By By Carol Eubanks and Bob Harrison, U.S. Army Forces Command Public AffairsNovember 21, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Nov. 21, 2011) -- Complex processes can lead to unintended, and multifaceted, challenges that can consume more time and money than necessary.
Whether it is inventory control, the preparation of Soldiers and equipment to deploy, or the tracking and management of information flow within a large headquarters, the better the process works -- the better the quality with the least amount of wasted money and time.
In 2005, the U.S. Army adopted the Lean Six Sigma methodology as a strategic approach for continuous process improvement.
Lean Six Sigma uses a set of quality management methods to create a special infrastructure of people within an organization who are experts in these methods. These individuals earn certification levels identifying their level of expertise; Master Black Belt, Black Belt and Green Belt.
The basic tenets of Lean Six Sigma are to reduce variation in any process -- to achieve the same good quality every time, while refining process flow steps to create a faster, more agile process.
The methodology has five phases: define the problem, measure key aspects of the current process, analyze the data to investigate and verify cause and effect relationships, improve (optimize) the current process, control the new process to prevent any deviations.
Since adopted by the Army, U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) has actively trained leaders and Lean Six Sigma practitioners in selecting and completing process improvement projects.
As of July 2011, the FORSCOM-wide cost savings is $117 million and a projected $254 million in savings from process improvement initiatives are already in queue.
Last week, Nov. 14-18, FORSCOM concluded its latest Army Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Course to produce more practitioners of the methodology. Twenty one students from throughout the headquarters, subordinate units and other commands completed the training portion necessary for a "Green Belt" certification.
Steve Sawicki and John Shupenus, Process Improvement Specialists with the FORSCOM Business and Readiness Improvement Division served as the Master Black Belt instructors for the course.
"There are proven ways of solving problems," said Shupenus while explaining what they wanted the students to learn.
"The FORSCOM campaign plan directs that this methodology [Lean Six Sigma] is what we're going to use to make FORSCOM more efficient and effective," said Shupenus. "We can't give up effectiveness for efficiency. We have a mission to do and that's number one."
We have limited resources; we know budgets are going to be cut," Shupenus continued. "We can't continue operating at the status quo."
The first week of training took place here at Fort Bragg, Oct. 17-21, 2011, when all the students learned the principles of Lean Six Sigma.
The students returned to their organizations to study and identify home station processes that could benefit from the application of the methodology.
Last week, they returned to the classroom to apply the methodology in a simulated business process.
With Lean Six Sigma, "when they complete a project they're very confident that they know the root causes of a problem and that the solution addresses those root causes," said Shupenus.
Most students in this class will return to their organizations with additional skills to tackle process challenges already identified. Each student will earn their "Green Belt" certification by completing the two-week training, passing the test and applying the Lean Six Sigma methods to improve a process in their organization.
The FORSCOM Secretary General Staff (SGS) seeks to improve the information flow, timeliness and on-time completion rate of taskings within the headquarters. "We have the old E-tasker system," said Master Sgt. Clifton Ford, SGS Operations Noncommissioned Officer, "It's an out-dated system."
"We're trying to update the electronic system for managing taskers," said Ford, "to reduce the percentage of late or unanswered tasks and minimize the staff hours used to track these taskers."
"I plan to apply it [Lean Six Sigma] to get our deploying units transportation set-up with minimum delay," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Timothy Berry, a mobility officer in the FORSCOM G-3/5/7, and a student in this latest class. "It allows us to take a fresh look at our business practices and find a better way to during our day-to-day work."
"This course offers a more formalized process to improve all existing processes," added Mr. Andy Almueti, a program manager in the FORSCOM Internal Review directorate. "I now have more familiarity with tools to improve a process some of which I might not have thought through."
Each of these students will make an effort to improve their organization's processes to achieve cost saving measures similar to other FORSCOM units already using Lean Six Sigma principles.
The 101st Airborne Division, at Fort Campbell, Ky., is using Lean Six Sigma to reduce inventory levels to minimize losses incurred when units deploy. The division was losing residual dollar value when excess materials were not handled in accordance with disposition guidelines. They have completed 95% of their process refinement, with a goal to reduce their inventories by 50% and estimate the division will save $56 million.
Likewise, the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., sought to reduce billing "Delta Bills" by 80%, for failure to turn-in unserviceable parts against Exchange Price Requisitions. The division is now in the Control Phase of the Lean Six Sigma process and estimates it will save $63 thousand in monthly recurring "Delta Bills" and ultimately gain a $5.4 million return on investment through fiscal year 2013.
Using Lean Six Sigma, Fort Hood, Texas is well under way to achieving a 40% reduction on Soldier Readiness Processing time that may lead to $1.34 million annual savings and up to $4 million saved through fiscal year 2013. Similarly the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., is implementing process improvements in ammunition storage and prepositioned fleet management that will lead to $4.5 million and $6 million savings, respectively.
"One of our goals is to help change the culture of the Army away from a spend culture to a more cost aware culture," said Shupenus. "The more people we can train on this methodology, the more we chip away at that spend culture."
Kenneth Graham, who heads the BRID, explained that the tools the students learned aren't necessarily new, but evolved from successful innovations learned in many private sector corporations such as Ford, Toyota and Motorola.
What's next for the FORSCOM Business and Readiness Improvement Office and Lean Six Sigma?
"Continue to engage leadership at all levels throughout FORSCOM about the advantages of Lean Six Sigma and to identify processes that can be improved, continue to train more students, and continue to assist all process improvement initiatives underway," said Graham.