WASHINGTON D.C. - Being the 33rd person to be a certified master black belt for the Army is a good thing. Being the first for the Installation Management Command is a great thing.

Molly M. Kihara, Ph.D., continuous process improvement specialist for IMCOM Pacific Region, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Shafter, Hawaii, received Army Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt (MBB) certification May 10 from the Army Office of Business Transformation. The Army has green belt, black belt and master black belt programs.

"To me, certification validates my multiple-hat capability to teach, advise, coach, lead and be a change agent. Master Black Belt leadership includes identifying opportunities, defining and justifying projects, and negotiating resources for continuous process improvement so that we can be advocates of changing the way we do business," said Kirhara, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii.

On its Web site, the office of the deputy undersecretary of the Army for business transformation describes Lean Six Sigma as "a business improvement methodology that maximizes shareholder value by achieving the fastest rate of improvement in customer satisfaction, cost, quality, process speed and invested capital."

Lean Six Sigma is actually a blend of two disciplines. The root of Lean and Six Sigma reaches back to the time when the manufacturing industry was under great pressure for quality and speed. Lean rose as a method for optimizing automotive manufacturing; Six Sigma evolved as a quality initiative to eliminate defects by reducing variation in processes in the semiconductor industry.

The key concept of Lean Six Sigma is the recognition that one cannot do "just quality" or "just speed." One needs the balanced process that can help an organization to focus on improving service quality, as defined by the customer within a set time limit.

Kihara's experience as a black belt, significant experience and management of projects, mastery of advanced skills in the area of leadership, coaching, and statistical analysis led to her certification to become a certified master black belt. She serves as an advisor and consultant to management and colleagues and is a trainer for Black Belt, Green Belt, and project sponsor courses.

As indicated in the Installation Management Campaign Plan, a key function of the enterprise process is the continued use of input and feedback by the Army family - Soldiers, families, and civilians. Her project, which led to her certification, identifies and prioritizes ways to improve the opportunities for senior commanders to have a voice in determining what infrastructure and services are required at the garrisons.

"Dr. Kirhara serves as an excellent role model for the IMCOM community. Through her expertise, process improvements-based on data and customer needs-eliminate unnecessary steps and reduce defects allowing us to free up resources and wisely redirect them to value-adding activities increasing productivity and contributes to our soldiers, families, and civilians' quality of life," said John B. Nerger, IMCOM executive director.