Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Friday, June 04, 2010

A First: NNMC Hosts Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Courses

By Sarah Fortney, National Naval Medical Center Public Affairs

June 4, 2010 - BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- For the first time at the National Naval Medical Center, Sailors and staff members are taking a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt class — an opportunity that will allow command leaders to better facilitate process improvement projects and ultimately, help increase the hospital's productivity and efficiency.

Lean Six Sigma, which was implemented at NNMC roughly two years ago, is a program that uses a scientific approach to resolve issues throughout the work place. It incorporates the concept of "lean" thinking — the idea of getting rid of "waste" or deficiencies — with "six sigma," the process of collecting and analyzing data to reduce defects and improve efficiency.

The program is operated by four different levels of certification, said Dan Chauncey, director of Deployment Services for NOVACES. He added that NOVACES, which is Latin for "leading edge," provides Lean Six Sigma training and consulting services in the private and public sector.

The initial belt, which is a Green Belt, includes first-level practitioners, Chauncey said. They work mostly on local projects, such as organizing a lab or office space. These ultimately have a "trickle up" effect. Black Belts, a higher level, are assigned to work on projects directly related to Navy Medicine. These staff members are typically in middle management positions.

Master Black Belts, who work above Black Belts, analyze more in-depth projects that often require rapid improvement, he said. At the highest level is the Champion Belt, consisting of executive leaders who approve new policies and provide resources in support of other belts findings, empowering them to implement change. Until recently, black belt training was only offered in Jacksonville, Fla.

Having it at NNMC is both convenient and cost effective, said Lt. Cmdr. Theresa Dunbar-Reid, regional Black Belt for the National Capital Area. There are several commands in the area that can send their staff here and avoid the TAD costs, including the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED), Manpower, Personnel, Training & Education and the Uniformed Services University, to name a few.

"This is a good area," she said. "The location is good because we can accommodate many Navy commands."

"By offering [the class] in another location like NNMC, we are able to obtain Black Belt candidates who might not be able to attend otherwise," said Capt. Patrice Bibeau, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and chair of the Lean Six Sigma Continuous Process Improvement Advisory Board for BUMED.

Hosting the class at NNMC also helps respond to the increasing demand for Lean Six Sigma in the National Capital Area (NCA), she added.

Dunbar-Reid and Brian McCormack, a Master Black Belt at NNMC, have worked on a project with others in the NCA to reduce coding errors on medical records. Bibeau said this project, which has reduced errors by 89 percent, is being replicated throughout Navy Medicine.

"As we continue to grow and mature our [Lean Six Sigma] program, we will see even more examples like this NCA project where we can leverage gains across the enterprise," said Bibeau.

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Lewis Jones, as a Green Belt, works in the Command Master Chief's office at NNMC. He is among the 14 participants in the class. Previously, he had the opportunity to work on a project that helped track staff distribution, creating a database for senior leadership to see the number of staff working in each area of the hospital. With such improvement processes, Jones said he believes Lean Six Sigma benefits NNMC, especially as the command continues to integrate with Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"We get to see the statistical side of process improvement, how everything breaks down," said Jones. Dunbar-Reid said Black Belt training is multifaceted.

The trainees must first learn how to define a project, collect and measure the data, then analyze their findings, she said. Each of these phases are taught over the course of a week and in between each phase, the trainees have three weeks to practice implementing what they've learned.

"The reason why we do it over a four-month period is so that they can learn the skills and methodology of each phase," said Dunbar-Reid. "It's a very good methodology to solve complex issues."

During the course, the Black Belt trainees also learn about the importance of mentoring.

"Part of the role of the Black Belt is to mentor Green Belts," said Chauncey. "If you don't have a good mentoring program in place, you're not going to be successful."

Chauncey explained that, as mentors, Black Belts need to become a trusted counselor. They also need to be driven to build on their training and they need to be confident when presenting their findings.

After the class ends June 25, there will be a test; however, Chauncey said, "The true curve is really after the test, when you're out there running the project."

For more information about Lean Six Sigma and upcoming classes at NNMC, call Dunbar-Reid at 301-295-4992; McCormack at 301-295-9044; or Lt. James Hester, NNMC's command black belt, at 301-295-1883.

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