Running Faster by Improving the Accuracy of the Stopwatch: When the Preferred Solution is to Blame the Data for Poor Performance

In August of 2015 (nine months from the time of this writing), I was asked to help improve to process of retiring medical treatment records when service members separate. With clear direction from senior levels of the organization, the urgency of figuring out how to retire the medical treatment records in 45 days or less was palpable.

The problem of late records, at least on the surface, was very solvable. First, the record had to be located. Next, the record was shipped to a scanning facility. Finally, the scanning facility would produce a digital image of the hard-copy file and archive it electronically.

Fourty-five days seemed like plenty of time to accomplish the task. The scanning facility, by contract, had 14 days to complete the scanning and archive functions, so the medical treatment facilities had 31 days to locate and ship the record. Because service members generally begin the separation process months in advance, the medical treatment facilities could actually start the …

Hands In

I learn more about leadership, motivation, and training in 60-minutes by coaching a 7-8 year old basketball team than I could learn in a month on the job.

The reason is a little counter-intuitive. I can make 100 leadership mistakes in a minute at practice, maybe more. I have my own little 10-person developmental laboratory where I can try out leadership strategies, write and revise training plans, and directly apply motivational techniques with the ability to get immediate feedback on their effectiveness. In this case, my DPMO (defects per million opportunities) is quite high --- but I learn something from each mistake.

This picture was taken right after a 32-8 victory. During this game, I learned (1) many hands make light work, (2) most production will almost always come from a core team, and (3) all role players are star performers in the right circumstances.

On the last point, one of our role players had not scored up to this point in the season. In an effort to motivate her, …

CMMI for Service as Process Improvement

Capability maturity models answer the question: What are the characteristics of a high functioning organization? The defacto standard maturity model is managed by SEI ( and provides a detailed description of what highly mature organizations do.

As a process improvement tool, a CMMI model provides a standard against which the baseline organization can be compared. Any gaps between the standard and the baseline organization points the way for future improvement plans. The value of the model lies in the assessment material; it forces you to look across a broad array of processes and compare your organization to a consistent standard. Because the standard does not change, any reduction in gaps between the baseline and the standard represents progress for your organization.

The summary graphic shown here is my depiction of the CMMI for Service standard. It consists of 24 must-do processes that define a highly mature organization. Each abbreviation brick represents…

DMADV for Travel Claims

The Navy's annual budget for Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves is roughly $800 million. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider the scope and size of the effort. Between 110,000 and 160,000 PCS travel claims are processed each year. These claims include various allowances for time in training, family relocation, temporary lodging, and house hunting.

Because the Navy relies on rotational duty assignments by design and Sailors are entitled to PCS-related compensation by law, the expenses associated with PCS moves are a predictable cost of doing business.

However, the speed and accuracy of travel claim settlements has a significant impact on the operational availability of funds during the execution year. Adequate funds to safely cover all PSC-related expenses are obligated in advance of travel, and these funds must be held in abeyance until the travel claim is settled once travel is completed. Any excess obligations can then be de-obligated and used to fund addit…

Telling a Good Story

I recently came across a fantastic news story in one of our process improvement efforts. Unfortunately, the effort and accomplishment was not fully appreciated -- due in part to the way the information was presented. Month after month, we presented the change as an unadorned bar chart. The bar chart showed clear improvements, but the sense of story was lacking.

After working with the team, we applied three recommendations to improve how the information was communicated.
1. We added control limits to the chart to convey a sense of context. How do we know when something changed? When the line breaks the control limits, something has changed.
2. We decided to show both the meter (the # of expired LIMDU PRDs) and the levers (the actions we had taken to influence change).
3. We made the math easy. Senior leadership no longer needs to calculate the size of the impact or guess; we spelled out the accomplishment explicitly.

Measures of Performance: A Losing Record with a Winning Spirit

How do you measure performance in a recreational league?
Do you take into account bad umpires who don't seem to know the rules of the game?
Does your assessment take into account teams from competitive leagues who stay sharp in the off-season by playing in a recreational league?
Do the league mandated priorities of first fun, second learning, third winning play any role?

Although we have one game remaining, we will end this season with a losing record (currently, we are 1-7-1). However, we started the season with 5 of 14 players who had significant problems hitting a pitched ball. At our last game, every player on our roster got a hit. We started the season with 7 of 14 players who did not understand the basic flow of the game or how to get the other team out. At our last game, we held a very good team to two points in the first inning (a significant accomplishment for our team).

Everyone plays both infield and outfield. Everyone has improved. Our defensive play as a team has im…

Building Demand for Black Belts

Because our deployment strategy has focused on developing bottom-up support for Continuous Process Improvement, we have been very deliberate about making gradual training investments. Initially, we focused on yellow belt and champion training with the role of "belt" for improvement projects supported from CPI program resources. As our trained population of yellow belts and champions grew, we began training green belts and broadening the base of belt leadership for projects. After three years of building, we felt it was finally time to invest in black belt training to expand the leadership team for the CPI program. This photo represents the first group to complete the 160 hour black belt training curriculum using our own instructors.