Lean Six Sigma Training in Full Swing at USMA

By Eric S. BarteltFebruary 2, 2007

WEST POINT, N. Y. (Army News Service, Feb 2, 2007) - West Point doesn't produce bombs or ammunition or upgrade vast amounts of Army equipment, nor does it ensure Soldiers are logistically capable of fighting a war.

However, the U.S. Military Academy is implementing the Army's Global Business Transformation initiative, called Lean Six Sigma, to help improve the quality, cost and speed of operations and processes.

Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey has said that in this challenging fiscal environment, it is important to take measured steps to control costs and ensure resources are applied to the most critical requirements.

The Army Materiel Command first employed the methodology of Lean Six Sigma in 2002 and saw a savings of $110 million in fiscal year 2005. The principles are comprised of two complementary parts: Lean, which focuses on reducing waste or eliminating unnecessary steps to increase speed and productivity, and Six Sigma, which is the reduction of variation to improve quality.

West Point is now in the process of training its workforce in the Lean Six Sigma approach that was initially pioneered by Motorola in the 1970s and currently practiced by thousands of companies in the private sector.

"To sustain the force and transform the Army, we have to find efficiencies wherever we can and then take those savings and reapply them to other areas in the Army," said Lt. Col. John Zsido, USMA Business Transformation Office and Lean Six Sigma deployment director. "The resources that we save through (Lean Six Sigma) projects, whether it's optimizing transportation operations or streamlining staff or office service operations, will stay at West Point and can be redirected to other military requirements here."

Lean Six Sigma was launched at the academy in October with executive-level awareness training and a projects sponsor workshop. The participants gained an understanding of Lean Six Sigma methodology and identified underperforming processes. A list of those processes was formed, and initial projects were selected from the list.

"As an outcome of the project sponsor workshop, we identified 61 potential projects," Zsido explained. "The academy leadership received this project list and from it selected ones that are of high value that will reap significant benefits for the academy."

Personnel leading project efforts will go through either a Green Belt or Black Belt course.

The Green Belt and Black Belt students attend two- and four-week courses, respectively, of classroom time learning advanced problem- solving tools and techniques while simultaneously completing a project. A Green Belt project is smaller in scale and can take up to three months to complete, Zsido said, while a Black Belt project is a larger-scale, more complex project that can take up to six months to complete.

The academy kicked off its initial Black Belt training Jan. 22 with an introduction by Ronald E. Rezek, special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of the Army for Business Transformation. Rezek stated that the Army's implementation of Lean Six Sigma is the largest business transformation initiative in the history of management science.

Right now, 29 Black Belt candidates are taking the four-week course and will receive their certification upon completion of a project. The first two-week Green Belt course will begin at West Point Feb. 26.

"We're looking to start Green Belts at West Point because of the large number of potential projects that are smaller in scope," Zsido said. "Black Belt and Green Belt students all receive formal training in class and then apply the knowledge between the classroom sessions as they lead their project teams. In each respective session, they are exposed to more advanced tools on a just in time basis," Zsido stated. "In the end, they finish the class and the project at the same time. That's how they get certified as a Black Belt."

Black and Green Belts brief their respective project sponsors with "toll gate reviews" throughout the process. To get certified, Black Belts and Green Belts must successfully conclude their projects.

Five cadets are currently working on a Green Belt project that involves the use of Lean Six Sigma to be completed by May 3 for Projects Day. Cadets 1st Class Patrick Devine, Maurice Dominquez, Wade Farrar, Leon Lee and Derek Price are Green Belt candidates and are using the Lean Six Sigma method for their capstone Systems Engineering [SE400] project.

Lieutenant Col. Donna Korycinski, director of the Engineering Management Program, is overseeing the cadets on their Green Belt project and she will earn her Black Belt certification when they complete their project. The cadets spent the first semester meeting every other day learning the methods of Lean Six Sigma. This semester they are conducting their project.

"I'm mentoring them through their Green Belt project," Korycinski said. "We're all learning together."

Using the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control steps of Lean Six Sigma, the five cadets will try to help the Mess Hall accurately forecast how many cadets will show up to optional meals. Today, Mess Hall food planner Marion Voltaire has the difficult job of trying to forecast how many cadets will eat a given optional meal. The cadet project team thinks that improving information flow will help meal attendance forecasting to reduce waste and drive cost effectiveness.

"There are a lot of different factors as to why people go to meals or don't go to meals," Devine said. "Some cadets don't make the meal because they don't like what's being served, some are too lazy to go and so on."

"We want to format and standardize all the information that comes into Marion, which is the big issue," Farrar said. "A trend that we're seeing is the flow of information is all over the place and we need to streamline the flow of that information.

"It's best to put out an outline database and stop the paper-in-hand method," Farrar added. "What we're trying to do is have one single report form. Then, when the information gets to her, she can easily navigate the information coming in from all different angles."

"We're trying to make it online, so it's one click," Farrar continued. "The big part is getting everyone informed, especially when it involves more than 4,000 cadets."

While Korycinski is trained to oversee the whole of the cadets' project, she acknowledges them as the workhorses who have gathered the analysis and data needed to try to improve a situation. And, that's the reasoning behind Lean Six Sigma and this project -- to improve processes.

"It's amazing when you start to learn about Lean Six Sigma," Korycinski explained, "and know that you can use it everywhere to organize processes better and save money."

(Eric S. Bartelt is the sports editor for "Pointer View.")