A Day In The Life of an Enterprise Master Black Belt

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Have you ever want to know what it would be like to work in a different job or industry? This week we launch the twice monthly "A Day in the Life" series. Find out what life is like on the other side of the fence as professionals just like you describe their daily job. This week R. Scott Bonney, an enterprise master black belt at the Office of the Secretary of the United States Army Office of Business Transformation, describes his daily routine.

I know it’s synchronized to an atomic clock to ensure accuracy. I know it has a battery back-up to prevent bias. I know it has a secondary alarm to minimize risk of operator error. So, how is it that my alarm clock still seems to go off too early? 4:42 a.m.? Ouch. That’s why.

My outfit is pre-staged next to the shower to reduce setup time. Point-of-use storage of chilled coffee in the fridge next to the pre-packed lunch. Wallet, keys, badge and lanyard, all 5-S’ed and ready, right next to pen, Sharpie and pack of sticky notes (ah, sticky notes, the MBB’s duct tape; don’t leave home without ’em!).


R. Scott Bonney is an Enterprise Master Black Belt with Office of the Secretary of the United States Army Office of Business Transformation

This is a standard start to a standard day.

To outsiders, it might look like I’m organized to the point of being anal retentive. In fact, I like my bed. Lean isn’t just the tool of the efficient; it’s the tool of the sleepy who know the dangers of mental haze. Mismatched socks = defect = bad!

Out the door by 0525 to reduce the constraint of the infamous Washington, D.C., traffic and maximize the customer requirement of family time by getting home at a reasonable hour. Twenty minutes of C-SPAN (about all I can handle) and I’m at the bus stop by 0545 and (somewhat) comfortably seated by 0550. I take time to read a few chapters from my Smartphone Bible before starting my work day.

By 0600, my work day really begins. Thirty minutes left in the commute allows me to read and respond to several left-over e-mails and then review and update my schedule for what looks to be a busy day (what did people do before Blackberries?). Lots of meetings. Mental note: A meeting that doesn’t produce a product is non-value-added. I need to get consensus on our products before each meeting starts.

By the time I reach my office in Crystal City at 0630, I can focus on the most important constraint to my effectiveness: more coffee. Two cups of water go into two adjacent microwaves – one for instant oatmeal and one for coffee (two microwaves, two cups – it’s faster than batching with one pitcher, and I always have exactly the right amount of water). The three minutes of heating time is plenty for me to get back to my desk to pre-stage the instant oatmeal, put two scoops of coffee into the French press and power on my computer (the next system constraint) before heading back to grab the hot water. I know Lean says that the extra walking is waste, but Theory of Constraints says to get the longest job started first, so heating the water first actually speeds me to my goal of coffee, despite the minute of walking required.

Pause. Other than demonstrating some sub-clinical psychological issues, what do my morning routine, my commute, my coffee habits, even my choice in clocks have to do with my job as an enterprise master black belt for the Army’s Office of Business Transformation? It’s simple. Lean Six Sigma is a thinking process. At the master level, the fundamental tenets of process and performance all become second nature. It’s no longer about how many projects someone has run or events they have facilitated; instead, it’s about every experience, every thought, every day. In many ways, it’s like a religion; it becomes who you are.

As for the rest of my day – phone mentoring a MBB candidate; facilitating a planning meeting with the Federal Improvement Team; working out funding to run a project identification and selection workshop in Texas; having lunch with a MBB friend who runs a not-for-profit that uses business models that can help another friend at OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) Policy; and mapping a high-level core value stream of the Army’s hire-to-retire process to identify system constraints and link them to the supporting enterprise architecture – it’s all the same thing. It’s just like making coffee.

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After 10 years of multi-front warfare and a virtual blank check for meeting requirements, the United States Army is about to fundamentally change the way it does business. The result, whether done well or poorly, will drive billions of dollars and directly impact the lives of more than 1.5 million active-duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers; government civilians; and contractors -- not to mention the security of hundreds of millions of Americans. We don’t have time to argue over what tool or methodology to use for transformation. It’s not about choosing projects over kaizen, or whether to break constraints in old systems or innovate new systems. We need much more basic transformation. We need to think differently. That’s my job – to help Army leaders and change agents see every aspect of their world through new eyes.

Is that too much to ask? I wrap up my day by visiting a two-star general who wants to use LSS to transform the Army’s test and evaluation processes. He came to us. He went through black belt training and mandated the same for all of his directors. His first BB project will transform a multi-billion-dollar enterprise from the top down. How cool is that? And don’t even get me started on all of the amazing projects our MBBs have beenrunning in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is my day. Continuous Process Improvement facilitated by a spirit of continuous personal improvement and desire to change how people think and work from the inside out. I make mistakes every day; and hopefully, I learn from my mistakes every day. I am R. Scott Bonney, and master black belt isn’t just my job title; it’s who I am. I am a teacher, mentor, coach, enabler, simplifier and accelerator. I am a change agent.

What did you do today?

Do you want to share your story with PEX Network? If you work in process improvement we'd love to hear what your day is like! "A Day in the Life" submissions should be between 700-1000 words and can be sent to us at info@pexnetwork.com. Please include a brief professional biography, and a jpeg photograph.