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Lean Six Sigma Gains Government Traction

After decades of alternating and sometimes overlapping quality discipline methodologies, including big names such as CMM (Capability Maturity Model), CMMi (Capability Maturity Model Integration), ISO (International Standards Organization), Baldrige Criteria, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, one has finally reached near wide spread federal adoption and appears to have staying power. Lean Six Sigma has taken root among approximately two-thirds of DOD (Department of Defense) organizations and many other federal bureaus.

The Lean Six Sigma quality improvement methodology has seen piece meal utilization throughout the military since the early 1990's and began a slow but steady penetration into federal bureaus since the turn of the century. In 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England instructed that Lean Six Sigma will be the tool of choice and provide the framework for DOD's business transformation and continuous process improvement plans. In April 2007, Deputy England mandated the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Business Transformation to implement a Continuous Process Improvement Lean Six Sigma (CPI/LSS) program management office to evolve and expand utilization.

Lean Six Sigma is a quality management methodology and discipline which is actually a hybrid of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola and is a quality measurement system which defines processes which produce fewer than 3.4 defects per one million cycles. Lean Manufacturing was developed by Toyota to improve its car production systems. Both Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing attempt to reduce variability, eliminate non-value added activities and make processes repeatable. However, where six sigma focuses on quality as measured by deviations, Lean Manufacturing focuses on speed and cycle times. The combination of the two seek to achieve a balance along with the end result of increased quality faster.

DOD has clearly become a champion for six sigma government adoption. DOD plans to have 5 percent of its workforce trained as Green Belts and 1 percent of staff trained as Black Belts. Green Belts are normally entry level practitioners who apply Six Sigma practices and techniques to projects. Black Belts are normally dedicated full time Six Sigma practitioners and often provide project management or advisory roles on two to three projects at a time.

The U.S. Army has also taken the lead in training, knowledge management and post project measurement. For the two year period concluded at the end of 2007, the Army had completed approximately 770 Lean Six Sigma projects and achieved an estimated savings of $1.2 billion during 2007. As an example, the Army's Red River Army Depot implemented Lean Six Sigma to improve its Humvee refitting operation. The operation now averages approximately 23 rebuilds a day compared with three per day before the project. Army deputy undersecretary Mike Kirby commented "It's a forcing function for our business transformation. It's a readily adaptable commercial best practice that requires very little in the way of human resources, maybe several weeks of people's attention, and it takes up very little computer time."

While impressive, Lean six sigma isn't a silver bullet. Practitioners have pointed out that many times Lean Manufacturing alone can achieve the lion's share of project objectives in short order and without the statistical requirements of six sigma. Many times there is also a lapse between the classroom and actual implementation. It's not productive to get staff trained as green belts or black belts and then fail to mature and harvest their skills in actual projects. Lean Six Sigma is also not particularly well suited for projects or processes with significant political or outside environmental influence.

However, despite flaws which exist in any methodology, Lean Six Sigma has proven very effective for empowering people who are closest to the business processes needing improvement and solving various types of problems which involve repeatable processes and are supported by data. I will be implementing my first Lean Six Sigma project next quarter. If any blog readers would be inclined to share their lessons learned or general advice, it would be much appreciated.

Posted March 20, 2008 in IT Strategy
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ITIL or ISO 27001?
We've been procrastinating for years in our adoption of ITIL. Now that we're finally ready, I've been told that ISO 27001 trumps ITIL. Is that true?
Posted by Daniel on March 24, 2008

Depends On Your Objectives
While there is significant overlap between ITIL and ISO 27001, I would hesitate to say that one trumps the other. ISO is clearly on the increase while I believe ITIL adoption to be stagnate. Because ISO is more prescriptive in nature, ISO adoption can be demonstrated by an accredited audit and certification. Determining the right methodology will require the linking of your particular objectives with the framework of each.
Posted by Howard on March 24, 2008


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