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43rd Signal Battalion hits process improvement home runs with Lean Six Sigma

Apr 1, 2010

By Kristopher Joseph

HEIDELBERG, Germany (April 1, 2010) -- After people take their cars to a mechanic for a general maintenance check-up or an oil change, their drive is a little smoother, the gears feel tighter, and they have an overall sense that things are running better than before.

In this real-life analogy, the car is the 43rd Signal Battalion in Heidelberg, Germany, and the mechanics are 43rd civilians trained in the process improvement powerhouse known as Lean Six Sigma, an Army-sponsored continuous process improvement methodology that strives to transform the way Army organizations do business by finding more effective time, cost and process solutions for customers.

The 43rd, a signal battalion under the 2nd Signal Brigade and 5th Signal Command, embraced LSS and has had some notable successes that have spread throughout Europe.

In a time when virtually every Army unit is trying to cut costs and save money, the 43rd was given the task to reduce civilian overtime hours. David Ball, a 43rd civilian trained in LSS, used the methodology to tackle the overtime issue.

"By using LSS we were able to reduce overtime hours by 50 percent in just 90 days," said Ball. "We provided adequate alternatives for our civilian employees and in the end saved the 43rd about $16 thousand."

As a result of this success, 43rd's method of saving overtime costs is now on course to be implemented throughout 5th Signal Command.

Mike Beaupre, director of Continuous Process Improvement for 5th Signal Command, said that a crucial element for any unit using LSS is to have commander involvement.

"The commander is the agent of change in any unit," Beaupre said. "Whether a unit uses LSS or any other method to gain efficiencies, the commander has to believe in it and be the driving force behind the program to see real results."

According to Eric Ruggles, 43rd's deputy Director of Information Management, the 43rd Commander, Lt. Col. Laroy Peyton, avidly supports LSS as a way to improve his unit.

"He (Peyton) looks at the big picture," said Ruggles. "He sees the value LSS can bring and he puts a lot of trust in me and his other civilians to help make thing better for the battalion."

Since applying LSS, the 43rd has had several "quick wins" that have driven costs down, saved man hours and increased effectiveness.

"People like Eric and David in the 43rd have shown a lot of vision, drive and effort because they see the benefit of LSS," said Beaupre.

"We do see things differently," said Ruggles. "It's amazing how much time and money a unit can save if you can cut out even one redundancy in a process."

An example of this is the 43rd reorganized the process of customer units requesting and receiving cell phones. Ruggles said that by cutting out one duplication of effort, hundreds of employee hours were saved and the customer units can now receive their orders over 60 percent faster.

"A lot of the problems are not identified because they are just part of the culture," said Ball. "People are used to doing the same things they've done for the last 20 years, so you have to show them what the organization wins over what they are going to lose."

The 43rd also recently played a critical role in developing a partnership with 5th Signal and the Installation Management Command - Europe LSS programs.

Erich Deffner, a LSS-trained local German national from the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg Department of Public Works, was looking for a way to save money at one of his installations and came up with an energy-saving idea to have computer monitors automatically go into sleep mode after 20 minutes of non use. He asked the 43rd to help with the effort locally.

"The 43rd was extremely helpful on this project," said Deffner. "Now we have a plan in place that is going to save money on electric costs so we can use the funds for other much needed areas on our installations."

"This LSS project is another one that is going to be implemented all over Europe," said Beaupre. "We've estimated it's going to save IMCOM-E about $900 thousand a year."

Beaupre said that the 43rd is a great example of how affecting change at the local unit level can create a ripple-effect that creates trust among organizations, which leads to huge savings and customer satisfaction at the theater level and beyond.

"All of these success stories here are being seen by the Department of the Army," said Beaupre. "Saving nickels and dimes here and there can quickly turn into saving millions of dollars when more and more people jump on board."

Military units in Europe that need a tune-up can tap into the LSS "toolbox" by contacting the U.S. Army Europe LSS Program Manager, phone DSN 314-370-3530 or 7811.

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