By Maj. Kimberly McCarty
U.S. Military Academy PAO
The words “Lean Six Sigma Black Belt” may inspire thoughts of an extreme Greek form of combatives training or a new fad diet, but rather, it is a tiered certification standard for a process improvement methodology to increase efficiency and cut costs across organizations.
For two weeks this summer, the Department of Systems Engineering hosted West Point’s first U.S. Army Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Black Belt course. Eighteen Army noncommissioned officers, Army officers and Department of the Army civilians traveled in person to complete the valuable and highly sought-after training led by primary LSS Instructor, Lt. Col. James Enos, Master Black Belt candidate and U.S. Military Academy deployment director, as well as LSS Instructor Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Schlegel, Master Black Belt candidate and USMA deputy deployment director. The course was overseen by Master Black Belt, Kevin Fuqua, an LSS instructor with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Historically, LSS was developed by industry leaders such as Toyota and General Electric to make their assembly lines more efficient. Since then, countless other organizations, educational institutions and industry giants have implemented the LSS methodology in their standard training and operations, Enos said.
In 2004, the U.S. Army for Business Process Improvement (BPI) adopted the LSS five-phase process of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) and is currently overseen by the Army’s Office of Business Transformation, Enos added.
Enos explained the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt is the third of four LSS certification levels: Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black. Instructors for each level teach and validate an individual’s ability to have increased responsibility to lead and manage BPI projects through advanced problem-solving techniques.
The LSS Yellow Belt is a two-day course that provides an overview of LSS principles.
The Green Belt is a two-week course and it sometimes is taught to cadets over an academic semester. It also requires the completion of a process improvement project that generally lasts between four-to-six months, Schlegel said.
Cadets in the Department of Systems Engineering accomplish this through their senior capstone team project.
The LSS Black Belts use advanced data analytics to guide their projects as well as provide mentorship to the junior belts on their team. A Black Belt certification requires prerequisite training as a Green Belt, an additional two-to-three week Black Belt course, a passing score on the Army LSS Black Belt exam, and completion of a minimum of one LSS Black Belt-level DMAIC project that generally takes between six months to a year and generally saves over $250,000 over five years, Schlegel said.
Over the last five years, Tobyhanna Army Depot has partnered with West Point cadets to see the firsthand processes that may impact them once they graduate and commission into the Army.
Cadets have successfully completed process improvement projects on cable manufacturing repair processes, altimeter repair processes, paint shop processes and numerous others that have recognized over $1million in cost avoidance to the Army. Smaller projects across West Point are not off the table, and in fact, by working together with junior Green Belts, it increases the success rate of project completion.
Multiple Black Belt leaders from this summer’s GBBB 21-004 class were focused on a separate Cadet Uniform Factory alteration and inventory processes project.
When asked what he enjoys as an instructor of the LSS courses, Enos replied, “It’s great to see the cadets and students apply what they learn in the classroom to an actual project that is impactful. It’s great when a team of cadets makes a suggestion to the process owners at Tobyhanna and then a few weeks later when we visit again, they have implemented their change and are recognizing benefits from what the cadets recommended.”
Enos plans to continue to grow the program at West Point by training and certifying more staff and faculty. Nearly every cadet completes their certification as part of a project because it is part of their highly-structured capstone experience in the Department of Systems Engineering. His goal is to focus efforts at West Point to improve the percentage of staff and faculty certification levels for those who choose to balance their professional obligations with LSS as an additional duty, which can naturally become overwhelmed by other important events.
Enos said encouraging cadets, staff and faculty to pursue LSS certification aligns with the Army initiatives of people, readiness and modernization. The Army uses countless processes across every installation and every single unit. Increasing the number of people trained in the LSS process improvement method not only saves the Army dollars but saves time and improves the quality of Soldiers’ lives. These valuable resources can be returned and used for modernization efforts or other important goals.