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Improving Distribution of Organizational Equipment

Program Executive Office Soldier’s Rapid Fielding Initiative uses Lean Six Sigma methods to improve accountability and asset visibility during equipment transfers.

Comments from the field have forced a major shift in the fielding protocol and accountability transfer process for organizational equipment that is distributed by Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier’s Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI). The need for improvements in RFI processes has been driven by unit training and operational tempos. Unit tempos have become extremely demanding, and units and RFI personnel have little time to deal with the additional logistics workload and administrative work generated by errors in documentation, cataloging, and distribution.

Units generally prefer to receive distribution of organizational equipment configured in a “unit set,” which permits packaging of equipment to accommodate distribution to the battalion and company levels. The cornerstone of the Army’s ability to make accurate, data-driven decisions on how to procure, sustain, and field materiel for the operating Army is total asset visibility. To significantly improve accountability in equipment transfers and increase asset visibility, the RFI team continually evaluates its scheduling, planning, coordination, and distribution processes for fielding organizational equipment managed under the Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE) system.

To tackle the problem of improving accountability, a cross-section of key representatives involved in the entire process of fielding organizational equipment formed a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) team. RFI personnel established the business need for the LSS team and the path forward using the standard LSS methodology of “define, measure, analyze, improve, and control” (DMAIC).

Defining the Problem

The LSS team initially defined the problem in this way: “Property book officers (PBOs) receiving organizational equipment are experiencing problems posting equipment to their property books.”

The scope of this process improvement project encompassed the full spectrum of the distribution process. The LSS DMAIC analysis revealed that the problem actually begins well before equipment is fielded, which led to a revision in the scope of the problem. The fielding process now is defined as beginning during initial coordination with key stakeholders, both internal and external to the receiving unit, and ending with the acceptance of transfer of accountability by the unit PBO.

The initial project goal was to achieve a combined cost avoidance of $18 million. The LSS team believed that successful implementation of this project would substantially improve both the RFI accountability process and total asset visibility on gaining commands’ property books, thereby reducing the costs associated with refielding and duplicate fielding of equipment.

Measuring the Problem’s Impact

The LSS team formulated a plan to collect information on the existing fielding process in order to make sound, data-driven decisions. The data collection plan encompassed 535 property book transfers between 1 October 2007 and 31 March 2008. From this period, 30 random samples from 4 property transfer categories and the compiled results of focus groups, interviews, and online surveys were analyzed.

Of the 535 transfer documents evaluated—

  • 23 percent were accepted within the tolerable parameter of 7 days.
  • 34 percent were accepted after 7 days (with a mean of 101 days).
  • 11 percent were rejected and never accepted.
  • 32 percent were outside of tolerance and still pending. So PBUSE did not accept 43 percent of the property book transfers from the 6-month period.

The LSS team took random samples of transfer documents in multiple categories (accepted transfers within 7 days, accepted outside 7 days, rejected, and still pending) in order to measure why PBUSE transfers were not always accepted. However, until the team spoke to the customers, evaluation of the data did not reveal why transfers were not accepted. After conducting 5 focus groups, 11 interviews, and 63 surveys (collected using Surveymonkey.com), the LSS team captured a very clear picture of the magnitude of the problem: the baseline sigma was 0.77 with a yield of 23 percent. (“Sigma” measures how much a process varies from perfection. “Yield” is the percentage of a process free of defects.)

The fielding process was obviously not capable, and the sources of the deficiency appeared to be directly related to the combined effects of gaps or errors in communication, documentation, and manual input.

Analyzing the Results

RFI’s LSS team then analyzed the data, studied the process flow, and pinpointed the causes of problems with considerable confidence. The team identified key input and output variables tied to the project goals of reducing re-issue costs for duplicate items by 25 percent and improving the gaining command’s property book asset visibility by 50 percent.

The team found that communication among all key stakeholders—internal and external to the gaining unit—was the cause of the defects in acceptance time. The team discovered that documentation errors, including improper cataloging, serial number tracking, accountability category management, and manual input errors, were the prime contributors to miscommunication among stakeholders.

The team also found that one of best ways to improve customer satisfaction was by preparing equipment transfers at the lowest unit level requested by the gaining command. Previously, RFI transferred equipment at the brigade level, which created flexibility for the brigade commander. However, this resulted in multiple transfers at the battalion and company levels, which increased time loads and paperwork.

Improving the Process

The LSS team looked at multiple solution sets to address the three root causes of fielding problems: lack of effective communication, documentation errors, and failure to break down equipment into unit sets.

To address the communication issue, the team developed a communication matrix to define the internal and external communication flow and facilitate the transfer process. This review included prefielding contact with the gaining unit, communication between the RFI PBUSE representative assigned to the fielding event and the gaining unit PBO, and continued communication with the PBO in the coordination process before and after the fielding event.

To reduce documentation errors, the team developed an electronic precoordination packet of 12 critical documents, providing the gaining unit with the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, and why) behind the organizational equipment they are to receive. The documents cover everything needed to walk the PBO through the prefielding, fielding, and accountability transfer processes and ensure proper documentation and understanding of all fielding and accountability requirements and expectations. The packet includes—

  • The coordination brief.
  • The accountability transfer process brief.
  • Department of the Army guidance on items managed on the property book.
  • Organizational and Soldier equipment item descriptions and photos.
  • A detailed list of the property book items, with all of the information needed to create authorizations (such as the line item number or nonstandard line item number).
  • A weapons planner, with weapons densities, modification table of organization and equipment, and onhand data for each item.
  • The basis of issue plan.
  • An automated spreadsheet reflecting the unit set of equipment to be fielded as low as company level.

