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Marines, civilians enhance efficiency with Lean Six Sigma

13 Sep 2013 | Lance Cpl. Nicholas Ranum

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa - Marines and civilian employees of Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific and Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa completed a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt course Aug. 21 on Camp Foster.

The course outlines methods to improve efficiency in the workplace by eliminating unneeded steps and creating a smoother workflow process.

“We focus on continuous process improvement, or CPI,” said Rudy Gutierrez, a management analyst with the Business Performance Office at Camp Foster. “CPI involves elements from Lean Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints.”

The Lean program focuses on removing waste from the manufacturing process, Theory of Constraints focuses on improving areas of the manufacturing process where bottlenecks exist, and Six Sigma focuses on removing defects from the process.

“Each of those is a process in which companies cut down on their excess or improve their work flow,” said Gutierrez. “The purpose of CPI in the Marine Corps is to increase the combat readiness and support of the warfighter.”

The students were introduced to the course with a quick overview of CPI and how each of the three methods can be applied.

“In Six Sigma we reduce variations, in Lean we remove waste, and in TOC we manage constraints,” said Gutierrez. “The Navy and Marine Corps began organizing the CPI program in 2006 and through refinement pulled the best from each method and made it into their program.”

The program adopted the belt system more commonly associated with martial arts to denote a user’s level of training and proficiency.
“CPI is needed more and more as we go into the future,” said Esme Allen, a program analyst with the Business Performance Office on Camp Foster. “The yellow belts will have a more in-depth understanding of the Lean Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints programs than white belts to be able to help the green and black belts of the program should they need it.”

A white belt is a beginner of the program, while a yellow belt knows more about how the program works and can help in projects. Green belts will lead projects, and black belts focus solely on the Lean Six Sigma program in their organization.

Marine units are already applying some of these principles to their workflow process, including the Installation Personnel Administration Center, MCB Camp Smedley D. Butler, that worked to make the common-access card application process easier, according to Allen.

“We went into IPAC and went step-by-step through the process and learned what we needed to improve,” said Allen. “We eventually came up with the appointment system for them, so that those trying to get their cards would not have to wait for hours at a time. We try to achieve a better end-state each time we go to a workplace and conduct a project.”

Even if the participants are not involved in a specific project led by a green or black belt of Lean Six Sigma, the skills can still be applied to the workplace.

“The information that I received from this class is good,” said Master Sgt. Kevin E. Brown, the plans chief for G-6, communications, MCB Camp Smedley D. Butler. “Our goal is to cut the time from when someone places a work order to the completion of that order. With the information provided by this class, the process should be smoothed-out.”

Changing the workplace to be more efficient not only helps those on Okinawa but can help the Marine Corps as a whole, according to Brown.

“Anyone that is in a position capable of changing their workflow should attend this course,” said Brown. “Even those that are not can still learn from this and take it back to their unit, so that they can better improve their work areas.”

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