iSixSigma

Ideas for Using Lean Six Sigma in the Marine Corps

The U.S. Marine Corps’ continuous process improvement (CPI) effort is aimed at enhancing all aspects of support provided to operating forces to maximize combat readiness and war fighting capability. That means the Marine Corps is emphasizing that the CPI program is for every level and every element of the corps.

Here is what is being recommended to Marine Corps units:

Support Elements

Examine current practices and procedures, and identify appropriate areas where LSS could improve support to the war fighter. Review established processes that cycle regularly, can be easily measured and are in need of improvement but do not hold an obvious solution. Identify and train motivated candidates for LSS certification, apply DMAIC, and remember the sixth troop leading step – supervise. Educate marines and sailors about the benefits of CPI and LSS.

Operating Forces

Do not tune out the business-speak and methodology of CPI and LSS. The secretary of the Navy served successfully in high positions with corporate giants Northrop Grumman and TRW Systems, both of which boast robust Six Sigma programs, and he now leads the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Leaders, therefore, should not be surprised by the growing use of, and reliance on, business-friendly terms and methods. Learn about LSS and discover how it might help any unit better accomplish its mission. Apply LSS tenets as desired and able.

Headquarters, Marine Corps

Many marines do not like the LSS terminology when it mirrors USMC terms, but with significantly different meanings. LSS experts are identified by martial arts belt colors, titles that elicit a chuckle from those who have received similar designations via the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). Similarly, the implementation of LSS project is referred to as a “deployment,” something sure to make corporals returning from their third combat tour wince. And tenet units and war fighters are now routinely referred to as “customers” by base staff personnel, an obvious but probably unnecessary nod to the civilian sector. As former USMC commandant Gen. James Jones created a USMC-unique program when establishing MCMAP by meshing certain concepts and tenets of different martial arts disciplines into one tailor-suited for the Marine Corps’ needs, so too should the Corps adopt the appropriate tenets of LSS, rather than wholesale adoption of the methodology and as-is application. Change the terminology and titles so they fit the warrior ethos – instead of “Green Belt,” use “LSS Level One Certified.”

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LSS makes sense for certain parts of the Marine Corps, but not necessarily for all. Do not force this process onto units already struggling to keep pace with their extremely challenging operational tempo. LSS was never intended to replace the sound strategy and tactics of U.S. warriors. Rather, its utility lies in its ability to improve the support of those that are in the fight. Allow battalions and squadrons of the active operating forces to voluntarily participate in USMC business enterprise initiatives such as LSS.

DoD policy states that all organizations that generate cost savings and expense reductions from CPI efforts can retain those savings. Commanders need to ensure units successful with LSS efforts recoup any savings so they can further improve their support for marines and sailors. Remain open to suggestions for fleet-wide LSS implementation, responsive to developing improvements in the CPI Program itself, and have a long-term backup plan to continue LSS Program benefits.

All Hands

Understand that LSS is not TQM. It has proven benefits both in the corporate and military world, and it has the potential to make the Corps better. Research the process and explore where it might be beneficial to any unit and mission. LSS is ultimately about changing the culture – from what Vice Admiral Massenburg identified as the “culture of consumption” (spend it or lose it), into what David R. Clifton, director of Marine Corps Business Enterprise, calls a “culture of innovation.” That culture change must start at the top and be echoed throughout the leadership ranks. As Mr. Clifton told an audience at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, LSS is “not all about the tools; it is about the culture of always wanting to make things better.” This is basic Marine/Navy culture and is a philosophy that all marines and sailors can surely embrace.

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