Deploying Lean Six Sigma within the U.S. Navy: An Interview with COMSPAWAR’s Robert Kamensky

Lean Six Sigma has been an actively used business process improvement methodology for the private sector for some time, but as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has shown, it can also be used within the public sector to drive results. One acquisition command within the Department of the Navy, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (COMSPAWAR) has managed to produce compelling results through Lean Six Sigma and continuous process improvement deployment. Robert Kamensky, Continuous Process Improvement/Lean Six Sigma Deployment Lead for COMSPAWAR, can speak to these successes. In this interview, Kamensky shares his experience with deploying Lean Six Sigma and continuous process improvement within COMSPAWAR, the role of the former Bush administration on this deployment and his projections of how Obama’s newly appointed Chief Performance Officer may affect COMSPAWAR’s Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement program.

Describe your role as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) deployment leader for Commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (COMSPAWAR).

My role as the Continuous Process Improvement/Lean Six Sigma (CPI/LSS) deployment lead for COMSPAWAR is to guide the systematic improvement of business processes through the implementation and sustainment of CPI/LSS principles across the Systems Command. The command is comprised of two major Systems Centers, three Program Executive Offices (PEO) and the headquarters, all totaling around 10,000 government, military and contractor workers. My Transformation Management Office is responsible to COMSPAWAR for CPI/LSS:

  • Deployment and sustainment planning and strategy
  • Lean Six SigmaTraining program
  • Governance and policy
  • Infrastructure and organization standardization
  • Establishment of goals, objectives and measures of performance and effectiveness
  • Command representative to Department of Navy CPI/LSS councils/forums
  • Communications to senior leadership on the progress and issues associated with the ongoing deployment of the program


What is the history of Lean Six Sigma deployment within COMSPAWAR?

CPI/LSS has existed in the command since the early 1980s in the forms of Quality Circles, Total Quality Leadership and Total Quality Management. The basic principles are very similar to LSS. However, the directed focus provided by LSS on making CPI more voice of customer centric, viewing business practices as contributing elements of value streams and driving for sustained culture change was initiated in 2004 as the Department of Navy (DoN) stood up a special Transformation Team Leaders (TTL) forum. The program in COMSPAWAR was initially a loose federation of participating commands within the SYSCOM. The PEOs were free to choose to engage. The Systems Centers were permitted to develop their own CPI/LSS identities and deploy along models of choice. The Headquarters was tasked to establish some level of governance and policy to coordinate the start up across the HQ Directorates and gather metrics from the Systems Centers.

In 2006, a more focused, holistic deployment strategy was released. This was done in conjunction with efforts by the DoN LSS TTL, which was in the process of developing standards for deployment elements across the Navy. Items such as consistency in training bodies of knowledge, measures of deployment progress, enterprise level tools, and financial validation/verification standards were being developed for application across the DoN. This drove COMSPAWAR to more centrally lead the deployment across the commands and develop a consistency of approach to align with DoN expectations.

Since 2006, the deployment has made significant progress in its maturity. Strategic alignment of CPI/LSS with COMSPAWAR objectives has been built into the annual strategy and planning processes. Training is self sustaining and is consistently applied across the commands. Project portfolios are becoming more evenly distributed across savings, readiness improvements and quality of work life. Collaboration across business units and with commands outside of COMSPAWAR is becoming more prevalent. Size and complexity of projects are becoming more challenging and more impactful.

We still have significant challenges facing CPI/LSS sustainment. Leadership needs to remain actively engaged. Numerous other major initiatives (such as Navy Enterprise Resource Planning, National Security Personnel System) compete for limited resources to staff projects. Some command elements have lower degrees of CPI/LSS maturity than others and need more direct assistance when challenged with higher level projects. However, the net assessment is that since inception, the overall program has made quantum steps toward the end objective—culture change.

Did the Bush administration have any influence over how Lean Six Sigma and continuous process improvement were deployed within SPAWAR?

Indirectly, the Bush administration did have a positive influence over how LSS and CPI were deployed in SPAWAR. The release of Executive Order No. 13450, dated November 13, 2007, resulted in the appointment of a Performance Improvement Officer under the Deputy Secretary of Defense. This position, along with its attendant responsibilities, added a more authoritative voice for senior leaders to adhere to across all the services, including the DoN. This CPI/LSS advocate was now better positioned to enact the basic tenants of the DoD CPI/LSS Program Office stood up earlier in 2007. This higher level advocacy, coupled with the strong emphasis placed on CPI/LSS as a change management imperative by the Secretary of the Navy, Dr. Donald Winter, helped dispel the perceptions among DoN leaders that CPI/LSS was a passing, short lived initiative. By higher authority’s positioning of CPI/LSS as an enduring culture change, the deployment in COMSPAWAR has been more readily accepted.

How does Lean Six Sigma deployment within the Federal Government Defense sector differ from Lean Six Sigma deployment within the private sector?

