Today’s issue of Federal Computer Week gives us another story about how the U.S. military is turning to lean manufacturing methods to improve operational efficiency. This isn’t new… many military commands have been successfully implementing lean and some have even won Shingo Prizes.
However this time the military didn’t turn to the usual bevy of consultants. The Department of Defense Transportation Command (Transcom), responsible for the entire military distrbution system, went straight to who understands lean best: Toyota.
Late last year, the command sought the expertise of Toyota Motors. Toyota has been involved with DOD at an executive management level, and DOD officials have attended Toyota demonstrations, said Jason Korbel, assistant operations improvement manager at Toyota, who helped conduct the training. But the Transcom training was the first time the company sent out field trainers and worked with DOD employees at distribution centers.
This is a long-term endeavor, not the typical kaizen-in-a-box event offered by traditional consultants.
The key to TPS is building the culture to support the program and then expanding it throughout the supply chain, Korbel said. “We can give you the skills and the tools that we use to improve processes. But if you don’t have the culture there, you’re probably going to see process decay over time,” Korbel said.
This effort moves the military one more step toward achieving lean critical mass. A big step, considering that Transcom is responsible for $56 billion in military assets. Military leaders move around quite often, and instead of programs faltering after a lean leader leaves, they are flourishing and multiplying. Letterkenny Army Depot, Hill Air Foce Base, Warner Robins Air Force Base, Rock Island Arsenal, Red River Army Depot, Tobyhanna Army Depot, Sandia National Laboratories… the list of operations with lean knowledge is growing. And Toyota may play a growing part.
The Toyota sessions may be the first of many at DOD, Korbel said, adding that the automaker would welcome more tutorial opportunities from the service branches.