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Naval Special Warfare Group Four

Executive Summary / Abstract

Naval Special Warfare (NSW) is a division within the U.S. Navy that includes more than 2,400 active-duty Special Warfare Operators, known as SEALs. All of these personnel are divided among “groups”. NSW Group 4 (NSWG4) consists of three Special Boat Teams (SBT) and one international training command—all working together towards the common goal of fighting the global war on terrorism. In the past, NSWG4 always had more than adequate numbers of craft, engines and spare parts. However, with today’s current high demand for combat operations, security force assistance (SFA) and fiscal downsizing, NSWG4 had to develop a different business sustainment model to complete missions with less assets.

The solution expertly weaves Lean Six Sigma, Agile, and dynamic BPM into a system called SWIFT—which successfully met this challenge, and exceeded expectations. Within a 6 month time-frame, NSWG4 had an automated workflow solution in place that reduced procurement lead time, improved accuracy, visibility, and all around satisfaction and improved performance of the Government Purchase Card Program (GPCP) process. The automation for the GPCP using SWIFT provides visibility into the process, standardization, and forcing function for over 6,000 purchases and $5.2 million spent annually.

Overview

The Naval Special Warfare Group 4 (NSWG4) is responsible for development and testing of combatant craft and associated ordinance and equipment. NSWG4 monitors and certifies the Combat Readiness of assigned craft and SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman).

In the past, NSWG4 has had more than adequate numbers of craft, engines and spare parts. However, with today’s current demand for combat operations, security force assistance (SFA) and fiscal downsizing, NSWG4 had to develop a different business sustainment model to meet missions with less assets. This new model required speeding up the procurement process for craft repairs and spare parts. By decreasing the ordering cycle time for repairs and parts, less craft and assets are required to meet continued customer requirements.

Prior to April 2011, the purchasing of boat requirements involved customers manually filling out purchasing paperwork and routing packages consisting of printed paper forms and substantiating documentation. The manual flow of information increased inaccurate purchasing information and there was no visibility into the process. Customers were often unaware of the procurement status, including delays on parts and services, which could ultimately force mission-critical boats and equipment out of commission.

NSWG4 customers and logistics support personnel developed a solution to streamline purchasing process workflows, using Toyota Production System (TPS) process improvement methodology. TPS is based upon deck plate employees driving process improvements while senior leadership serves as coaches and mentors.

To help establish priorities for which processes needed to be improved first, employees first targeted the Government Purchase Card Program (GPCP) process, which is for procurements less than $3000 ($2500 for services). The team agreed on implementing workflow automation with three specific goals of providing process (1) visibility, (2) standardization to reduce errors, and (3) accountability.

In October 2010, NSWG4 hosted a two-day off-site meeting and invited the daily owners and users of the GPCP process to participate and provide their input on how to improve this process. Using Shingo value stream mapping techniques, which separates the process steps from the operational steps, the 25-person team defined how to standardize the process, by removing excess steps and identifying over 40 different points of automation. The standardization removes errors by providing a “turbo tax” menu of choices including requirement samples. The team called the project SWIFT - Special Warfare Information Fast Tracker.

Within a six-month time-frame, NSWG4 had an automated workflow solution in place which was successfully up and running, reducing procurement lead time, improving accuracy, visibility, and all around satisfaction and performance of the GPCP process.

RF Logistics LLC (RFL), in concert with HandySoft, designed, developed and delivered into production the SWIFT solution. This was definitely a team effort, with strong leadership from NSWG4 keeping the project focused, providing the resources and empowering employees to drive the change across NSWG4. Built upon BizFlow, HandySoft’s automated business process workflow software application, and guided by input and active participation from the SWIFT team, this solution streamlines, provides visibility and forcing function for the NSWG4 GPCP.

For the first time, customers now have visibility into the Government Purchase Card Program (GPCP). Through automation, users can track the status of an order, while the process moves faster and easier, and management is able to measure the process. On 450 requests/month, the average lead-time is now 3.2 days from request to completion—before the implementation of this new workflow automation, the process traditionally took several weeks, with considerable process time variation and major inconsistencies.

The automation for the GPCP using SWIFT provides visibility into the process, standardization, and forcing function for over 6,000 purchases and $5.2 million spent annually. NSWG4 can now measure cycle times, and capture other valuable financial data. So successful was the implementation at NSWG4 (echelon III command), there are now plans to implement the software throughout NSW (echelon II). SWIFT is now the success model for future process improvement initiatives.

