With bells ringing throughout the classroom, the courier expediting customer orders darts about the room shuffling the orders to the various departments of the simulated business for processing.

Each bell rung indicates a new order is ready. How well is this business processing its customer’s orders? Is there a better way to do this? Can this company become more effective and more efficient if this process is improved? How?

These are among the fundamental challenges the Lean Six Sigma methodology can help answer.

In 2005, the U.S. Army adopted LSS as a strategic approach for continuous process improvement.

The methodology uses a set of quality management techniques employed by a special cadre of people within an organization who are trained in employing these methods. These individuals earn certification levels identifying their level of expertise — Green Belt, Black Belt and Master Black Belt.

Monday, in a classroom in the former Bowley Elementary School complex here, 14 students representing U.S. Army Forces Command, U.S. Army Reserve Command and U.S. Army Special Operations Command gathered to work toward Black Belt certification in the four-week course co-sponsored by FORSCOM G-8, Business Readiness Improvement Division, and the USARC G-8, Continuous Process Improvement Office.

Each student comes to class with a project designed to improve a process in their respective home organizations. With this project as a framework, they refine the skills and knowledge they gain from this course.

Dr. Madeline N. Bodoh and Stephen L. Wilkins, from USARC and FORSCOM, respectively, were the primary instructors on the first day of the course.

One of the first practical exercises of the course was the ‘bell-ringing’ simulation to take a baseline measure of how the ‘company’ currently operates.

Throughout the course, the students identified critical process challenges and developed solutions to improve the operation of the simulated business.

As Bodoh reviewed the steps of the LSS methodology, she stressed the importance of identifying root causes of problems identified in each critical process step and in ensuring they were using the proper metrics to analyzing the process.

“If we can measure it, we can fix it,” said Bodoh.

Each Lean Six Sigma candidate was required to successfully complete the course and to effectively improve a business process in order to earn Black Belt certification.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirkland Bell, property book officer with the 16th Military Police Brigade, was trying to help his unit reduce the amount of time and effort used in processing travel vouchers.

“We haven’t fully and accurately measured the extent of our travel voucher challenge,” said Bell. “We estimate it’s taking four to seven working days and our goal is to get that down to two or three days,” he said.

“We will take the solutions we develop and possibly pilot test them in one or more of our companies and then, potentially, expand it brigade-wide,” he continued.

Master Sgt. Tammy Coleman, operations noncommissioned officer with the 32nd Army Air Missile Defense Command, arrived for LSS training planning to address her unit’s need to increase the number of Patriot missile master gunners in every firing battery.

“There is a correlation between the availability and utilization of Patriot master gunners and the overall mission readiness of the Patriot missile battery,” said Coleman.

Coleman and her command want to increase the graduation rates from their master gunner courses so that these uniquely qualified, air defense Soldiers are available for assignment at firing battery-level.

“It’s a complex problem. Are we getting the right people to the course? Are they getting the right pre-training before they attend the course? Are they being utilized as subject-matter-experts when they return to the unit?” continued Coleman.

Maj. Gen. Leslie J. Carroll, FORSCOM chief of staff, spoke to the new class emphasizing the importance of the training and what each student must do to help improve the Army.

“For the Army, it’s a balance between effectiveness and efficiency,” he said. “I’m more interested in the effectiveness. I’m talking about readiness.

“Lean Six Sigma is a useful and very productive program,” said Carroll as he stressed the importance of process improvement analysts.

“You will be tremendously valuable to the commander if you can show the value, and it won’t always be in dollars. It will be in time saved, it will be in readiness gained,” he added.

“Think about your commander’s end-state. Put your solution in those terms.”

Carroll also humorously noted that one of first things he wanted the students to do was to find a way to run the practical exercises, “without all those bells.”

With, or without the bells, the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt candidates negotiated four weeks of intense, statistically-oriented training as they prepare to become the Army’s next wave of process improvement subject-matter-experts who will help increase the Army’s effectiveness and improve Army readiness.