News | Feb. 29, 2016

A Better Way

By Beth Reece

President John F. Kennedy was touring the NASA space center in 1962 when he noticed a janitor sweeping the floor and stopped to ask what he was doing.

“I’m helping put a man on the moon,” the janitor replied.

Defense Logistics Agency employees may not always see the results of their work, but the enterprise process management initiative will show them how their daily efforts impact the agency’s overarching mission and give them a new sense of pride in their contributions, said Angela Evans, chief of DLA Strategic Plans and Policy’s Enterprise Process Integration Division.

“No matter what work they do, whether they’re a buyer or forklift driver, they have a direct role in DLA’s mission to supply America’s warfighters,” she said.

The agency’s commitment to EPM is outlined under the process excellence goal in DLA’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2022. It will involve employees at all levels and functional areas simplifying and streamlining processes from beginning to end. Processes will then be standardized across the enterprise where it makes sense.

“Every day, our employees take a series of steps to produce a service or product for our customers. It generally starts when the customer sends us a requirement, at which point we take several actions to fulfill that requirement,” Evans said.

A new order, for example, triggers a series of coordinated actions from employees in a variety of functional areas, from planning and procurement to distribution, Evans said. It may also involve employees from more than one DLA activity. But whether DLA meets customers’ needs depends on the outcome of all those steps combined, not just one.

DLA’s approach to enterprise process management is based on process-reengineering concepts by Michael Hammer and Lisa Hershman, authors of “Faster, Cheaper, Better: The 9 Levers for Transforming How Work Gets Done.” According to their research, most people want to do a good job and strive to meet specific goals, but they get so lost in fragmented processes that they never truly understand how their job fits into their organization’s goals or overall purpose. That changes when employees think beyond their own work and consider the numerous tasks that make up the entire process.

“Some companies explain it to their people with the phrase, ‘look left, look right.’ That is, don’t just pay attention to your own job, but think about the work that comes before you and the work that comes after you; think about the totality of work that is creating value for customers,” Hammer and Hershman wrote.

Hershman, who founded The DeNovo Group to help organizations create strategies that increase efficiency and improve performance, has been training DLA Headquarters and field-activity leaders on EPM since early 2015. Some initially questioned whether DLA is too large to standardize its processes and metrics, especially since the agency offers an extensive list of products and services around the world.

“The commodities and material that DLA manages are inherently different. It’s okay that some of them need to be managed differently, but the goal should be to standardize whenever possible and localize when necessary,” Hershman said.

Leaders’ commitment to process improvement and employees’ passion for supporting warfighters gives DLA a “huge advantage” in its quest to implement EPM, she added. “When we first met with DLA’s leaders, it was absolutely clear how connected, aligned and devoted to the [warfighter] and mission everybody was. That might sound unusual for me to say, but with a lot of industries we have to spend time reminding people who their customers are.”

One of the biggest obstacles DLA will face as it pursues EPM is its reliance on existing technology, Hershman continued. “Changing and managing processes often requires adjustments to technology. That can be difficult and time consuming, and many organizations run into funding issues along the way.”

DLA Strategic Plans and Policy is leading the EPM effort. Because it doesn’t own any of DLA’s business cycles or functional processes, the headquarters-level directorate can enable positive interaction and collaboration among key stakeholders, Evans said. Also, specialties such as risk assessment, policy management and continuous process improvement already fall under DLA Strategic Plans and Policy and can be seamlessly integrated into EPM.

As leaders evaluate processes, employees at all levels will have the chance to suggest ideas for innovation and improvement, added Kristin Kremer, chief of DLA’s EPM branch.

“The process owners and process executors are the ones who know their processes the best. They’re the ones most likely to have a great idea about how to improve something in their work area or whether there’s something different that we should consider doing to make the customer experience a lot better,” she said.

Ideas can be pitched during routine process evaluations and through the electronic Process Excellence Pipeline, available  to DLA emplyees at DLA Today via the “Process Excellence” button on the left side of the page.

Suggestions made through the Process Excellence Pipeline that are deemed actionable will be monitored by the Supply Chain Integration Council, which will also assess potential impacts to other functional areas that have a role in process completion. The group, which comprises leaders at the GS-15-level from field activities and DLA Headquarters directorates, will evaluate and recommend approval for process changes before they’re presented to executive-level leaders.

“The council provides us with a routine methodology by which we can manage process change, measure success and integrate multiple end-to-ends with all the key players and stakeholders,” Evans said. “Usually there is a lot of dialogue that needs to occur to hash out the final details of whether a change is recommended and how that change will take place.”

Most organizations need about three years to successfully implement EPM, according to Hershman’s research. Evans’ team is developing an EPM 101 course to help employees understand the initiative and plans to conduct roadshows to teach key points to managers and supervisors. Process evaluations and subsequent changes will then occur gradually.

“With all these phases and the size of DLA, if the agency can fully implement this in one to three years, that’s actually lightning speed,” she said, adding that benefits include increased customer satisfaction, improvements in productivity, cost reductions, reduced cycle times and higher morale.

“This also gives employees a seat at the table when the work they do is being analyzed and changes are being explored. I’ve even heard employees say they feel like they’re doing more honorable work because they know how it impacts the mission,” she said.