By improving operational awareness stemming from reports submitted by his organization's acquisition programs, Mr. Jeffrey "Thom" Hawkins earned his Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Black Belt Certification, with his efforts yielding both operational and financial benefits for the entirety of Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

"Lean Six Sigma provides a framework for solving a process problem," said Hawkins, program analyst for PEO C3T Business Management Division, Program Analysis Branch, "Although you may think of a solution on your own, the rigor of stepping through a problem in phases-define, measure, analyze, improve, control-allows you to understand the problem better and evolve a more thorough solution."

Hawkins recently received his LSS Black Belt certificate during a ceremony hosted by Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Hawkins also received an honorary One Star Note from Price.

"LSS is a comprehensive process improvement methodology that has been deployed by the Army to boost efficiency and quality while eliminating non-value-added activities," said James Heffinger, PEO C3T Lean Initiatives project specialist and operations research analyst. As a LSS Master Black Belt candidate, Heffinger mentors other Green and Black Belt candidates, including Hawkins' Black Belt project.

The LSS program allowed the Army to submit $96.6 million worth of projects in 2009 in support of President Obama's goal of government-wide savings of $100 million, according to the 2011 Army Business Transformation Plan.

The objective of Hawkins' LSS project was to improve the process, procedures and analysis when submitting acquisition reports to Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA). He and his team recognized that analysis of acquisition reports submitted by programs under PEO C3T was not complete before the reports were submitted to HQDA. This resulted in a risk of preemptive action by higher headquarters before the PEO had an opportunity to review the reports and take necessary action.

"This exposure to risk of preemptive action by higher headquarters could potentially limit PEO options for action and result in reactive rather than proactive responses," Heffinger said. "Thom's team reviewed the existing process and implemented improvements to achieve this awareness."

With Hawkins as its leader, the LSS team reviewed the situation, identified root causes and developed appropriate solutions. They worked with the process owner to collapse the staffing for two reports into one process, to adjust suspenses and incorporate other sources of information into a comprehensive program analysis report with recommendations for PEO action.

Upon the completion of the project, the percentage of report summaries prepared that were at least three days before the report deadline to HQDA increased from 0 percent to 100 percent. Process cycle efficiency improved from 71 percent to 87.5 percent and the number of man-hours required to staff the reports decreased 29 percent per year. The LSS effort resulted in a total cost avoidance of nearly $500,000 from FY11 through FY17.

The final outcome enabled the team to create an analytic product that included not only their specific set of reports but all of the reports in the varying programs.

Hawkins is not putting his Black Belt on the shelf, but instead is using his knowledge and lessons learned to dive into a second LSS project that will improve requirements management and prioritization. He is also mentoring three LSS Green Belts.

Currently, PEO C3T has 20 LSS projects in progress; three have been completed in the last month and 11 belts have signed up for upcoming LSS training courses.

LSS efforts contribute to the efficient management of government resources. It provides a problem solving framework that is mapped out in phases, allowing for better understanding of a problem and an evolution to a more thorough solution. By implementing LSS, individuals can help streamline internal business processes to yield both operational and financial benefit throughout the entire PEO.

"While Lean Six Sigma is not the only tool for continuous improvement, it includes in its scope techniques that can be used independently and with other tools; therefore, it is a good way to learn how these techniques can be used in context," Hawkins said.

Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).