National Guard officials work toward continuous improvement

Jon Soucy, National Guard Bureau

National Guard officials have implemented a new program designed to streamline operations and, in the end, cut costs and improve efficiency in day-to-day activities.

The Continuous Process Initiative, or CPI, combines the Army’s Lean Six Sigma program and the Air Force’s Smart Operations for the 21st Century program into one entity, said Col. B.J. Marshall, the CPI director at the National Guard Bureau.

Both programs essentially performed the same function of evaluating programs for efficiency and waste and streamlining them if necessary, said Colonel Marshall.

For that reason, many adjutants general questioned the need for two programs.

“Our (adjutants general) have been saying for years, ‘Why do I have two languages and two different programs? How do I manage this?’” said Colonel Marshall. “So now, we’ve combined them. An Air Guard person will be able to mentor an Army Guard project and vice versa.”

Additionally, the new joint initiative combines the most useful pieces from the separate Army and Air Force programs. Both programs focus overall on streamlining processes and eliminating waste, but each one focuses on a different aspect. For the Army, the focus was on removing variations and for the Air Force it was removing waste. 

“And really, by doing both is where you get the most bang for your buck,” she said.

The CPI program is overseen by an NGB office, which works with Guard personnel from the 54 states and territories.

“It is the first joint effort of its kind,” said Colonel Marshall. “It’s a quality program that helps you take your strategic plan off the shelf and make it actionable.”

The CPI process can be used to evaluate just about any program, process or plan, she said. That, in turn, allows the end user to retool the program to work more efficiently.

Breaking down the deployment process is one example of the CPI in use. 

“The Secretary of Defense says, ‘How do I (prepare) the National Guard and have boots on ground for 10 months out of a year of mobilization?’” Colonel Marshall said. “You know you’re mobilized for 30 days after coming home, so that only gives you 30 days up front to accomplish your training. How do you do that?

“What a perfect opportunity to go look up what the process is now and what incremental steps can you take and break it down into smaller projects and get accomplished all that training in 30 days,” she said.

The end result is increased productivity for less cost. 

“We looked at the return on investment across the Army National Guard in the states that had a pretty solid program,” said Colonel Marshall. “The result was approximately nine to one, so if you invested $1 you got $9 back (in savings).”

And that return is a benefit as many organizations are expected to do more with less. 

“We all know that budgets are not going to grow larger,” Colonel Marshall said. “But yet the requirement on the DOD is increasing. So, how do you meet all those requirements with a decrease in budget? Well, you have to get more efficient at what you do so we help you go out and find (ways to increase efficiency).”

Determining ways to increase that efficiency comes from using methods from both the Army and Air Force programs, Colonel Marshall said. As part of the CPI program, those at the state level must attend training sessions that focus on those programs.

Some of that training focuses on using statistical analysis and how to remove waste in a process or program. 

“(It teaches you) how to look at and determine what’s going wrong in a process and then concentrate on the big X and not the small piece that doesn’t matter,” she said.

And that is something that can be applied even to places outside the Guard.

“One of the guys that I worked with, he used it (with his wife) for determining what time to feed their baby, how much to feed him, what clothes to put him in,” said Colonel Marshall. “He just did a whole analysis and he and his wife got more sleep.”

As that example shows, CPI can be applied to anything. 

“There really isn’t a process out there that we can’t look at and say: ‘What’s next? How do I take it to the next level?’” Colonel Marshall said. “It’s human nature.”

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