Source: Department of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Jason T. Bailey, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

Government contractors, national and state defense agencies, military medical systems and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been using performance improvement techniques such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma and lean for more than a decade. Most government agencies and contractors are faced with finding ways to reduce costs and save taxpayers money while ensuring the United States and its allies remain safe and healthy. Unlike other industries that save money by reducing their workforce during decreased consumer demand, the defense industry continually faces increasingly lower budgets and more taxpayer complaints while aiming to protect people around the globe.

To deal with the dilemma of reducing costs while delivering high-quality products and services, improving medical care, staying competitive and satisfying stakeholders, defense industry manufacturers have adopted lean as a complementary tool to the Six Sigma programs already in place.

Lean is not new to the defense industry. When Boeing Co.’s Mesa, AZ, manufacturing facility began its transition to assembling the next-generation AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter in 1998, the assembly operation’s overall performance declined and cycle times increased. Deploying lean concepts turned things around dramatically for the facility which, to date, has delivered more than 1,500 Apache Longbow helicopters to the U.S. Army.

Lean techniques improved the helicopter factory processes, enabling the facility to win the Shingo Prize for manufacturing. Implementing lean techniques in the late 1990s allowed the Arizona-based helicopter manufacturer to significantly reduce final assembly, integration and test hours per aircraft.

The Red River Army Depot in Texas recognized the potential impact of lean concepts in 2001, which eventually led to an Army Material Command (AMC)-wide lean program. Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) headquarters had already come on board and expanded lean further by including the Six Sigma process into lean thinking. Today, Lean Six Sigma is practiced in Army depots, arsenals and ammunition plants.

General Electric’s jet engine testing facility in Peebles, OH, has found ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by implementing lean methods, while also producing significant cost savings. Lean initiatives helped to reduce fuel consumption for GE90 engine testing from 20,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons and helped achieve cost savings of more than $1 million due to reduced fuel consumption by producing 5,000 metric tons less of green house gas (GHG) emissions from the GE90 in 2007 compared to 2006.

Recognizing that lean trends have implications for both regulatory and non-regulatory programs, the EPA is working with lean experts, organizations implementing lean, state environmental agencies and other partners to raise awareness about the relationship of lean production to environmental performance, share practices for improving the environmental benefits of lean initiatives, and identify and address environmental regulatory considerations associated with lean.

Three Ingredients to a Successful Lean Program

To gain the most out of the lean techniques, defense contractors and agencies have learned that to be successful a manufacturer must:

Use a broad definition of lean
Create value streams to meet customer demand
Build on the Six Sigma program

1. Define Lean.Many organizations only latch on to some of the basic tools of lean such as 6S (sort, set in order, sweep and shine, standardize, self-discipline and safety) or running rapid improvement events. Adopting a broad definition of lean is key to success in deploying its methods. Lean is defined not just as a means to improve a process but as a way to manage an organization with the most optimal use of resources to meet customer demand while maintaining the lowest possible internal waste and non-value added activity, thereby providing error-free, quality products or services to the customer.

Understanding and deploying lean thinking requires an organization to think of its processes as value streams. Value streams are like rivers or streams that flow without interruption. A value stream enables a supplier to meet customer requirements and customer demand-optimally.

2. Create Value Streams to Meet Customer Demand.Depict value streams with a value stream map. The map is used to create a detailed visual representation of many processes and enables a project team to see the waste and opportunities for improvement within the stream more easily. A value stream map is like a process map on steroids. It provides more insight into the cost of value as seen from the stakeholder’s point of view.

After a value stream map is created, a value analysis is performed on each task based on the following value criteria: time spent measuring value by performing time studies to calculate attributes such as total processing time, value-created time, business non-value added time, wait time, total cycle time, number of workers, number of shifts, demand or volume, defect rates or yield.

Another important deliverable of value analysis and process flow analysis is understanding the customer demand patterns in order to identify opportunities to match capacity with demand. This lean concept is often called converting one mighty river into many humble streams. Understanding customer demand and aligning all streams into one mighty river will enable the system to flow without interruption.

3. Build on Six Sigma Programs.Many organizations have found that combining lean and Six Sigma techniques creates a simple means to combine two powerful tool sets. Many lean deployments use the five phases of DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) to organize projects and attack value streams. Using the Six Sigma DMAIC steps provides a common roadmap for lean. The five steps of Lean Six Sigma are to:

  • Define the value stream to be improved.
  • Measure the current state of this value stream and the customer demand.
  • Analyze the value stream and determine if it is aligned with customer demand.
  • Improve the value stream by making changes to eliminate non-value-added tasks.
  • Control the process changes to sustain the improvements.

    As the defense industry uses lean thinking and tools to reduce costs and save taxpayers money, all manufacturers can do the same. Whether the company needs to attain small to medium gains in a short period of time or large gains from a transformational journey, lean combined with Six Sigma programs can help guide the organization.

    An important lesson to learn is that the road to a successful lean transformation is similar to any transformation. It does not have to be difficult, expensive or take too long, but it does require understanding the true meaning of the methods used and a good understanding of how they can benefit the business. Q

  • Quality Online

    For more information on lean initiatives, visit to read these articles:

    “Lean Helps Company Soar”
    “Managing Outcomes in a Lean Enterprise”
    “Quality 101: Improving Quality Through Lean Concepts”

    Tech Tips

  • To deal with the dilemma of reducing costs while delivering high quality products and services, defense industry manufacturers have adopted lean as a complementary tool to Six Sigma programs.

  • Adopting a broad definition of lean is key to success in deploying lean methods.

  • The road to a successful lean transformation requires understanding the true meaning of the methods used and a good understanding of how they can benefit the business.