After Katrina, Six Sigma provided Textron a clear path to recovery

Tags: lean manufacturing

In late 2005, Textron Systems senior vice president for operations Jeff Picard and Textron Marine & Land (TM&L) vice president for strategy and business development Clay Moise toured the TM&L area in East New Orleans with a reporter covering the cleanup efforts.

A Textron Marine & Land employee surveys the post-Hurricane Katrina damage at the East New Orleans Facility.

By this time, "Picard recalls, “things were looking pretty good."

As they surveyed the area from a helicopter, the reporter asked how Picard and his team knew what to do. Picard paused, thinking. Then Moise spoke up. "Jeff, tell him about Six Sigma."

Textron Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven methodology designed to eliminate waste, reduce variation, and drive growth throughout the company. It consists of a set of tools and techniques that can be applied across the company in a wide variety of functions.

"Six Sigma was in our DNA," says Picard. "We'd never been through anything like this, but we knew exactly what to do – the process and how to formulate our decisions."

Without even realizing they were doing it, he says, they began to use the tools.

Stating the Objective

It may seem simple, but Picard began by stating the objective. Faced with chaos, it can be difficult to know where to begin. But by deciding on a goal, each step toward that goal can be revealed. Picard knew that the major objective centered on the customer: the U.S. Army. TM&L makes, among other products, the Armored Security Vehicle (ASV), currently in use in Iraq. With production facilities severely disabled and a workforce scattered and homeless, the Army was understandably concerned.

Production of the Armored Security Vehicle is now at 125% of pre-Katrina capability thanks to the recovery team's use of Six Sigma tools.

Using a Pugh Matrix (a Six Sigma tool designed to select the best design or solution among many possibilities) Picard and his team determined that the best solution would be to repair the current facility instead of starting over from scratch. The Army agreed and work began – all within the first week after the hurricane struck.

Getting Started with 5-S

The team used a process called "5-S" to begin rehabilitation of the facility.

"Maybe the largest 5-S ever performed!" says Picard.

5-S, which stands for “Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain,” begins with a careful sorting of the work area, keeping only items that are essential to the site.

Next, all materials are put into a logical order, and then everything is thoroughly cleaned. With these basics in place, everyone in the facility works to determine a standard use, procedure and cleaning schedule.

Finally, the group commits to following the standard, and even seeking ways to improve it.

“It’s unfortunate that it took a hurricane, but it’s tremendously clean even now, months after Katrina. We took what we started with in ramp-up and carried it through to our permanent process,” says Picard.

Meeting Basic Needs

Central to the clean-up effort was the workforce. First, they needed to find homes for all the employees displaced by the storm. After using another Pugh Matrix to decide between renting hotels, apartments or trailers, they brought in trailers to house 270 families.

“We showed an interest in the people,” he says. “We paid them through the downtime, found housing for them, and provided three meals a day during the clean up. There’s tremendous loyalty to the people at TML.”

Success – Ahead of Schedule

By using these tools, not only did the facility see a full recovery, but they delivered the first ASV since Hurricane Katrina struck two weeks earlier than they promised the Army they could.

“We’re actually at 125 percent of our pre-Katrina capability,” says Picard.

More than eight months after the hurricane first struck the facility, Picard’s voice fills with emotion when he discusses the clean-up effort.

“I knew what other companies were doing with Six Sigma, but I never imagined we’d have this opportunity to use it in such an important way,” he says.

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