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News | Feb. 29, 2016

A Conversation with … Marcus Bowers

By DLA Public Affairs

Could you give the readers a brief explanation of process excellence and how DLA Strategic Plans and Policy is involved?

Strategic Plans and Policy is the agency lead for process excellence, but the concept of process excellence is an enterprise-wide effort. So first let me define what process excellence means.  The concept is to strive every day to achieve and maintain the most efficient, effective and reliable processes across the DLA enterprise. The end result of achieving excellence will optimize the customer experience and improve support to the warfighter. The director wants process excellence to be a part of our culture. The path to achieving this goal requires empowering our employees and successful collaboration across the workforce.  This makes process excellence a primary goal for Strategic Plans and Policy.

How do we achieve the goal?

Enterprise Process Management is a branch within the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate that, on behalf of the director, integrates the process for all DLA operating divisions and primary-level field activities. The exceptional professionals in EPM identify improvement opportunities, facilitate process improvement and integrate EPM initiatives to align with and mutually support the DLA Strategic Plan.

In the traditional role of Strategic Plans and Policy, we lead DLA in strategic planning, governance management and policy oversight. EPM through the goal of process excellence supports the overall mission of the Strategic Plans and Policy. In a sense, one side of Strategic Plans and Policy oversees the rules of the road, while the other, EPM, explores how we build a better one. This makes for perfect balance in our mission set and multiplies collaboration and innovation. The EPM staff and Strategic Plans and Policy at large are experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated to the DLA mission.  Their collaborative effort sets the pace for maintaining enterprise focus and the successful result is achieving process excellence.

How does process excellence affect how the DLA employee working in the warehouse, depot, fueling station or other facility goes about the job?

Considering the exceptional DLA workforce, those who can best identify areas of improvement, frame new concepts and provide innovative thinking are the ones who do the work. The seeds of process excellence are found in our people who know their process the best and live it every day.

Let’s say, for example, we see a metric indicating there’s an opportunity to improve a picking and packing timeframe. We’d use a continuous process improvement tool to map the process and then talk to the people who execute that process. Then we can develop a detailed graphic, so we can see every step in the process. Then the leadership and the front line, working together, can observe, compare and test options that make the process more efficient and effective. This improves DLA business and better serves the customer.

But the best ideas — the real opportunities for improvement — nearly always come from the people who work the process directly. It is important to remember almost everything we do is a process. Process excellence is applicable across DLA from staff work to supply-center work and from distribution to disposition.

Is this how the Process Excellence Pipeline comes into play?

The Pipeline is designed as a portal for sharing process-change ideas — specifically, when the process owner is not known by the submitter. It lets the people doing a job share ideas directly with the Supply Chain Integration Council, which is managed by the EPM staff. Using the prior example, someone might suggest:  “If we didn’t have to type this data into two systems, using two different machines, we’d reduce the risk of error and could cut seven minutes off each pick.” As you can see, no idea is too small and the smallest idea can have the greatest impact.

The senior leaders are eager to get more of these ideas so they can analyze them to see if they would improve the given process. The Pipeline is just one avenue for process change. And so far, out of 27 ideas submitted to the Process Excellence Pipeline, three have been accepted, and four are part of existing projects. We’re responding to employee suggestions faster than ever. And we’re getting ideas implemented to make our processes better.

What happens after the employee submits an idea to the Pipeline?

The SCI Council and process community determine what area the idea belongs to, who can assess it, and who should lead the effort. They coordinate across the agency to make sure the idea is integrated, actionable, and doesn’t negatively impact any other process.

Going back to that pick example of entering the data twice: Could that be a compliance requirement for audibility? Is it a segregation-of-duties function, to make sure someone can’t send a shipment to themselves at their home address? So the SCI Council makes sure we sustain auditability, that we don’t put at risk any required internal controls — and that we don’t optimize one segment of an end-to-end process at the expense of another.

