In an interview with iSixSigma, J.D. Sicilia, director of the Department of Defense Lean Six Sigma Program Office, shares about the purpose of the office, his deployment strategy and how the office will interact with the services.

In less than a year as the director of the Department of Defense (DoD) Lean Six Sigma Program Office, J.D. Sicilia has witnessed a significant deployment milestone – the establishment of Lean Six Sigma as the primary tool for continuous process improvement (CPI) in the Department of Defense.

J.D. Sicilia, director of the Department of Defense Lean Six Sigma Program Office at the DOD
J.D. Sicilia, Director of Department of Defense Lean Six Sigma Program Office

Previously the deployment leader for the Defense Intelligence Agency, a more than 12,000-person defense organization that’s responsible for military intelligence for the Department of Defense, Sicilia started in his current position in October 2007. The Lean Six Sigma Program Office was established by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England earlier that year.

In May 2008, England signed Directive 5010.42, which directs defense department services and agencies to adopt Lean Six Sigma.

“It gets the fence-sitters off the fence and going with this methodology,” Sicilia said. What is more, the directive outlines that the benefits resulting from the improvements may be retained by the components that generate them – good news for anyone worried that savings would be taken away.

Sicilia is emphatic about making the DoD more efficient. Ultimately, the processes support the war fighter. “We can’t have someone who is in Iraq or Afghanistan make a request for something and the reason that they don’t get it in a timely fashion is that the process is inefficient,” he said.

In an interview with iSixSigma Associate Editor Kirsten Terry, Sicilia shared about the purpose of the office, its deployment strategy and how it will interact with the services.

Q: What is the purpose of the Lean Six Sigma Program Office at the DoD?

Our primary focus is to be an enabler. We want to enable and accelerate the deployment across the entire Department of Defense, which is about 5 million individuals.

The best way to enable is by first doing no harm to programs that are up and running, like the services. In the April 2007 memorandum from Secretary Gordon England, he gave some specific guidance of what he wanted the office to be able to do. The first task was to drive DoD-wide Lean Six Sigma activities – in other words, take on the projects and the enterprise-level problems that affect all of the services. As part of that task, we will identify the top rung of some core mission requirements and examine those processes to see where we can be an enabler, which allows the rest of the Department of Defense to benefit from the improvements.

The second specific task he gave us was to rigorously track results. The only way that we can actually do that is through integration. One of the forums that was established was the senior steering committee consisting of senior representatives from the services and the agencies and activities. We have been meeting, over a year now, one time a month, to discuss those types of issues.

The other thing he asked us to do was establish additional forums or management structures to accelerate the efforts that were already established. We really see that as a byproduct of the integration that we’re working on. We want to have the transparency between the services and within the services and agencies and activities to do some more in-depth knowledge management and information sharing.

Q: How do you see this benefiting the different organizations in the DoD?

There are so many common processes, types of equipment, clothing and transactions that when we can improve a process in one organization, it can be replicated in many others. What we want to do is be the integrator that gives the Army the ability to look at what’s going in some of the projects that have been completed in the Air Force and say, “Hey we have a similar project so let’s take a look at that data so we don’t start off with a blank page.”

Whereas a Black Belt project could have lasted from six months to a year, they’re going to complete the project in less time because they already have a lot of the data collected and they already have some of the improvements from previous completed projects. Through integration, we’re going to get replication, which will then shorten the cycle time, which will then allow Black Belts to complete more projects per year.

Essentially, what we’re trying to do, at the [Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD)] level, is to be an integrator that cuts through the barriers and the stovepipes of all the individual services and activities.

Q: You’re developing a common Lean Six Sigma curriculum for the Department of Defense. Could you tell us about that?

I’ve done a lot of research in understanding deployments and the maturation process. The larger your organization, the more opportunity there is for variation among the different divisions or subordinate organizations. Consider the magnitude of the Department of Defense deployment; it has a population of about 5 million and a budget of $515 billion, and is spread out over 140 different countries and 45 distinct organizations. So what you have, even within the services, is some variation in the instruction.