Business Context

Previously, the NSWG4 relied on antiquated and manual driven processes for their government credit card purchases. The process was entirely paper driven, relying on hand written approvals and signatures and often required tracking down those with appropriate approval credentials. Without a standardized government card purchase and approval system, products and supplies could not be tracked; the process was cumbersome and hit or miss, delaying the procurement, approval, and delivery of critical equipment.

The SWIFT project established a model that works within the Naval Special Warfare culture. This program delivered immediate and significant increases in productivity, efficiency, and accuracy for NSWG4, and has opened the door for other workflow automation implementations including all contracts, to continue the improvement in delivery of service to support the SEALs in their mission.

The Key Innovations

Business

NSWG4’s new government purchase card program, SWIFT, now standardizes the credit purchase and approval process across all boat teams, while providing visibility, control and an audit trail for all purchases. Stakeholders throughout the approval chain can now track and monitor purchases and buyers know exactly which step they are at in the process. The SWIFT program is accessible from anywhere with Internet access around the world.

There were several key elements that led to success with this program:

  • Incremental change led by employees: NSWG4 used TPS (Toyota Production System Model) to implement incremental change to drive organizational increases in productivity and efficiency. The model from Toyota (called the Toyota Production System (TPS) model) uses small rapid improvements events (Kaizen) led by the employees and mentored by senior leaders to drive projects. NSWG4 is using this methodology rather than the traditional activity based model, which mandates meetings, tollgates, excessive charts and measurements. NSWG4 didn’t try to ‘boil the ocean;’ it focused on solving specific problems.
  • Speed: From defining the process specifications to going live with SWIFT was only six months. Securing buy-in from the stakeholders and end users encouraged active participation as the work progressed, and BizFlow, the COTS solution used as the basis of the implementation, was easy to use and needed minimal customization, delivering most of the requirements out of the box.
  • Cost: Using superior commercial off-the-shelf software that required minimal customization kept development costs down. And because the requirements were clearly defined upfront through the offsite, and leadership really listened to the stakeholders and kept them engaged, the process went smoothly and everyone involved was in agreement regarding what the final product should deliver.

The end result: an immediate increase in productivity, faster, more accurate purchasing and ordering, standardization, transparency, and an easy to use adhoc reporting mechanism that provides management with complete process oversight.

Process

Prior to April 2011, the purchasing of boat requirements involved customers manually filling out purchasing paperwork and routing packages consisting of printed paper forms and substantiating documentation. The manual flow of information increased inaccurate purchasing information and there was no visibility into the process. Customers were often unaware of the procurement status, including delays on parts and services, which could ultimately force mission-critical boats and equipment out of commission.

Now, for the first time, customers have visibility into the Government Purchase Card Program. Through automation, users can track the status of an order, while the process moves faster and easier, and management is able to measure the process. Currently, processing approximately 450 requests per month, the average lead-time has been reduced to 3.2 days from initial request through to completion—before the implementation of this new workflow automation, the process traditionally took several weeks, with considerable process time variation with major inconsistencies.

Value Stream Map
Picture of the GPCP Value Stream Map from the Kaizen event, which was led by the credit card holders, approving officials and agency program coordinator.


BizFlow
BizFlow by HandySoft Computer Screen Status: Workflow automation not only shows the latest status of each purchase request but has the capability to send emails to personnel at each step of the process. E-mails remind employees of needed actions or provide the latest status to customer.

Organization

The impact of this program on the employees was significant; SWIFT not only improved the time required for processing orders and requests, but also significantly improved accountability, transparency, and visibility into the process. No longer does an order sit on someone’s desk waiting for action; if no action takes place within the set time parameters, the request is automatically forwarded to that person’s supervisor, ensuring the workflow continues.

A key element was the involvement of those individuals who actually use the program, ensuring that the workflow process was accurate, and that there was buy-in from those most impacted by the procedures. This integration of Toyota Production System (TPS) process improvement methodology took a bit more time upfront, but ensured the system accurately reflects the pain points and priorities of those actually using this system every day.

Hurdles Overcome

Management

When the project was first initiated, management took the time to think through how to ensure they got buy-in from the employees who would use the system, and how to determine accurately what the actual problem areas were. The approach was defined to ensure input from those most impacted—and that approach is a major reason why this effort was so successful. At the beginning of the project, NSWG4 asked customers at the deck plates the specific challenges related to the GPCP. Using Shingo value stream mapping techniques which separate the process steps from the operational steps, the team, consisting of 25 personnel, standardized the process by removing waste (excess steps) and indentifying over 40 different points of automation. The common theme was a lack of defined process, contract status visibility and timeliness.