Once an idea is accepted and resourced, the SCI continues to track it through implementation and follows up to monitor short- and long-term benefits. It’s one thing for senior leaders to say we want to improve processes, but the reality is that we need the people on the ground to weigh in with their ideas. They know better than we do the specifics of how we can process orders faster or dispose of old equipment with fewer systems and personnel involved.

So if the Pipeline is the “grassroots” piece, is there proactive outreach from leadership to the workforce as well?

Definitely! The leadership solicits process change ideas from across the agency. In addition to the Pipeline, there are the process, risk management, internal controls, and continuous process improvement “communities of practice.” The EPM staff and I are available any day or time for any suggestion, but one of the best ways to get an idea evaluated is to submit it through their process owners and their own SCI voting member. Anyone in DLA can submit process-change ideas, so there are opportunities at every DLA entity for the right people to get involved.  

For example, we have five enterprise CPI projects, in different areas across DLA. Two examples are distribution-to-disposition and customer facing. The director is very interested in CPI projects and tracks them very closely. He is briefed on the highest level of detail at the PLFA Roundtable each week and holds the champions and sponsors accountable for their respective project.

What do you think led Lt. Gen. Busch to make process excellence a strategic goal?

Process excellence is about making our business as efficient, effective, and reliable as possible, to optimize the customer experience. Lt. Gen. Busch supports the improvement and innovation of our processes to make us better. In fact, as I said before he wants to instill a culture of continuous improvement in DLA. Process excellence is the focus of that effort.

Process excellence also helps DLA achieve each of the other strategic goals. Process excellence obviously boosts financial stewardship and strategic engagement, but it also helps resiliency by leveraging the value of our employees. Ultimately, it helps us serve the warfighter first. We talk about getting the right product, to the right people at the right time. Achieving process excellence helps us do that better.

People sometimes confuse process excellence with CPI. Could you help our readers understand the difference?

Process excellence is the overall goal, and CPI is a collection of tools and techniques that help the agency achieve process excellence. Process excellence is the big picture and as mentioned earlier uses enterprise process management (EPM) to conduct risk evaluation, compliancy checks, procedure and policy changes, training updates, metrics, communications etc. CPI is a component of process management that looks at a process and determines if or how it can be improved.

Anything this far-reaching and complex must have faced some challenges along the way.

The implementation of new concepts in large diverse organizations always presents challenges. For process excellence, the challenge has been transitioning from a concept to building the foundation. The key is ensuring that the elements are meaningful to every part of the organization so everyone can see the benefits of participating.

Historically, DLA — like many federal agencies and large organizations — has sought to improve its efficiency by eliminating information silos, accelerating processes and reducing error rates. The tools of process excellence are the way we achieve those efforts.

It is imperative that we make improvements at each stage of the process without hurting other stages. It doesn’t make sense to make one step faster if it means someone down the line will have to take extra steps. That’s why we need everyone to have the big picture in mind and analyze the process end to end.

Some indications that process excellence is gaining traction is that senior leaders are coming to the SCI with things they want us to accomplish for them, process change ideas are being submitted, and the foundations of process management are being strengthened. I’m confident this engagement is a sign of great improvements yet to come.

Any final thoughts for the workforce?

Make sure you know not just your job, but also the job of the person next to you and the person in next step of your process. Ask questions; ask them often. And when you see something that doesn’t make sense or could be done more quickly or with less red tape, speak up!  No matter how small it may be, we want to know about it. Leadership wants to know about it.

We need to make sure everyone is comfortable submitting ideas and keeps the big picture in mind. The already exceptional workforce at DLA does great work, and we need to leverage that professionalism in improving on that great work at every opportunity. Remember:  Without a workforce, nothing at DLA gets done, and what gets done doesn’t get better without you. Process excellence should be everyone’s goal. 

From Strategic Plans and Policy, thank you for all you do and thank you for letting the J5 be a part of your team.