Kaizen in the Naval Air Command

The U.S. Armed Forces have been using a combination of quality improvement tools and methods for many years. Recently many bases, depots and command centers have been using Lean manufacturing and six sigma tools and principles very effectively to lower cost and improve responsiveness.
The work being done by the Naval Air Command under the name NAVAIR AIRSpeed is particularly interesting. AIRSpeed is described on the
NAVAIR website as
“NAVAIR AIRSpeed is a cultural change affecting administrative, non-production, technical functions of research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition and corporate operations processes within NAVAIR.”
This sounds a lot like a Lean Office transformation. There are two great examples of Lean Office implementation here. In one case the funding document approval process was cut from 30 steps down to 18 steps, reducing the time from 28 days down to four days. In another Summer Hire Process project the improvements were from 4,000 man-hours to just 648 and a reduction in the cost of hiring an intern from $12,800 per person to $980.
This was done through a combination of Lean tools and DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) to:
1. Define the goal
2. Map out the tasks
3. Understanding the entire workflow
4. Cross-functional team approach
5. Standardization
Most interestingly, in both cases these improvements were called kaizen projects. AIRSpeed acknowledges that kaizen events are an approach used to reduce cycle time, lower costs, and take out waste within the NAVAIR.
Some organizations pursuing Lean manufacturing and Lean office still prefer to avoid Japanese terms such as kaizen. Although there may cultural, political, and historical reasons for the avoidance of the word kaizen, we find that when companies don’t openly acknowledge and embrace the Toyota Production System principles (which include kaizen) it can lead to a ‘pick and choose’ approach to Lean that is less effective in the long run.
You can’t get much more American, culturally, politically, or historically than the Navy. If the word kaizen is good enough for the U.S. Naval Air Command, I’ll have some kaizen with my next slice of apple pie.