USASOC aims to get Lean

By Staff Sgt. Eli Velazquez, USASOC Public AffairsOctober 11, 2018

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- U.S. Army Special Operations Command is teaming up with Lean Six Sigma to provide an overall organizational culture change to reduce waste in the work place.

Instead of making your work easier, you actually could be making your job harder.

Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two process improvement methods. The Lean process focuses on minimizing waste such as over-production, waiting, and extra-processing. The Six Sigma process focuses on reducing defects by identifying and solving problems.

"Often we'll add in inspections and reviews to try to address the issue at work, but a review or inspection really isn't going to stop the issue," said Marcie Ballard, chief of USASOC Knowledge Management. "All we're doing is adding more steps and not getting to the root cause. And often, we don't know the root cause, which is why we need these tools."

The tools Ballard noted include bringing "Lean" trainers to USASOC to sharpen employees' problem solving skills through two classes -- Lean Office and Lean Leaders, both designed at developing a more effective and efficient work place.

Lean Office is a three-day course focusing on the process map used to get to the problem. This class addresses every day or more common problems affecting all echelons of the workforce.

Lean Leaders is a weeklong course focusing on the eight steps to problem solving. This class addresses more complex problems and is more in-depth than Lean Office.

"We often don't know the root cause of an issue, but we see the symptoms of the issue surfacing," said Gary Wells, USASOC Process Integration Specialist. "Processes taking longer and longer to complete or tasks having to get done multiple times because they weren't done right the first time. Are all symptoms. We use the symptoms to direct us where to look for the problem, but we need tools to help find and fix the problem."

USASOC stared this two-class pilot program with 3rd Special Forces Group in December 2016. Prime candidates for Lean Office are action officers, team sergeants and team leaders. Prime candidates for Lean Leaders are action officers, branch directorates and chiefs.

According to Kevin Green, USASOC Process Improvement Specialist, course benefits will vary. "It depends on how you look at that project and what that waste is that you're taking out of that process. You could look at it from a monetary value or you can look at it from a readiness value. It just depends on how you shape that problem."

Streamlining a process for efficiency and effectiveness takes patience.

"A lot of times, leaders with good intentions tell people to just go fix it, and they want it now. Instead of taking time to find out what's really causing the problem so you end up only having to fix it that one time, and not having to come back and trying it again," Wells said.

In addition to training for staff, USASOC also provides Lean professionals to help an organization address problems.

"If your situation is painful and you need an immediate fix, then the benefits to having a Lean professional come into your organization is their ability to quickly find and fix the problem," Ballard said. "If you want to be able to sustain and make your organization better, then you would ask us to come in and get your people trained so you can sustain it over time."

Employee turnover and communication are both challenges to success of Lean initiatives.

"There are leaders that are trained and support the Lean effort. When they leave and somebody else steps in, they may not know what the process improvement is or speak our language, and there may be push back because in their mind, it doesn't fit the need of the organization," Green said. "When it comes to ETS or PCS, that's just how the Army operates. But some people find that this is a great strength to have later in life as well."

Though fairly new to USASOC, the civilian sector has been using the Lean principles for quite some time.

"The civilian sector is all about making their process more efficient and cost effective. And cost effectiveness is going to be a huge issue in the future. So this is a good way to getting your processes down to the most cost effective way possible," Wells said.

Ultimately, success for the program would mean having every leader and department head Lean certified, and getting the word out will play a huge role in that effort. Having the ability to address issues as they surface and the ability to keep the streamlined processes flowing will be the measure for progress, but USASOC is just now scratching the surface.

For those interested in attending the next Lean Office or Lean Leaders course, contact Gary Wells, in the USASOC Knowledge Management Office.

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