CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (3/12/12) – Two nights a week, a group of Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians meets in a darkened conference room, almost like a secret society.
But it’s not a secret. This group is taking a class that’s one of the most sought-after in the Army.
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification teaches students how to eliminate waste from processes and reduce defects to 3.4 defects per million in a structured and methodical manner.
Jack Gross is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and is the instructor; like the Star Wars character Yoda, he guides the students through processes and terms that are new to many of them.
“One thing that is great about this class is that it can be taught to virtually anyone,” he said.
Gross recently conducted senior executive-level training for several Army brigadier generals, a Navy rear admiral and a senior executive service manager.
“This training is applicable with any leadership across any organization,” Gross said. “I just had to customize it to be more military than corporate.”
Army Sgt. Aaron D. Emerson, a member of the 325th Combat Support Hospital and a student majoring in economics at Kansas University, said he had never heard of LSS. Many of the aspects are new to him.
“I didn’t realize the statistics involved,” he said.
Army Sgt. Maj. Lonnie Webster, the transportation non-commissioned officer in charge at the 113th Sustainment Brigade, agreed with Emerson, saying he’d never of heard of Lean Six Sigma before taking the class.
“The concepts are not new to me,” Webster said. “It just had a different name to it when I studied it back in grad school.”
Webster said that even though he is more product- than process-oriented, he’s always looked at something and wondered if there was a better way to do it.
Army 2nd Lt. Joseph P. Watson, an infantry platoon leader with the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, said he was familiar with LSS. He said the "lean" portion is applicable to his platoon.
Army Lt. Col. Kim Chavis, the special operations distribution and transportation officer in charge with the 113th SB, started Lean Six Sigma Black Belt training in 2007 through the North Carolina National Guard. Black Belt is one level above than the Green Belt - the classes are more in-depth and the final project is more complex. Chavis did not certify at the time because her workload didn’t allow the time to complete the project.
“They are more focused on getting the project completed here,” she said.
To obtain Green Belt certification, students must attend class two nights a week for five weeks; each class is four hours long. To graduate, students must pass an end-of-course-exam and complete a final project.
Gross said students have approximately 90 days after the end of class to complete the projects, which cover a wide range of subjects.
“If it can be measured, it can be improved,” Gross said, referring to the statistical measurements in process improvement.
Emerson’s and Watson’s projects focus on the operations of their units.
Watson said he spoke with his commander about his project, on streamlining the company’s documentation process.
“I have firsthand experience with lost documents,” Watson said.
Emerson’s project is making his unit’s off-post travel more efficient by eliminating the rework of last minute changes to the mission which create the reproduction of the off-post memorandum and consolidating off post trips
“We operate several troop medical clinics in Kuwait and we go off post several times a week,” he said.
“If there is a change in the personnel going off post or a change in the mission at the last minute, there is a lot of scrambling to correct the off-post documentation,” Watson said.
Since arriving in Kuwait last October 2011 Emerson said he’s completed more than 200 off-post memos.
“I want to the entire process more efficient and avoid the rework,” he said by eliminating the rework of last minute changes to the mission which create the reproduction of the off-post memorandum and consolidating off post trips.
Several of the students focused their final projects on container management. Webster and Chavis are both focusing on tracking carrier-owned containers in Afghanistan.
“There is a real focus to reduce paying commercial carriers extra storage fees and rental fees,” Chavis said.
Once Chavis completes her final project, she will be a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
Gross said the class is open to anyone, with the exception of contractors, but he’d like to see that change.
“I would like to see contractors in the class,” he said. “With all the contractors here, I think it would be beneficial for them.”
Webster said even though it’s more difficult to attend class in the evening after spending a full day on duty, from a command standpoint it‘s easier to allow soldiers to attend because their jobs don’t have to be covered while in class.
Gross has taught the class for several years. His first time teaching Army students was in 2009 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. He has been teaching the class at Camp Arifjan since September 2011.
Classes are usually held every other month and a half; although class size is limited, Gross said he usually won’t turn anyone away.
“I’ve had interest from the other military branches, but they have not signed up,” he said.
Gross has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from Embry-Riddle University. He started his career with Siemens Corporation, where he gained a lot of his training and experience and his Black Belt certification.
He has been involved with the military since 1995, when he started working for the Navy.
“At the Navy, I was using the practices of Lean Six Sigma in my job,” he said.
Gross, along with other Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belts, occupy a small office at Camp Arifjan.
“We all have varied storied and varied backgrounds,” he said.
There are also three Lean Six Sigma offices in Afghanistan.
Gross said his favorite thing about teaching the class is interacting with students.
“I like challenge in the classroom,” Gross said. “I welcome it.”
Emerson said anyone attending the class must come with an open mind and be prepared to learn. And he will take this experience and apply it down the road; Watson agreed.
“This will benefit both my military and civilian careers,” Watson said, referring to how popular the certification has become.
“Even though I have to drive from Camp Virginia, it is worth it,” he said. “I am thankful for the opportunity.”
Gross would like to see the class become a requirement for soldiers in leadership positions.
“The class would benefit every single aspect of the Army,” he said.
Chavis recommends anyone take the class, regardless of rank or position.
“However, you have to take the class seriously,” she said. “What you put into it, you get of it.”
Webster also said he would encourage anyone to take the class.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “But if anyone does attend, they need to pay attention and take good notes.”
Gross said Soldiers interested in enrolling in a Lean Six Sigma class, should contact their local Education Center.