Lean Six Sigma in the US Air Force – Towards a Lean Mean Air Force

Lean Six Sigma is a concept that is used to improve business processes by combining elements of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. The former focuses on speed while the latter emphasizes quality. When both are combined they produce quality at great speeds. As a business management tool, Six Sigma focuses on trying to identify mistakes or defects and removes them from the system. Six Sigma employs among other things, statistical methods to measure performance. Motorola owns the Six Sigma trademark and service mark. In 2006 alone, Motorola is purported to have saved US 17$ billion dollar by applying Six Sigma. Many other companies like Honeywell International and General Electric have also adapted the Six Sigma way.

The acronym DMAIC is used in Six Sigma. DMAIC translates into Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. This is an Incremental process improvement strategy. The Six Sigma approach was formed on the basis of the concept of quality control, Total Quality Control (TQM) and Zero Defects. There are special people in the organization, called “Six Sigma Black Belts” who are experts in Sigma Six. Any application or process that has been given Six Sigma status has to follow a definite set of steps and achieve the set financial targets, like reducing costs or enhancing profits. When Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are combined, the objectives and the inputs are optimized for speed and quality.

The combination of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, called Lean Six Sigma is now being applied to the Defense Forces. The US Air Force has taken to Lean Six Sigma in a big way. Elimination of waste is the objective of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21). Along with Lean, numerous other methodologies and tools like Root Cause Analysis (RCA), Value Stream Mapping, Six Sigma analysis, Constraint analysis, and Quality Function Deployment have been incorporated to form the AFSO 21 Playbook.

The main aim of AFSO 21 is to do away with waste. Time, manpower and money are all targeted. In November 2005, Gen T.Michael Mosely, Chief of Staff, US Air Force along with Michael Wynne, Secretary, set out advising their men on the AFSO 21‘s goal and mission. As a step towards achieving the stated goals of AFSO 21, contracts for training and support for implementing Lean Six Sigma were awarded consultancy firms.

In April 2007, Bearing Point, Alexandria, Va., was awarded the contract for Assistance and Advisory Services. This was a contract fixed for $99,000,000. The University has been identified for training and certifying trainers who will go on the train Air Force Personnel. The award is for $25 million.

A $28 million dollar contract has been awarded to General Dynamic Corp. They would provide continuous process improvement and transformation for AFSO 21. As a result of the initiatives taken under AFSO 21, there has been an improvement in many areas of the Air Force. Significant gains in the reduction of time and reduction of costs have been recorded.

The Logistics Readiness Division’s Vehicle Management Flight at the Randolph Air Force Base at Texas has under AFSO 21, trained its drivers to handle different vehicles. Physical reworking of office space has done to improve customer service. The dispatch process has been reduced from 14 to 10 steps with time consequently reducing from 59 minutes to just 22 minutes.

The 345th Maintenance Squadron’s Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight Members of the 354th Maintenance Squadron’s Aerospace at the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska had implemented AFSO 21. Reorganization of the Flight into five cells for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance has brought about a 30% reduction in manpower. The equipment related reduction was 20%.

These are just a couple of many instances across the entire US Air Force Department were AFSO 21 has been implemented successfully. Thinking Lean Six Sigma helps reduce time and costs significantly.

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