I would first state that deployment of CPI/LSS within the government Defense sector is very similar to how deployment is conducted in the private sector. The four main phases—1) Prove, 2) Scale and Replicate, 3) Internalize and 4) Align and Integrate—are consistent with known deployment models in the private sector. Key goals, to include demonstrating success, accelerating benefits delivery, making improvements sustainable and aligning with higher strategies, and deployment focus on project success, return on investment and operational performance, are also very consistent between the Defense and private sectors.

The two most significant differences I have noted in the Defense sector deployment are in the success measures. First, being a Federal Government entity, our return on investment cannot be measured in the same manner and carry the same motivations as the private sector. We do not operate for profit and our budgets are more prone to changes year to year depending on how our elected representatives choose to allocate the limited resources. These facts influence how the Defense sector invests in CPI/LSS resources and where it may apply those resources. Second, and I think most important, the prime motivator for CPI/LSS focus is on improving warfighter readiness. This measure of success is much more difficult to define and quantify, yet it is the primary reason at COMSPAWAR for pursuing CPI/LSS. The pursuit of improved readiness is not to diminish the need for financial savings and cost reductions. These measures can significantly influence warfighter readiness and play a major role in project selections and resource allocations.

Making continuous improvement a work habit that touches the Fleet to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our Navy and Marine forces in executing their mission of National defense is the key differentiator between the Defense sector and private industry.

What is an example of where a major project initiative resulted in more efficiency, cost savings and readiness. What steps were taken to correct the process, which tools or methods were used and what was the end result?

I would like to offer two examples—one focused on saving lives and one focused on saving cost. The first example is the tremendous successes experienced by employing an aggressive LSS program on the rapid acquisition project for delivery of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The demand signal for these vehicles significantly outpaced the ability to deliver. SPAWAR Systems Center Charleston was the final stopping point for the MRAP where the command, control and communications systems were integrated into a variety of vehicle configurations. The original production pace, with extraordinary effort, was outputting an average of five vehicles a day. The demand signal was calling for 50. Lives were at stake as it had been proven in the war theater that personnel riding in MRAPs had a much higher survivability rate if attacked with explosive devices. Through a coordinated CPI/LSS effort among the contributing systems commands, suppliers, acquisition communities and industry partners, the goal to deliver over 3,500 vehicles into theater before the end of calendar year 2007 was achieved with production peaking at over 75 vehicles per day at one point. The storyboard for this successful series of LSS projects is shown in Figure 1. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

Figure 1

The second example focuses on cost savings in a more traditional venue for our acquisition community. PEO C4I is the acquisition agent for command, control, computer, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems for the Navy. The command is responsible for defining capabilities, establishing requirements, creating specifications and administering to the design, development, test and fielding of C4ISR systems. This involves myriad business, acquisition and design processes. One transactional process that was singled out for improvement involved defining an efficient, repeatable process for integration of Common Submarine Radio Room (CSRR) block upgrades.

The project invoked the Define-Measure-Analyze-Implement-Control process for leaning out the process. The CSRR development, integration and test process critical path cycle times were assessed following existing rule sets for installation planning. An optimized future state was then identified. Following the data collection from prior baselines and knowing the swim lane process map, the information was analyzed using cause and effect diagrams and value added analysis. Improvements were recommended and a revised set of processes were piloted. Following successful demonstration of a revised integration schedule across all CSRR planning efforts, a control plan was instituted to ensure the process would persist.

The results were significant in terms of Type 2 cost savings ($455K per baseline) and Type 3 benefits (over $80M in lifecycle cost estimates for the submarine resource sponsor over the life of the affected classes of submarines). Further, the project allowed acceleration of CSRR on Los Angeles class submarines across the fleet.

The storyboard for this successful project is shown in Figure 2. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

Figure 2

Which areas within SPAWAR will further continuous process improvement?

Initial traction for CPI/LSS was found in the corporate information technology group, logistics support, corporate administration and production. As the deployment has progressed, we are seeing significant application of LSS in the acquisition lifecycle value stream, the systems engineering processes, the work force management processes and the C4ISR installations value stream. CPI/LSS is also being applied by organizations that are pursuing Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and as an enabling tool for Navy Enterprise Resource Planning (NERP) implementation.

CPI/LSS has the potential for application across all the competencies and business units in SPAWAR. As success continues to occur and as senior leadership continues to embed CPI/LSS into strategy and planning, the maturity of the deployment will grow.

With the appointment of a Chief Performance Officer, how might this office affect continuous process improvement or Lean Six Sigma within SPAWAR, or is it too soon to tell?

The recent appointment of a Chief Performance Officer by the Obama administration may affect CPI/LSS in SPAWAR but only as it may affect the Department of Defense. It is my opinion that having an Executive Branch office focused on government performance can be beneficial if it can provide the political will to foster changes in institutionalized processes that need to be more effective and efficient. Leadership from the top is required for any successful change management to occur.

Interview by Genna Weiss