I want to reduce the variation in what the population is receiving, so that they’re all speaking the same language; they are looking for the same type of outcomes; and they have the same testing criteria, the same certification criteria and the same body of knowledge. It drives consistency of approach throughout the organization.

The services all started doing Lean Six Sigma without being told to do it. Some smart, forward-looking people in the services who had experience with it in industry or in some other capacity said, let’s just do this to my depot, let’s do it to my warehouse, or let’s do it to my installation. And they started applying it on their own. No one was telling them what they couldn’t do, so they went out and did best practice benchmarking, etc. They did their research and they selected XYZ vendor. Halfway across the world, another installation was doing the same thing, and they chose ABC vendor, so what happened is we grew to our level of maturity really with a lot of autonomy within and between the services.

My long-term objective is to bring that variation down, and to make more common, agreed-upon standards for curriculum, training, education, certification, so that in the DoD there will be a lot more commonality than differences. So the long range goal would be that we’d have…a body of knowledge and a repository of what the DoD curriculum looks like.

Q: What makes a good process improvement project at the DoD? What kind of metrics come into play?

The first criteria would be that the project is in fact aligned with a high priority goal or objective that the leadership has articulated through either their strategic plan or implementation guidance.

As far as the metrics, they’re going to vary, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot of transactional processes in the Department of Defense, particularly at OSD. So the metric we’re going to use primarily is reducing the cycle time of the actions that, number one, we have to do, and number two, that the war fighter depends on us to do in order to support them. It takes too long to do too many of our processes. The other metric is quality. And that goes back into affecting the cycle time. If there was better quality throughout the process, it would decrease the rework, which would then reduce the cycle time.

Q: What are your plans for the Program Office’s website?

Right now we have a website that is up and it’s running. But it’s a stop-gap measure until we acquire our own webmaster. The end state is that the OSD office would have its own website, which is basically the front page for the Army, Navy, the Air Force, and the rest of the agencies and activities that have programs and websites.

The website would be the first spot that any of the folks in the Department of Defense could go to, to 1) find out about what classes are available, who’s hosting them, where they’re at, what the class seat availability is, and 2) find projects that have been completed so that we could pull up information from a database that would facilitate replication.

Q: Are individuals at the DoD rewarded for generating savings through Lean Six Sigma?

There isn’t a DoD reward program that is applied universally. It has been identified as a task in the directive. Every organization has their own flavor of reinforcement and reward, and that’s because the cultures are slightly different and different populations value different things. So, they have the flexibility to pick the things that are most effective to reward their employees. It’s not specified what you have to do as a reward, just that you should do it.

Q: Can you sum up your deployment strategy for the department?

There are three important components in my strategy. The first is integration. That is the project tracking, knowledge management and information sharing capability. There are so many benefits once you achieve that, like the shortened cycle time on projects, the reduction of duplicating efforts all across the department.

Also, I think using Lean Six Sigma will be one of the things that will enhance the cohesiveness of the Department of Defense. In other words, we all can see what each other’s doing; we’re collectively solving what we could not solve individually.

The second one is moving toward a more common baseline for curriculum. Trying to weed out some of the variation so that there is a more unified effort in what students are being taught, how they’re being taught the material. The taxonomy, the terms of reference, the lexicon will all be very similar so that there will be better communication across the services.

And the third one, is the strategic alignment piece. Right now we have so many competing documents out there for strategic alignment that we need to develop a process to complete a cross-walk of the documents to produce one that we can use as the baseline for cascading plan development. This will start to drive the right projects, with leadership support, solving DoD-wide enterprise level challenges.

All of this of course is really dependent upon an excellent, well executed strategic communications plan that gets this type of information out to the Department of Defense and invites those to be part of the solution. We close the door to no one. Everything that I’ve done at this level has been very inclusive to include all the services and agencies and activities that have programs.

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