Leaders from across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and various agencies and activities, will gather Oct. 22 to 23, 2008 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the state of the department’s Lean Six Sigma deployment. The event, named the Breakthrough Convention and produced by iSixSigma Live! is an opportunity for deployment leaders to report progress and share strategies, processes, training and technology developments.

Although some services have been using Lean Six Sigma independently for several years, a new era began in May, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed Directive 5010.42, institutionalizing Lean Six Sigma as the department-wide method of continuous process improvement. To achieve the goals of this directive, leaders are using opportunities like this conference to work together to leverage existing resources and build new infrastructure.

“The institutionalization of continuous process improvement and Lean Six Sigma efforts requires every facet of communication possible,” said Beth McGrath, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Business Transformation. Lean Six Sigma is part of DoD’s overall business transformation effort, which strives to make the enterprise more efficient and effective in all its processes.

The topics for this convention were developed during a workshop in July, when DoD deployment leaders identified four enterprise-wide challenges that must be overcome for the department to reach breakthrough return on its deployment.

“Up until this point, each of the services, agencies and activities that had started their journey in Lean Six Sigma had made incremental improvements,” said J.D. Sicilia, Director of DoD’s Lean Six Sigma Program Office, who is serving as convention chair. “But no matter how good anybody got individually, we all bumped up against the same type of challenges that we could not solve individually. We were going to have to get together to solve these things collectively.”

The four improvement areas proposed during the workshop were:

  • Strategic alignment – Ensuring resources are focused on top-priority projects to receive the highest possible return on investment.
  • Integration – Improving the level of transparency of project work across the department through better use of resources. “There are currently 14,000 completed projects [across DoD],” Sicilia said. “However, nobody has the integrated ability to view what’s already been solved, what’s currently being worked on or what are the future challenges that we could work together on.”
  • Consistency of approach – Decreasing the variation in Lean Six Sigma use, including training and certification, across the agencies, services and activities within the department. “Many of our military departments have been on this journey for different time frames, and now we’re all coming together as an institution to normalize and standardize our approach,” McGrath said.
  • Human capital – Classifying and tracking the knowledge, skills and abilities of practitioners across DoD.

At the end of the workshop in July, the leaders formed four work streams, each led by one of the services, with components from agencies and activities, to find solutions to these challenges. The teams will present deliverables from their projects to England during October’s convention.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense has opportunities through conventions like this to get us more focused on the strategic goals and the alignment of our projects to those goals,” McGrath said. “It’s a great venue for that communication to happen.”

The convention is another opportunity, in advance of November’s presidential election, to instill the methodology within a department that will see new executive leadership with the change of administration.

“I’m less worried now about transition than I was a year ago – [about] whether or not we’d be able to sustain momentum during transition,” McGrath said. “I think all the work the leadership team in the department has done, starting with the deputy secretary, has been tremendous.”

Ultimately, the conference also is an occasion to practice Lean Six Sigma. As a means of reaching breakthrough improvement, DoD continuous process improvement leaders are turning the lens on their program as a whole.

“The primary function of the October event is to demonstrate that we can use this methodology on the deployment itself to take on the bigger DoD-wide challenges, and so we can actually get to the point where we’re experiencing exponential return on our investment,” Sicilia said.

About the Author