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TRIZ in Six Sigma at DoD

| On 08, Jun 2010

Ellen Domb

I’m in the beautiful suburban environment (all the trees are in flower!)  of Washington DC this week for the 2010 DoD Performance Symposium, which is the USA’s Department of Defense Six Sigma meeting.  People from all services present their projects(for feedback, for sharing,  and for bragging), attend workshops, and get the opportunity for in-person networking.   iSixSigma Live, a division of CTQ Media which also owns TRIZ Journal and Real Innovation is the organizer.   For the full program see
The incorporation of TRIZ into LeanSixSigma has been well-documented in articles and commentaries, so I’ll focus this report on how the DoD is working at real-time improvement.   The live Innovation/TRIZ networking element is very active – ” Phil Samuels (BMG) and Dana Clarke (RACE) are familiar faces to TRIZ Journal readers. The emphasis throughout the day was on the need to innovate to meet the every more stringent improvement goals.

Leadoff speaker was Mr. J.D. Sicilia, director of DoD’s Lean Six Sigma Program Office.  He used a lot of humor (some military, some just human) to set the theme of performance excellence – ” not just one time, but for sustained benefit to the military and to the taxpayers.  He called attention to more than 40 storyboards that documented success in projects in all areas of process improvement – ” the organizers considered skipping this element because formatting the presentations takes a lot of time, but the participants wanted it, so they used a very TRIZ-ish “local quality” solution -” the presentations are in any format that works.

Eric Fanning, Undersecretary of the Navy, gave the keynote address, and surprised the audience by saying that he had changed the talk he planned to give, because of Secretary Gates’ speech last week about the importance of efficiency to achieve the same mission with $28billion less cost.   This is THE opportunity, THE “game changer” for continuous process improvement/Lean SixSigma.   Fanning said that this could make it easier to report savings, and will be a challenge to distinguish between cost avoidance and cost savings.  His distinction between the “tail” and the “tooth” of the organization applies to non-military organizations as well; the goal is to save a lot on the “tail” (support) processes and move those savings to the “tooth” (mission). 
“How do we show the value of continuous process improvement to the Navy?”  Fanning proposed aligning problem selection with the Secretary’s commitment to dramatically reduced energy use.  His statistics on the cost in money and in casualties of delivering one gallon of gasoline to the front line were persuasive, and the benefits to the improvement community of working on projects that the leadership is pre-committed to.
Audience questions dealt with specifics of the DoD’s organization issues, which got the audience some interesting answers to difficult questions.

General C. Robert Kehler, Commander of the Air Force Space Command, gave the second re-structured presentation, focusing on how to apply the techniques of Lean Six Sigma to make operations efficient and effective, regardless of the technologies involved.  He had a very strong focus on the functions of the users of the systems that his group (46,000 people world-wide) provides.  He made the point very dramatically that “we have been on this road before” recalling both the successes of Total Quality Management, and the failure (which was proliferation of a TQM bureaucracy and emphasis on procedures rather than results.)  “It was doomed because of how we went about it.”  His claim to being a “card carrying skeptic” was greeted with good humor by the audience, and his openness to try again, with awareness of all the lessons learned from earlier efforts, was very positively received.

General Kehler’s story of work in progress emphasized the cultural and business change from spot inspection by outsiders to rigorous, continuous self-inspection and improvement.   The objective is making sure that leaders have clear view of the capability, rather than the enthusiasm, of their people and their systems.   He handled the delicate question of inspection (bad in Six Sigma, good in military history) quite nicely, challenging the audience to find the careful balance of people and achieving process excellence in difficult situations.

120 of the 450 attendees participated in my TRIZ workshop after lunch.  Thanks to those who pointed out that TRIZ is now in the official DoD “Lean Six Sigma body of knowledge” document!  

The entire group reconvened to hear from Elizabeth McGrath, DoD Assistant Deputy Chief Management Officer.   She did an eloquent job of explaining the new orientation of DoD improvement as well as the elements that are frankly re-used from earlier initiatives.   She used her 22 years’ government experience as a basis for lessons learned from past experience as well as explaining plans for change in 10 significant areas ranging from energy use to acquisition processes.   McGrath concluded with an announcement that will feature requests for innovative solutions to the problem of taking cost out of DoD business operations.

David Tillotson III, Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Office of the Undersecretary of the Air Force spoke on “Shaping the Air Force Future through Business Transformation.”  For a TRIZ perspective, he focused on the contradictions in the present environment ��” a traffic jam due to construction is bad, but people having jobs is good.  He showed the alignment of the Air Force’s strategies with the overall DoD strategies of the previous speaker.   Priorities are now assigned to projects that have measurable ROI, that are desired by the commands, and (surprisingly) where anticipated resistance to change is low.  The results of benchmarking commercial organizations were another set of surprises which resulted in an initiative called “Clean Audit”  that Tillotson pointed out is no fun at all, but absolutely necessary as a precursor to realigning spending (in TRIZ terms, he really emphasized ideality -” more benefit at less cost with less harm/waste.)  He concluded with a strong message, backed up by numerous cases:  Mission effectiveness is dependent on business efficiency. 

“American Freedom Festival” was a unique video presentation by Jack L. Tilley, the retired Sergeant Major of the Army.   The American Freedom Foundation helps military members and their families. The Festival is a series of concerts that raise money and raise awareness of the need and the campaign. 

Chairman J. D. Sicilia returned to the podium to present awards to the winners of the DoD Performance Bowl which was a Six Sigma contest held yesterday. The Air Force “Team GD” were the winners.

A wine tasting featuring the Six Sigma winery followed, with plenty of opportunity for networking and learning.