KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Feb. 5, 2014) --When Lt. Col. Roy Speaks put together a Lean Six Sigma team to look at the Redistribution Property Assistance Team yard's operations soon after taking command, his goal was simple: better, faster, and more efficient. Now, six months and several projects later, the battalion's operations have transformed into a leaner, more cost-conscious set of processes better capable to meet the logistical needs of the Army.
"Using the Lean Six Sigma concepts is not something the Army typically does at the tactical level," said Speaks, the 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kandahar commander. "The Department of the Army looks at business processes from the strategic level, but looking at business processes from a tactical level, like we are doing right now, is going to help us get ahead."
Speaks, who leads a combat deployed support battalion consisting of more than 4,300 Soldiers, civilians and contractors, says the complexity of executing the largest military logistical withdrawal in recent history requires streamlined business operations that get the most from every dollar provided by the American taxpayers and Congress.
"We can't keep making decisions using the typical Army decision making process with a logistical task of this magnitude," Speaks said. "It's going to make retrograding equipment out of Afghanistan harder due to the quantity of the accumulated military equipment, aggressive timeline, the related costs, and the limited transit options."
David Wilder, the 401st AFSBn-Kandahar deputy to the commander, agrees that Lean Six Sigma is exactly what the organization needs to efficiently execute the steady, responsible retrograde and redeployment of U.S. military resources out of Afghanistan.
"To meet the needs of the Army and the nation, we can't operate at status quo, especially during this period of intense fiscal pressure" Wilder said. "Lean Six Sigma allows an organization to rid its processes of non-value added requirements, such as the seven wastes--transportation, inventory, movement, waste, over production, over processing and delay. The result is gained efficiency, productivity, and improved flexibility to better meet the needs of the customer."
Wilder, who leads the battalion's Lean Six Sigma team, says that in a relatively short period of time the return on investment of projects such as the C-17 air retrograde optimization process improvement has been significant.
"Our team recently finished an accelerated Lean Six Sigma project to decrease the time it takes to prepare vehicles for movement via the C-17 by reducing variations in the process," Wilder said. "After bringing all the key players together to think the problem through, we were able to complete the five-phased Lean Six Sigma methodology, which usually takes three to six months, in less than two weeks. Within that short amount of time, the team was able to increase retrograde velocity by more than 10 percent, maximize C-17s fill capacity to 90 percent or more, and eliminate documentation rework by 100 percent."
Capt. Matt Mitchell, commander of the 971st Movement Control Team, MCT, says using Lean Six Sigma concepts and the collaboration between his team, the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, and the U.S. Air Force will enable the trio to effectively move millions of pounds of cargo out of theater.
"Right now with the CJOA-A drawing down, everyone wants to get their equipment out of theater," Mitchell said. "A large part of that equipment is coming to us so we have to have an effective process for moving all of that equipment out of theater. It's so challenging to figure out ways to get things out of Afghanistan that you have to use Lean Six Sigma to cut down any extra flack that you have and make sure that the process is as efficient as possible. So, we created a climate of collaboration and looked at the whole process from the 401st AFSB, to the MCT, to the U.S. Air Force, and streamlined processes for each one of those interfaces."
Roland Descoteaux, a certified Lean Six Sigma black belt member on the 401st AFSBn-Kandahar Lean Six Sigma team and prior productivity improvement consultant in private industry, says that the key to success is blending the military decision making process with applicable private sector business practices.
"We can't stop thinking in the military sense, but we have to start bringing in lessons learned by the private sector. We don't want to lose our profit margins, which in our case is being able to retrograde equipment efficiently," Descorteaux said. "Our customer is the Soldier, but in the bigger scheme, our customer is the American taxpayer. Each one of us here are also taxpayers, so we want the most bang for our buck. We want the best value."
Speaks agrees that the Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement process is the way ahead as the Army finds ways to be a better steward of taxpayer resources.
"The Lean Six Sigma process is a proven business model that applies science to problem solving. In our case, things aren't necessarily broken, but the process can always be improved to become more efficient," Speaks said. "Whether it's efficiency in time or efficiency in costs, we owe it to the American taxpayer to determine the most efficient way of doing business by identifying the absolute best process with the least amount of resources and for the least amount of money."