DOD is serious about Six Sigma

Business Transformation Agency officials say they have institutionalized a tiered accountability process that has improved how the Defense Department develops, implements and manages its business systems. The militarywide adoption of Lean Six Sigma, a business-process improvement methodology, is a significant factor in institutionalizing those improvements, officials say. “The services are adopting Lean Six Sigma and have been extremely successful in cost avoidance and saving cycle time,” said Paul Brinkley, undersecretary of Defense for business transformation, at a recent briefing on BTA’s report to Congress. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Naval Air Systems Command are among those that have seen benefits from the Lean Six Sigma approach. BTA reported that the command will save more than $1 million in fiscal 2007 because of Lean Six Sigma improvements in its contract closeout processes. DFAS, meanwhile, used Lean Six Sigma to improve its employee benefits call center. DOD is not alone in moving to the continuous process improvement methodology. The Agriculture Department awarded a contract in the past year to institute the method for its grants management process. The FBI also uses the technique. The services’ success prompted the Office of the Secretary of Defense to expand the use of Lean Six Sigma methodology to areas such as contracting and logistics. “The services can optimize only to a point if OSD is not a participant,” said Beth McGrath, principal assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense in DOD’s Office of Business Transformation. “At the DOD level, we can incorporate work across the department to obtain value.” One departmentwide area for deploying Lean Six Sigma is training. The Defense Acquisition University developed a DOD-specific Lean Six Sigma course covering how to apply the methodology and become Lean Six Sigma certified. McGrath said DAU will train 500 DOD employees as green or black belts in Lean Six Sigma by September 2008. To earn a green belt, an employee must complete one project using the methodology. To earn a black belt, the employee must complete at least two Lean Six Sigma projects. “At the BTA, we have been working with the Lean Six Sigma methodology for three or four years,” McGrath said. In that time, the agency has developed a support infrastructure and applied Lean Six Sigma to thousands of projects, she said. David Fisher, BTA’s director, said the Lean Six Sigma approach will help BTA with one of its highest priorities, implementing the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System and 11 other DOD enterprise resource planning systems.

Lean Six Sigma priorities

The Defense Department opened a continuous process improvement/Lean Six Sigma Program Office in April to train practitioners in applying the methodology to a number of departmentwide processes.

Those processes include:

  • Shortening the time it takes to obtain a security clearance and lowering the cost.

  • Improving how DOD and the Veterans Affairs Department deliver care to wounded warfighters to ensure that service is timely, coordinated and appropriate for their needs.

  • Reviewing the department's four technology transfer and disclosure processes to enable them to begin sooner, work more effectively together, meet the service’s needs better and raise awareness of those processes through education and training.

  • Improving correspondence workflow within and throughout DOD.


  • — Jason Miller




























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