Another day, another story on how lean manufacturing methods are creating significant savings in the military. After a rather humble start little more than five years ago, lean is really starting to take root. Three months ago the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne, and General T. Michael Moseley sent a "Lean Across the Air Force" memo to all Air Force operation, directing them to embark on a force-wide lean journey.
We’ve chided the Shingo Prize quite a bit over the last year, particularly in regards to a company – Delphi – now in bankrutcy winning what they like to call "the Nobel Prize of manufacturing excellence." Several plants may have implemented the tools effectively, but the true test of lean is with the bottom line… and bankruptcy is usually not a favorable bottom line result. The bottom line also reflects the performance, or lack thereof, of management that creates legacy costs, job banks, and other such nonsense. There’s no hiding from it.
So it is with some skepticisim that we look at some of the growing list of military operations that win public sector category Shingo Prizes:
- Robins Air Force Base (C-5 Maintenance Depot)
- Hill Air Force Base (F-16 Maintenance)
- Letterkenny Army Depot (Patriot Missile Systems)
- Tinker Air Force Base (KC-135 Maintenance)
Take a look at the detailed profiles in the links above. Some typical results:
- 100% on-time delivery
- 90% reduction in OSHA recordable accidents
- 88% reduction in repair time hours
- First pass yield of 100% for four straight quarters
- Customer satisfaction rate increased from 89% to 99.7%
- Employee bonus tied to operating results increased from $131 to $1000 per employee
- Lean-attributed savings of $21 million (at only one facility)
- Workload increased 52% but employees increased only 27%
Favorable bottom-line dollars, a focus on the customer, and a focus on the employees through safety, sharing in the financial performance, and increased jobs to take advantage of the new capacity. Improved efficiency leads to growth and more jobs, not a reduction in jobs leads to improved efficiency.
Keep in mind that this can be a difficult environment in which to implement lean: officers (management) move around every few months. Sustaining programs and creating a deep lasting culture change can be complicated. The good side is that those same people who experience the success of lean then take the passion to their next assignment… and maybe we’re already starting to see the effect of that viral propagation.
Contrast that environment with the mess in Detroit, and for that matter with all those lemming companies chasing low labor costs without being able to see the opportunities within. Somehow they believe the next great product design will save them while they get rid of people with millions of hours of experience.
The shareholders of the military establishment, the taxpayers and their representatives, should reward those operations and drive the lean success throughout the organization. The shareholders of certain automotive companies might want to look at the success in the military and elsewhere and demand real change before it’s too late. "General Ford" anyone?