News | Feb. 29, 2016

Process Ideas Wanted

By Chris Erbe

Change is a process, not a destination. Change is inevitable; progress is optional. If you change nothing, nothing will change.

There’s a reason business authors quote liberally about change: In business, change is necessary for improvement, and improvement is necessary for survival.

The Defense Logistics Agency is embracing change through a rejuvenated continuous process improvement program that encourages employees to submit ideas to improve the process activities they participate in. CPI is a means for employees to bring about changes that will sustain and improve DLA’s effectiveness and efficiency. The CPI Program Office wants employees throughout the agency to know the push is on for more project ideas that could improve support to DLA’s primary customer, the warfighter.

CPI first gained momentum at DLA in 2008 in response to guidance by the Department of Defense. DLA stood up an office and worked to train and educate its workforce about the benefits of continuous process improvement. DLA’s efforts included training a segment of the employee population to serve as CPI practitioners and mentors. However, before CPI could reach full maturity, competing priorities changed leadership emphasis within DLA. Although CPI never went away, it was given less of a priority within the agency.

When Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch arrived as director of DLA in January 2015, he brought a renewed sense of urgency for continuous process improvement, and he included it as part of DLA’s Strategic Plan 2015-2022.

“Gen. Busch has long been an advocate of CPI as a way to make permanent change and permanent improvements to the agency,” said Heather Vickers, senior CPI analyst. “As a result, we’re looking to rekindle CPI and focus on achieving goals and identifying projects that will make a difference to the agency.”

CPI, as a part of the broader process excellence strategic goal, encourages employees at all levels to think about how they conduct their work every day and to submit ideas and innovations that may help streamline and improve DLA’s business processes. The CPI Program Office, which collaborates with local CPI offices as appropriate, is open to process improvement ideas in many subject areas, including finances, operations, production, human resources, infrastructure and sustainability.

CPI program managers also want to be made aware of process problems with no known solution. Project examples may include processes that perform poorly, result in quality problems or cause cost over-runs.

“If we have a problem without a known solution, CPI is the perfect vehicle to assess that problem and move forward,” Vickers said.

The agency has opened more avenues for submission than ever before. The Process Excellence Pipeline was introduced to the agency in 2015. DLA’s internal website is home to the PEP webpage, the best avenue for employees who have an improvement submission but don’t know whom to contact. Employees can also contact the CPI Program Office through the process excellence email address, process@dla.mil. In addition, employees are encouraged to forward ideas through their own leadership chain or email them directly to process owners or managers.

“The goal is to get the ideas,” said Kristen Kremer, enterprise management branch chief in DLA Strategic Plans and Policy. “We want to make available as many avenues as we can in order to cast a really wide net.”

Once a submission is received, CPI managers perform an integrated holistic analysis that involves subject matter experts, process owners and senior managers. The idea is to analyze the change not just on its merits, but also to take into account all of the ramifications associated with that change.

“We ask a lot of questions,” Vickers said. “How would we implement solutions? What does the solution look like? What is the impact both upstream and downstream from this change? How have we addressed risk and controls? What kind of policy changes will this entail? How will this change affect analytics and metrics?”

We analyze whether we’ve solved the root cause of the problem, not just the symptom, Kremer added.

“If we’re solving symptoms, we’ll have to go back in a year and address the problem all over again,” she said.

Once a process change has been identified, approved and implemented, CPI mangers continue to monitor and evaluate to make sure that new procedures are observed and sustained.

“That’s the essence of CPI,” Vickers said. “We take a process from beginning to end, making sure that we instill and build in acceptance of the change.”

Changes come in all sizes, and while some are local, others can affect the entire enterprise. The CPI Program Office brings high-impact initiatives to be vetted before the Supply Chain Integration Council, responsible for executing all aspects of DLA’s enterprise process management strategy. Its members, senior managers representing key divisions of the agency, discuss and vote on change initiatives, making sure systemic problems are addressed. If appropriate, the council may move the initiative on to the Alignment Group and the Executive Board, which oversee DLA’s mission execution.

It all starts with an idea and ends up with an actionable problem, said Vickers. “It doesn’t matter what level of person in the agency identifies an opportunity, we need everyone’s help to improve DLA’s processes.”

Change is inevitable, so DLA is seizing the initiative to find ways to perform its processes better, faster and with higher levels of quality and service. Whether the impact is local or enterprise-wide, DLA encourages its employees to contribute ideas and projects to the continuous process improvement program. The benefit will be felt not only by the agency, but — more importantly — by the customers DLA serves.