ALU has two certified black belts -- Chief Warrant Officers 4 Patrick Porter and Roy Melebeck -- and a master black belt candidate, Mitchell Heller, who also helped teach the inaugural course.

ALU President John Hall said he is excited about the new course and is just as determined to make it a mainstay of his training program. Speaking at the recent graduation, he posed the following question, "What does Lean Six Sigma mean to the Army?" and remarked, "Well, let me tell you something … in today's fiscal environment, it means a lot and it will mean even more in the years to come. And I'm not talking about sequestration, this budget thing we're trying to figure out right now. We're thinking beyond that when the Army is going to have to figure out how to do the same things it has been doing for many years at a much lower cost through improved efficiencies. That's the value that folks like you are going to give us."

Page last updated Thu March 14th, 2013 at 08:43