Shedding off the Fat

Even the powerful need to lose some fat.

Close to two years ago, a report was published online about an award that was given at Hanscom Air Force Base to a Mr. Harvey Dershin, Vice President of Aon/Rath & Strong. Presenting the award was Major General Arthur J. Rooney, Vice Commander of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base.

What was it for?

No, it wasn’t about a near-death heroic fighter jet exercise; rather, it was an award that acknowledged  efficiency and cost savings. As Major General Rooney said, “The superb contribution Harvey Dershin has been making to training our airmen, officers and civilian personnel is critical to our mission. The results of these Lean Efforts are already helping the Electronic Systems Center to significantly reduce our costs and to improve our performance. Thank you for a job very well done.”

It looks like Aon/Rath & Strong are actively involved in the US Air Force and are busy teaching and implementing Lean Six Sigma principles, thanks to the initiative called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century. One of the key projects that Aon/Rath & Strong led was civilian hiring where the goal was to accelerate efforts to fill civilian positions at the base. It was called the Rapid Improvement Event and as Director of Personnel Sheila Brennan said, the trainees learned some great Six Sigma tools which enabled them to decrease delays in the recruitment process by 86%.

Aon/Rath & Strong were working on other active Air Force projects at the time of the report, but as one of the global leaders in Lean Six Sigma training, it also has worked with high profile private sector companies like Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and British Petroleum, to name a few.

As you read more news on Lean Six Sigma, some things become clear:

  • the success attained by experienced Lean Six Sigma training providers is catching the attention of not only the private sector but also the government;
  • one area of government that engages the services of Six Sigma consultants is the military; and finally,
  • the military will not hesitate to invest dollars and material resources to improve process management and cut costs

That last point may seem contradictory: huge investments being devoted to Lean Six Sigma training when the ultimate goal is to cut costs.

It isn’t contradictory at all. As the Toyota and Motorola pioneers said, it’s healthier to adopt a long term view, even if it means sacrificing short term financial goals.

The US Air Force also awarded a US$1.9 billion Air Force Logistics sub-contract to a consultancy firm that specializes in green supply chain and Lean Six Sigma. The US Air Force logistics contract covers support for engineering, technical and design for multiple military command units.

Awards and contracts are concrete signs that the US military has awakened and is starting to smell the coffee. Five years ago, Dr. Kenneth D. Shere of the Aerospace Corporation wrote an article about how Lean Six Sigma affects the government. One of the article’s sub-topics specifically mentioned the military. Dr. Shere quoted Lt. Gen. Brian A. Arnold who was then commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base who said: “I will tell you that in virtually every one of our major programs, we are out of control on cost and schedule.”

Dr. Shere maintains that because one focus of LSS is on process improvement, learning it can refine the way people in the military can control both costs and schedules. Going back to the Air Force’s Smart Operations initiative, Col. Sheri Andino, 11th Mission Support Group Commander quoted top-ranking Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley in her blog of May 12, 2006. Wynne and Moseley said, “We must fundamentally change the culture of our Air Force so that all Airmen understand their individual role in improving their daily processes and eliminating things that don’t add value to the mission.” If you read this quote again, you’ll know that it echoes two of the fundamental precepts of Lean Six Sigma: improvement in work processes and eliminating unnecessary waste.

Finally, the Rand Corporation came out with a book entitled Air Force Service Procurement: Approaches for Measurement and Management (Rand Corporation, 2005).  Although there is no mention of Lean Six Sigma in the list of topics covered, majority of the chapters discuss metrics: results-oriented metrics (cost, quality, supplier satisfaction), internal management metrics, metrics baseline data, quality metrics and so on – the very same type of metrics that LSS integrates into its statistical tools. The reason for employing metrics for the US Air Force is clear: the Department of Defense is the largest purchaser of services within the federal government. In 2002 alone, it spent approximately US$92 billion for services.

That’s enough proof that LSS enabled Air Force to implement cost savings measures that generated the desired results.

Peter Peterka is the President of For information on Six Sigma trainingSix Sigma Certification or Master Black Belt programs contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

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