The Army’s growing Lean Six Sigma program has its roots in a corporate method of eliminating wasted time, money and material.

Lean Six Sigma integrates two independently developed improvement tools: Lean and Six Sigma. Lean is an outgrowth of the Toyota production system, and focuses on increasing efficiency and reducing cycle time by the elimination of waste. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola beginning in the 1970s as an approach to improving quality and effectiveness through statistical control. Its roots go back more than 150 years to a Prussian mathematician who introduced the concept of the normal curve.

Together, Lean and Six Sigma are powerful tools in transforming organizations, Army Materiel Command officials said. They said Lean Six Sigma enables a culture of innovation that continuously listens to customers, questions the status quo, and improves results through fact-based decisions.

Streamlining familiar goal for military

“It's essentially to take the work out of a process and to apply it both to a factory-type operation or repair, and also to a headquarters operation, like the Department of Army,” said Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey at a Pentagon press briefing March 23.

“Back in 1982 it was called Quality and Productivity Improvement. Then we called it Total Quality Management. Then we called it Business Process Re-engineering. We've had several different names for the same thing,” said Harvey. “You look at the way you do business, and you change it for the better.”

AMC first employed Lean in 2002 as a tool to better wage the Global War on Terrorism and enable transformation. By 2004, Lean evolved to Lean Six Sigma and AMC began a program to develop the workforce in the use of these tools.

AMC black belts to train others

“Headquarters AMC has trained almost 200 people since it began its Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt programs in Lean Six Sigma in November 2004,” said Ron Davis, AMC deputy chief of staff for Industrial Operations.

Different levels of training and experience are awarded martial arts-like belts to show the level of the person’s certification. The AMC master black belts go on to mentor others in the command.

“In a nutshell, the benefit to training our own people rather than just bringing in hired folks from industry or academia is self-sufficiency,” said Rod Tozzi, AMC Industrial Operations directorate. “That’s the bottom line. If we’re going to do this and continue to do this, and we’re going to make this part of our culture, the only way to do that is to grow it in house.”