This packet serves as a reference guide for accountability transfer to gaining units.

The LSS team next developed an automated process to eliminate manual input errors. The solution set included barcoding all serialized items, automated uploading of documentation, and prefielding preparation of all fielding documentation.

Lastly, the team discussed unit-set fielding options for gaining units to identify the level at which equipment transfers should take place. The overwhelming result from the pilot units was: Conduct equipment transfers at the company level. The LSS team also realized that it was important to allow units to select the level of equipment transfers in order to increase customer satisfaction and acknowledge the needs of gaining units.

Pilot Program

With the LSS team’s findings supporting the implementation of an improved accountability process, the RFI chose the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 82d Airborne Division to pilot the “future state.” In February 2009, RFI personnel fielded unit equipment in prepackaged unit sets (22,825 items) with documentation down to the company level (30 unit identification codes [UICs]). Companies received their unit sets with completely accurate documentation, with a mean of 28.5 minutes per company needed to complete the process from in-brief to signature. The process also involved uploading PBUSE documentation on the same day as the fielding.

As compared to the previous process, which involved days or weeks of labor-intensive effort at the gaining unit level, the BCT accepted all the equipment within 5 working hours (including the actual confirmation and acceptance of lateral transfers for all UICs). The pilot resulted in an efficient, accurate population of the unit property book for all unit equipment items, valued at $1,039,775, providing almost immediate total asset visibility of property book items fielded. All things considered, the program exceeded every expectation.

The LSS team took the lessons learned from the successful pilot and applied them to the next RFI fielding event: the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The RFI fielded unit equipment to 17 company-level UICs of the BCT in Bamberg, Germany, and 13 company-level UICs in Vincenza, Italy. RFI expanded on the initial LSS pilot to improve the accountability transfer process for organizational property book items. For the 173d, RFI fielded prepackaged unit sets of 25,339 items.

Companies inventoried and signed for their unit sets of equipment with completely accurate, automated documentation. The RFI fielding team pushed documentation almost simultaneously with the equipment, and the 173d accepted the property book entries for all UICs within 8 working hours from the end of fielding. This process resulted in a PBUSE update valued at $1,343,630 and again provided almost immediate total asset visibility.

Since the initial pilot fielding events, the RFI has fielded equipment to the 3d Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade with similar success. Looking to the future, the RFI team has already coordinated with four additional brigades, including elements from all three Army components, and expects the same results for all units involved.

Controlling the Process

After the highly successful initial fieldings, the LSS team instituted measures to maintain the process improvements in the control phase of the LSS DMAIC process. The team set metrics for monitoring based on the successes of the pilot. It then applied the lessons learned from the pilot and the three subsequent fieldings in order to develop training plans, document and illustrate key process steps, create quality assurance checklists, and establish a standing operating procedure to ensure that all process owners are fully postured for success.

Another critical enabler of the RFI’s new accountability transfer process involves a strict adherence to the critical communication processes with all stakeholders during the prefielding, fielding, and accountability transfer phases of the overall process. Following these standards has yielded positive, measurable results: lateral transfers of property on the same or next day following equipment distribution.

Bringing the fielding process from a 0.77 Sigma rating to a 5.2 Sigma rating equates to an improvement of 88 defects per million opportunities on input errors and zero defects per million opportunities in the process capability. Furthermore, to ensure total asset visibility, the property book is updated and reflected globally by means of PBUSE within 7 days.

From a customer perspective, PBOs across the Army have been overwhelmingly supportive. Other customers, such as program managers, PEO Soldier, the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command’s Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment Central Management Office, and Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA), staffs, are getting what they need: accurate, immediate, total asset availability. This enables decisionmakers at all levels to make confident, data-driven decisions on how best to effectively and efficiently arm, protect, and sustain the Soldier system.

Listening to the voice of the customer—Soldiers, brigades, PEO Soldier, HQDA—is at the forefront of the RFI efforts. It reflects PEO Soldier’s commitment to putting the customer first, divorcing itself from any personal attachment to existing organizational processes, and looking for opportunities to eliminate errors, maximize the quality of products and services, and ensure continuous improvement.

The standard LSS methodology is fundamental to all process improvement initiatives and defines PEO Soldier’s approach to the way RFI does business. Taxpayers trust the Army to bring new technology to bear in every aspect of its fielding operations. RFI continues to develop processes to meet these expectations while reducing the workload on gaining units. This process is a win for Lean Six Sigma, a win for PEO Soldier, and a win for the Army.

Major T.J. Wright is a product director for the Army Ground Applications Program Office. When he wrote this article, he was the Program Executive Office Soldier Assistant Project Director for the Chief of Staff-directed Rapid Fielding Initiative. He holds a B.S. degree from the United States Military Academy and a master of education degree from the University of Virginia and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College. He is Level III certified in program management and a certified Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Black Belt. He was the lead for this LSS accountability transfer improvement project.

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