Crane, Ind. - Continuous improvement for an Army organization is something requiring constant work, dedication and trained people. Crane Army Ammunition Activity took another step forward toward embedding Lean Six Sigma into its organizational culture by having two of its employees complete LSS Master Black Belt training.

CAAA Program Manager Paul Allswede and Chemical Engineer Lara Zilafro received their Master Black Belt training certificates at a ceremony on Oct. 5 at the Joint Munitions Command from Brig. Gen. James E. Rogers, commanding general of JMC.

Allswede said having two LSS Master Black Belts means that Crane Army proactively took full advantage of the Master Black Belt training opportunity and purposefully created redundancy and depth within the organization's LSS structure. He explained the intent of the action was to further enable LSS deployment, LSS self-sustainment, and to avoid the loss of any LSS forward momentum due to the unavailability of one person.

The two employees successfully completed the three-week course after taking a four-hour exam that challenged their knowledge and mastery of problem solving using LSS statistical decision making methodology. Successful completion of the three-week Master Black Belt course is only the first step of the certification process. The remaining steps include instructing two Army LSS Black Belt courses totaling 8 weeks of instruction, completing two Black Belt projects that are entered into PowerSteering, passing coaching assessments, and mentoring two Black Belt projects through completion. Allswede and Zilafro are hoping that within a year Master Black Belt certification will be achieved.

Allswede said the final exam was a "stressful four hour event," with all of that time needed to answer 9 exam questions. The questions provided a data set and a general scenario and then it was up to the student to figure out what statistical tools to use, provide assessment and significance of the findings, and to determine all necessary follow-on steps (with their own assessment and significance of findings) until the student adequately answered the scenario's question.

"I know I was finishing the last question and had written 39 pages when time ran out," he said. "Needless to say, my head hurt at the end of it."

Preparing for the test was a team effort for the Master Black Belt students in the course. Zilafro said, "The 12 Master Black Belt students from JMC and its subordinate commands worked together and developed study guides; we were a true team with a common goal. The instructors also did a fantastic job preparing us for the test. Even with a ton of preparation, after working continuously for four hours to complete all nine questions, I was brain dead. The great news is all 12 students of JMC's 1st Master Black Belt class, passed the class and completed the 1st requirement to certification."

Their training prepared the new Master Black Belts to pass along their knowledge and train a new group of green belts at CAAA. Zilafro explained, "The Master Black Belt training reinforced the basic LSS concepts and provided new in-depth knowledge of additional LSS tools. As part of the class, the Master Black Belt students were required to teach the black belt course of study during which the instructors and fellow students critiqued performance. This forced greater understanding of the material, honed preparation skills, improved presentation skills, and decreased stage fright."

With their training course completed, the two Master Black Belts began teaching the next wave of CAAA LSS Green Belts in October 2007. It is part of a constant commitment by Crane Army to improve how it operates and provides for the warfighter.

The dividends for CAAA's LSS program have been paying off for the activity. Last year CAAA validated more than $16,900 in Type I (hard financial savings) and more than $960,000 in Type II (cost avoidance savings) as a result of its LSS efforts.

As for advice for people beginning LSS training, Zilafro said, "My advice for people successfully working their way through the LSS program is keep a positive open mind and keep trying. Continuous improvement is not easy, but you are not in the fight alone. You always have the support you need to overcome obstacles, improve CAAA and be successful."