BAMBERG, Germany -- Five Lean Six Sigma projects at U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg are achieving enormous praise for top-level performance in Europe.
The five projects, four of which had a major impact on operations, are the most out of all garrisons in Europe to be complete since Lean Six Sigma's inception into Installation Management - Europe garrisons. The projects are bringing about significant change within the organization, which is a result of the Army's business transformation model.
"Look at the way we've done things over the years and ask the question is this smart business," said Ward Nichols, USAG Bamberg Plans, Analysis and Integration Office. "If the answer is no, I don't know, or maybe, then there is room for improvement."
The idea for improving IMCOM-Europe practices through a business model strategy helps the Army generate cost efficiency, streamlined services and optimize productivity, said Lt. Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, USAG Bamberg commander.
"The impact of these projects eliminate redundancy, optimize resources, and reduce paperwork and costs associated with inefficient labor expenses," Rosenberg said.
Lean Six Sigma originated from two methodologies.
Lean rose as a method for optimizing manufacturing in the automotive industry.
Six Sigma evolved as a quality initiative in the semiconductor industry. It seeks to identify and remove the causes of defects and errors in business practices.
Used together in a project, initiative, or implementation process, the two reinforce better business practices.
Two major projects were titled Directorate of Logistics Central Receiving Point (CRP) Redesign and Directorate of Public Works Army Family Housing - Between Occupancy Maintenance Improvement.
Another Lean Six Sigma project for DPW titled Internal Supply Ordering Process Redesign had a significant impact on eliminating redundancy and reducing errors, said Carsten Brandel, who works for DPW and was the project leader.
"As a former database developer and (Information Technology) specialist I was accustomed to the idea that data you enter once into an IT system can be used in multiple ways for further processing in the future," Brandel said. "Watching one of our DPW foremen creating bills of material in FormFlow, with great diligence, in English and German just to print them out and close the form without saving any of this valuable data gave me the initial shock.
Looking closer at the whole ordering process revealed some redundant steps, he said. There was a great passion for typing lists, reports and orders with always the same data.
Brandel said it took some convincing to break the mold.
"Every work step was questioned and it was amazing to see how many steps could be eliminated, which seemed to be mandatory initially," he said. "The existing Army software "Supply 2000" offered all the necessary tools to do the job."
Brandel wasn't alone in the project. All Lean Six Sigma projects consist of what is known as the Core Team. The team is made up of subject matter experts and technical experts who put the pieces of the puzzle together.
"The consolidated team knowledge about regulations, data processing, ordering procedures and DPW workflows was a must," Brandel said. "Nobody knows everything, but thanks to the right team, you obtain the complete picture. The term puzzle describes the situation very well."
Through implementing a new standardized ordering procedure, the project was able to reduce repeat orders of material and is projected to have a financial benefit of about $40,000 a year. The project in its pilot phase was also able to provide a reduction of material processing costs and labor times by 64 percent.
Another Lean Six Sigma project titled Prevent Property Book Discrepancies integrated processes for the Directorate of Logistics to be more effective and efficient.
"The project has really provided us with positive results," said Richard Pollitt, Bamberg's DOL director. "Implementing some of the changes has been a challenge, but the end result is an improved process with long-term effects. The team that worked on this project made some difficult, but necessary, decisions and we're certain these new processes will be sustainable over time."
Jeff Card, who works for Army Community Service, was the DOL project leader. Lean Six Sigma is a certification, and project leaders don't necessarily need to work in their functional area to take on a Lean Six Sigma project.
"This was my first project with DOL and it was a great learning experience," Card said.
The charter was to prevent discrepancies, which amounted to more than $1 million in the previous fiscal year, Card said.
"This was not lost or stolen property, but stuff that was not properly accounted for and therefore vulnerable to loss or theft," he said. "The real benefit of this project was to close a gap in accountability... and to reduce the vulnerability of loss and theft to all U.S. government property belonging to the garrison (more than $6 million) by improving our business processes."
By implementing software and more control measures, along with adding digital forms, the garrison was able to measure a cost avoidance of more than $435,000 through fiscal year 2013.
"It's called cost avoidance because those dollars aren't cash saved but money not spent," Card said. "In other words, bad business practices cost us more money than good business practices."
Inspecting and correcting property book discrepancies can take several hours, and if those discrepancies are spread across multiple organizations, "the cost of doing things wrong really starts to add up," Card said.
The results are not in the form of cash dollars but in labor hours saved.
"Luckily, the real problem-solving isn't done by me at all but by the real subject matter experts, the employees who own and operate the processes we're trying to improve," he said. "The team members do all the hard work; I just apply the Lean Six Sigma methodology to validate their solutions and make sure the improvements are sustainable over time."
Although the project was labeled as a DOL project, it was spread across various organizations with the garrison workforce, Card said. Hand-receipts holders, and people who manage inventories and process Government Purchase Cards requests are the ones who see the benefits.
Card said he spent more than six months identifying ways to improve the organizations operation through Lean Six Sigma.
"It's fair to say that locally we have barely scratched the surface in terms of what can be accomplished with Lean Six Sigma tools to improve the quality of services we deliver to our customers." Card said.
"Of course," he added, "we're already providing world-class service delivery in many ways. Those are the areas where we can work on increasing productivity, or decreasing cost. Those efficiencies will help us to expand the services we offer to the community."
Consequently, Card said, quality of life goes up and customers are happier, "and that has a positive impact on readiness and retention."
Card noted that when organizations fully realize mature Lean Six Sigma deployment, "they sort of get caught in this virtuous cycle of increasing quality and decreasing costs. We're only in our second year of deployment so we're not quite there yet, but 2008 saw some big milestones in terms of the projects we completed and the workforce we trained. That sort of planted the seeds for potentially huge harvests in 2009 and beyond."
(Editor's note: Some of the above financial assessments are based strictly on surveys, sampling and best historical data. The results are based strictly on estimates.)