Many lean blogs, including ours, have written about how the military is embracing lean to improve efficiency and effectively stretch their budget dollars. Earlier this year Bill nominated Army General Jim Pillsbury for manufacturing czar.
The U.S. Air Force has also been strong in this regard, with a clear lean directive driven straight from the top. And that’s one of the keys… it is driven straight from Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley. The second key is that it is very focused on results, which are then reinforced and shared.
And the results have been impressive. Robins AFB decreased C-5 repair time by 60%, Hill AFB reduced F-16 work-in-process by 45%, Tinker AFB reduced KC-135 overhaul time by 45%, McChord AFB reduced cycle time by 67%, and the Air Force Civil Engineers reduced the design-build time on new projects by 42%… just to give a few examples. Some have resulted in Shingo Prizes.
At the AME Annual Conference earlier this month, Lieutenant General Donald Wetekam gave a presentation on the lean efforts in the Air Force. He discussed the results mentioned above, as well as the structure and methods. Their AFS021 program is an interesting combination of lean, six sigma, and theory of constraints that focuses on the process but keeps the product and mission front and center. A variety of consultants have been used to kickstart individual projects, but the overall thrust and growth of the program is driven by internal personnel.
As anyone who has been part of a lean effort can imagine, transforming the world’s largest logistics operation is no small effort. Couple that scope with the unique characteristic of a "management staff" that rotates from operation to operation every couple years, which makes it difficult to completely embed the tools and culture in an individual operation. Another one of the keys to success has been the development of a very structured and visible approach to program implementation, with a graphic of the "Air Force Operating System" that is remarkably similar to the early Danaher Business System among others. This system is then transformed onto the core governing, operating, and enabling processes within the Air Force.
But perhaps the best indication of how lean has taken root is how it is transforming ancillary administrative activities… such as base medical support. General Wetekam took a few minutes to describe these improvements, which include improving access time from 15 days to 5, reducing no-shows and overdue exams by 50%, and reduced outsourced dental care by 58%. Yes, a government organization that has actually reduced outsourcing.
So while the rest of government is still deluded into thinking that spending and tax revenue is a zero-sum game, the military is preparing itself for a probable less defense-friendly Congress by reducing internal waste to get more from the same limited budget. Unfortunately the rest of government still prefers to go after our wallets.