TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- A Lean Six Sigma project here has cut mailing costs by $1 million per year.

Nancy Jinselli, a process improvement specialist, led a team that improved the process by which equipment is mailed via Federal Express, earning a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Black Belt. She works in the Systems Integration and Support Directorate.

The project was sponsored by Diane Miller, who now has responsibility for the entire initiative and the sustainment of the effort after completion of the Black Belt process. She is the chief of the Mission Operations Management Branch of the Production Management Directorate.

The team was composed of core members Rose Gesell, Robin Metcalf, Ed Long and Chris Volch.

Subject matter experts (SMEs) who contributed as ad hoc members were: James Antonelli, Emmitt Derrick, Edward Gayz, Eli Londo, Brian Rawhauser, John Henry, Mike Bednar, Melanie Janosky, Sandra Castanaro, Jody Oustrich, John Bradley Jones, James Waters, Robert Haas, Amy Armstrong and Andrea Vozzi.

"There were chronic problems with the process because there were not enough checks, or verification, to make sure an item needed to be sent Fed Ex," Jinselli said.

"Our task boiled down to making Tobyhanna's FedEx form more effective to cut the cost by at least 10 percent."

The team used Lean Six Sigma problem solving techniques such as the DMAIC method (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control).

Teams define the problem, measures it to establish the true state of affairs; analyzes and looks for potential root causes, proposes potential solutions and provides proof the solutions were tested.

"They found that the root cause was that the form was not specific enough," said Bob Young, the depot's Master Black Belt. "That resulted in items being shipped FedEx that did not really need it. Once the team recognized this, the form was changed."

The team tapped mail room personnel to find out if their process could offer a solution.

"We found that their process worked well; it is very effective and even though they use a different from, we decided to adapt their processes," Jinselli said.

The team changed the form so that now it requires review and signature of a controller, to ensure the proper customer is billed; shipment authorization by the division chief the equipment is associated with; to confirm that the contents are customer required; and a delivery date.

"These changes may seem simple, but the impact was immediate," Young said. "It put discipline in the process. Many shipments that would have been slated for overnight shipping changed to ground shipping or another shipper. The goal was a 10 percent savings, but the team achieved more like 50 percent."

A control plan was established to ensure that the new process is sustained. Jinselli said every form is reviewed by a clerk. If anything is missing, such as a signature, the originator of the package will be contacted for authorization.

"The clerk will call the appropriate personnel to find out why or point out that information is missing," she said.

For their actions in improving this process, depot commander Col. Gerhard P.R. Schröter presented team members with the Achievement Medal for Civilian Service and Jinselli with the Commander's Award for Civilian Service.

"It is actually the team members that are the subject matter experts," Jinselli pointed out. "The Lean Six Sigma Green Belt or Black Belt acts as a guide to apply process improvement techniques. Without a team, a Green or Black Belt could not accomplish these improvements."

"This has proven to be an excellent way to solve processes that have chronic problems," Young noted. "Employees can bring a problem to a supervisor and it will be reviewed by a Belt Steering Committee to determine if it warrants applying Lean Six Sigma techniques."

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 5,100 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.