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Award Winners Use Teams Effectively

Award Winners Use Teams Effectively

The President's Quality Award Program annually recognizes Federal organizations that achieve high standards of customer service and quality. Two organizations at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, received the 1997 Achievement Award because they demonstrated high commitment to providing improved products and services to customers. Even though they've implemented them differently, both of these organizations use teams as a method for improving customer service.

Acquisition Center

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command's (CECOM) Acquisition Center has 650 employees. Its mission is to acquire technologically superior communications-electronics and sensor equipment to sustain the American warfighter's current decisive military superiority into the next millennium. The Center uses process action teams (PATs) to evaluate its processes and improve its products and services. The PATs:

  • can be initiated by either management or employees;
  • can be mandatory or voluntary, depending upon how critical a situation or problem is and the expertise required;
  • can relate to any subject matter affecting the Center; and
  • can be long term or short term, depending on the situation.

The PATs use the Center's Seven Step Process Improvement Model, which includes the following steps and activities, to effectively improve the organization's performance:

  • Identify the Process. A PAT is established for each major process and sub-process.
  • Flow Chart the Process. The PAT draws and describes each step in the process along with supplier inputs and customer outputs.
  • Clarify Customer Requirements. Team members communicate with customers and analyze their needs.
  • Establish Measures. The team determines what indicators best measure products and services, uses decision points on the flow chart for customer needs analysis, and collects comparative baseline data.
  • Set Objectives Supporting CECOM Goals. The PAT considers how the process can be improved to help CECOM reach its goals.
  • Analyze and Improve the Process. The team and all affected workers use different tools to change the way work is done and the work force is trained to implement the changes.
  • Compare Results and Continue Cycle. With input from suppliers, customers, and all affected workers, the team measures the data against baseline performance and makes additional recommendations for improvement.

As a direct result of reengineered processes, the Center and its teams have reduced the average cycle time for supplying equipment by 77 days with labor cost savings of approximately $13 million.

Acquisition Center: Lessons Learned

The Center's Quality Coordinator, Richard Clifford, suggests, "If you're establishing an internal team, the best thing to do is to eliminate the bureaucracy - using no formal charters or mandates - and allow the team to work the issue. When the teams are empowered, they almost always succeed. Of course, this doesn't happen overnight - for us it has come from 8 years of continually focusing on quality improvement. But, if a team encompasses different organizations, then charters are required, milestones are suggested, and signatures by all participating parties are needed." (You may contact Richard at 732-532-2542 for more information.)

Logistics and Readiness Center

The mission of CECOM's Logistics and Readiness Center is to supply the Army with communications - electronics systems and provide integrated logistic support, production engineering, inventory management, manufacturing technology, security assistance, technical data, quality assurance, material fielding, and technical assistance. At the very core of the Center's improvement efforts are its many diverse teams striving to meet its customers' needs. Working in teams has allowed the Center to continue doing the mission and satisfying its customers in spite of diminishing resources. Employees are assigned to permanent, multifunctional teams that integrate supply, maintenance, engineering, and project management functions. The teams have eliminated old directorate "stovepipes," linked internal customers and suppliers, improved cross-functional communication, and achieved overall gains in productivity. Now, customers benefit from faster, more personalized service from a single office.

In order to produce and maintain their high performance, the teams meet often to review current performance trends and develop plans for improvement, using appropriate performance measures. At these meetings, they measure progress, identify shortfalls, develop team and individual performance standards, assess performance, and discuss quality enhancements. Cross-functional teams also meet to monitor progress toward objectives outlined in the Center's business plan. If any of the teams have difficulty meeting objectives, assistance comes from the various levels of the organization's supporting infrastructure.

Good communications is also an important principle at the Center. The Center's management believes that undiluted two-way communication is essential to instill vision and goals and to clarify expectations. Town hall meetings, roundtable talks with work teams, offsite workshops, and the local area network are all used to inform employees about organizational goals, training opportunities, quarterly performance measurers, and process improvements.

As a result of establishing clear goals and measures, and through the hard work of its many teams, the Center has reduced depot inventory by $1.4 billion, developed 1996 support cost reduction initiatives worth $117 million over the next 10 years, and reduced acquisition lead time by 44 percent.

Logistics and Readiness Center: Lessons Learned

When asked what lessons they've learned, Tom Cameron, the Quality Coordinator for the Center, observed, "Anyone considering moving to multifunctional teams such as ours should emphasize the importance of maintaining clear connections from the organization's key business drivers and strategic goals all the way down to each employee's individual objectives. Each person in the organization needs to share a common sense of direction, and each needs an unequivocal understanding of how he or she contributes to the mission." (For more information, you may contact Tom at 732-427-1127.)

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