ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (December 6, 2012) -- As U.S. Army leaders continue on a path towards a leaner, more efficient future, individuals within the Army are also making a significant difference in streamlining initiatives.
That's what led Kevin Joyce, a logistics specialist with Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T), to reexamine how computers were being reset within Army WIN-T units.
He found that if Soldiers could do the reset work themselves, it not only saved turnaround time but also money -- almost $10 million over the next five years. The expense of shipping out the laptops, having the contractor perform the reset work and then shipping them back was costly. Also, meeting units' training schedules became a concern as computers were not always returned within the 30-day work window.
"I knew the cost savings would be big, but I didn't know it would be that big," said Joyce, who came up with the idea as part of a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) project. "It was expensive to ship the computers out and have a contractor reset and clean the laptops, but it also brought equipment accountability back to the unit."
The new reset process was tested with two units at their home stations in the United States. Reset work included taking an inventory of equipment, checking cables and ports, inspecting the laptop for damaged or missing parts, cleaning the laptop, loading software to test that the laptop was operational and testing the battery.
Feedback surveys found that overwhelmingly the Soldiers reported improved results with turnaround times reduced from 30 days to ship the computers out, have a contractor reset them and ship them back, to only a few hours of work. Shipping costs were eliminated and Soldiers reported an increase in accountability since the laptops remained in their possession, with no loss in quality of service.
The 4th ID Sustainment Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas and the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Ky. participated in the initial test.
"Our brigade deployed in 2009 and was barely home for 12 months before we deployed again in 2011. But as the operational tempo slows down, we have more time to maintain and refurbish our equipment instead of relying so much on contracted support," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 William J. Douglass, a brigade network technician with the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. "By having the Soldiers reset their equipment, they gain familiarity and confidence that the equipment will work when they need it."
Joyce pointed to the LSS process and the guidance he received through the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), to which WIN-T is assigned, for setting up a successful project.
"Some of the laptops were not meeting the schedule for unit reset timelines. So the project initiated as more of an accountability type of problem, but later we realized there were significant cost savings to be had," Joyce said. "It was just a matter of developing a process that was tested and proven by LSS metrics. That's what the project is all about. You can't just arbitrarily come up with a solution without making sure it's proven."
LSS is a process improvement technique that uses a set of established tools and strategies to implement efficiencies. PEO C3T initiates 30-40 LSS projects each year, resulting in significant cost savings and avoidance. Other programs, such as Value Engineering and Better Buying Power, also contribute to cost reductions within PEO C3T.
"In fiscal year 2012, PEO C3T documented $164 million in financial benefits as the result of LSS projects, and $265 million overall," said Thom Hawkins, chief, Program Analysis Branch and Continuous Performance Improvement Program Director for PEO C3T. "LSS training provides our employees with tools they can use to recognize and execute opportunities to save taxpayer money and get more equipment to the Soldier faster."
James Heffinger, lean initiatives project specialist for PEO C3T, guided Joyce in meeting LSS certification requirements. He said it was one of the best projects he's seen to date.
"There were tremendous cost savings, almost $10 million," said Heffinger. "With LSS, the process is quantitative with a hypothesis test to prove there are substantial improvements. Kevin's project was definitely statistically significant."
In putting his team together to begin the LSS project, Joyce said he made sure it was diverse and included network operations engineers, maintenance engineers and field engineers. A support system was also implemented for units that might have questions during the reset process.
"As you weave through the LSS process you realize you can't just implement something without it being vetted," Joyce said. "You don't want to have any operational impacts after you've completed the project because it can cause a lot of headaches afterwards. "
The LSS project took approximately one year to complete and the new reset process took effect in October.
"This was a great opportunity that will result in real savings to the Army," said Joyce. "The LSS is the tool that provided the methods to be able to improve a process and to prove it out. And there are definitely ways to implement this procedural change for other commercial off-the-shelf systems."