"Lean and Mean" Army? Not Really
So the article isn't as bad as I thought given the headline. A better headline for my posting here would have been:
“Lean and Mean” Army? Lean, But Not Really “Mean”
The article tells a pretty compelling story about the opportunities for lean/six sigma in the Army. It's not just all theory, they claim some success stories that wouldn't surprise a lean person:
- “[one] command alone saved $110 million last year, and military sources expect that to be doubled this year.”
- “the [Humvee repair] facility can turn out 32 mission-ready humvees a day, compared with three a week in 2004; the Lean process has lowered the cost of repair for one vehicle from $89,000 to $48,000.”
- Arkansas' Pine Bluff Arsenal reduced repair recycle time 90% and increased its production rate 50% on M-40 protective gas masks.
- Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania has saved $11.9 million in the cost of building the Patriot air-defense missile system.
The article talks about employees even, the human side of lean (not just cost cutting). People are being asked for their suggestions for improving support processes and are coming around to view lean as a benefit:
“I thought it was just going to put me out of a job,” Moore says. “But I've turned around 180 degrees–I can see what an efficient shop can do.”
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Any lean transformation isn't just about cost cutting, it's really about improving effectiveness (notice I didn't say “efficiency”).
“How is the Army going to judge success? Cutting people or saving money is useful, but the challenge will be making sure all the changes are not only relevant to the soldier in the field but that there aren't negative impacts for war fighting.”
Faster response, better quality, and employee involvement will help the troops and support employees. Saving money and
Given the headline, there wasn't really anything “mean” talked about in the article, except for at the end:
“Even advocates of the Army effort recognize the challenge. Employees at all levels must adopt a new work ethic, learn new systems and often work harder, with no immediate rewards.”
I guess that's where the “mean” is. If you're “doing lean” and people are working harder, something is wrong. Lean should eliminate problems and reduce waste that's cause people to exert themselves. Now, if your starting point was a process with a lot of waiting waste, where there was really unbalanced work or un-level demand, the “slow times” might have been eliminated and now people are doing more in a day. But, if they're rallied around the mission, how can they complain about being more effective?