Soldiers to Streamline Work Operations Using Process Improvement Methods

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. – I did not want to take the training.

My boss chose me to go to Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt training, and by chose I mean everyone higher than me on the totem pole was conveniently unavailable.

Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt. I didn’t even know what that meant. It sounded like some sort of karate college fraternity that I did not want to join. Why on Earth would you call it Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt? To get military personnel interested they should have known you have to throw food in there some kind of way: You gotta call it Lean Cuisine Sigma or Three Twix Sigma.

What I was to find out was of course there was a reason it was called Lean Six Sigma. And of course I most definitely should take the training because I could make a very big difference in the way my office operates. Lean Six Sigma is a method or process by which you make your work better and you do your work faster. Doesn’t that sound simple? It is definitely easier said then done. Make no mistake about it; this course was not a show-up-and-you’ll-pass type of deal.

There are enough intricate details to make your head spin, but once you get the concept down, the pieces begin to fit together. The basic idea is that you identify a process within your area of work that could use some tweaking and you apply the LSS tools to fix it. Pretend you are a waiter at a restaurant. As a waiter, you may notice that the time between when a customer orders a mixed drink and when he or she actually receives it is a really long time. Using LSS methods, you can identify where the problem is in this process; whether it is your inability to promptly enter the information into the computer, or the bartender’s inability to keep up with drink orders, or the customer’s request for an outlandish concoction.

Any of these or something entirely different could be the problem, and LSS, which backs you up with data analysis and statistics, helps you target your problem area even if there is more than one problem. I am the editor in the public affairs office here, and for my LSS project I identified that the time it takes us to send a story to the media is crazy long. What LSS helped me do is list each step that goes into the process of getting a story published and later I will identify if all the steps are necessary. Would you believe that there are 15 steps from when I assign a story to a writer to when we send the story to the media? Fifteen!

Using LSS, not only do you examine the process but then you get into analyzation. I know examine and analyze may seem the same to you, but it’s the difference between eating leftovers from the ‘fridge and thinking about eating the leftovers from the fridge. You can examine the contents of a container and know that it is baked ziti, however during analyzation, you may think about when you made it, what ingredients are in it, and how this might affect your tummy. What LSS also helps me do is talk to our “customers,” or the people who receive our stories, to determine if the product they get is the product they want.

For example, if my customers generally expect our stories to be about Army units that are deploying, and I send stories about how a particular group of Marines interact with the community, I’m missing the mark. I am not giving the customers what they want, but what I think they want. In the long run, knowing and giving customers what they want helps to cut back on unnecessary work thereby using that time to do something more productive. The LSS Greenbelt class was taught by two totally competent instructors, who were as different as night and day.

The Airman, as I’ll call the one guy, was prior service Airforce, with a demure, detailed and soft approach to teaching. The Texan, as I’ll call the other, was loud, obnoxious and fun. He was prior service Navy, and since he was enlisted he continuously cracked jokes at the expense of his partner who was an officer. It made for good times.

The instructors made themselves readily available and saw to it that no question went unanswered. They did a great job of preparing all of us in the class to complete the academic requirements and now all we need to do is to finish our projects to obtain bona fide Greenbelt certification. I did not want to take the training, but I must admit I’m glad I did. At the very least, even if my project falls through I have learned some very valuable job skills to include problem solving.

Unless you’re under the age of one, I don’t know a person this side of Earth who doesn’t need to problem solve. Even those little people called children occasionally need to figure out how to earn an extra dessert. You take a few steps without the assistance of mom or dad or maybe make it to the potty in time and.presto! A cookie!

On the plus side, however, when my project succeeds, I will have improved on the story turn-around time, the writers will be writing stories that are getting published and my customers will be satisfied because they are getting what they asked for. Little ol’ me can make a very big difference indeed.