NSWG4 used “Voice of the Customer” workshops to identify the Team (who), Goals, Scope, Pain, Requirements, Impact, and Schedule.

  • Primary Customer—SEALs & SWCCs
  • Secondary Customer—Logistics & Support Personnel
  • Tertiary Customer—Finance & Audit

Business

Based upon inputs from the teams, NSWG4 awarded a contract to implement a workflow software tool. This approach was chosen because it enables the customer to enter his requirements electronically and track the progress of the purchase. The focus was to support the users, make the process easier and more user-friendly, and increase transparency and accountability. BizFlow by HandySoft, a robust BPM solution, was chosen as the foundation, to ensure the new system could be built quickly and would be intuitive and easy to use.

Organization Adoption

Because research indicates over 60% of all major transformations fail to achieve established goals, NSWG4 introduced the new software incrementally by first automating the GPCP process. The GPCP is used for purchases below $3,000 for supplies and $2,500 for services. At NSWG4, the command averages over 6,000 purchases a year, with $5.2 million spent annually.

And to ensure that the system addressed the users’ pain points, at the beginning of the process, NSWG4 hosted an off-site meeting and invited the daily owners and users of the credit card process. Using Shingo value stream mapping techniques which separate the process steps from the operational steps, the team, consisting of 25 personnel, standardized the process by removing waste (excess steps) and indentifying over 40 different points of automation. The team called the project SWIFT (Special Warfare Information Fast Tracking). Because the team who would use the system literally created the points of automation, there was immediate acceptance and adoption of the system as soon as it was up and running.

Benefits

Cost Savings

Implementation of SWIFT secured significant cost savings, time reductions, and transparency in the Government Purchase Card Program process. The implementation of this system is part of an overall lean strategy to reduce inventory by more than $7 Million over the next three years. The first part of the strategy was to move NSWG4 contracting closer to the customer, which reduced overall ordering cycle time by implementing ordering agreements with vendors. The second part of continuous process improvement was to use workflow automation (e.g. BizFlow) to further speed up the ordering process.

More important than money is the increase in operational readiness by repairing combat craft and training faster and with fewer defects. In addition, the lessons learned from decreasing contracting ordering cycle time enables NSW to purchase fewer craft and engines without compromising effectiveness

Time Reductions

This system reduced the credit card ordering cycle time to 3.2 days (56%). An estimated 4.6 man-years was gained because of the increased efficiency of the system: customers now have purchasing visibility including email status notifications instead of wasting time manually tracking requirements. The continuous workflow improvement program is being replicated at NSW. NSW targets are an additional 20 man-years in productivity gains in the next year, producing a 400% ROI.

Increased Revenues

As this is a government organization, the goal was not to increase revenues, but to capture significant cost savings, improve efficiency and transparency. All of these goals were realized.

Productivity Improvements

Four contracts are now issued to supply Navy SEALs around the world (80% of Goal). There is a 30% decrease in contract defects. This system also reduced the average boat repair contract time by 20 days (78%) and parts contract time by 55 days (70%).

Overall prod ctivity improvements and organizational improvements include:

  • Decreased Cycle Time
  • Improved process cycle efficiency
  • Embraced by Management
  • 100% end-to-end visibility
  • Zero defect rate and audit compliance
  • Across the board accountability

Best Practices, Learning Points and Pitfalls

Best Practices and Learning Points

  • The GPCP process leveraged a unique combination of methodologies to ensure success, combining Lean Six Sigma, Agile, and BPM. The project’s foundation was built on Lean Six Sigma principles combined with Kaizen events to model and improve the process.
  • A best of breed BPM technology, BizFlow by HandySoft, was then able to deliver on those process requirements through Rapid Application Development (RAD) session and Agile development methodology to quickly turn the requirements into a production, web-based acquisition management system in support of the SEALs and SWCCs.
  • SWIFT is now the success model for future process improvement initiatives. The SWIFT project established a model that works within the Naval Special Warfare culture. The model is based on 5 key principles that drive process improvement:
    • Lean is a journey: design the system in segments and show rapid results to build momentum;
    • Management must be willing to empower their team to make decisions starting at the evaluation stage;
    • Design a process which reduces errors on the front end and reduces extra steps; 
    • Identify the right stakeholders and leverage Kaizen events to speed the process improvement effort;
    • Lean + Agile + BPM (BizFlow) = success.

Pitfalls (Things to avoid)

  • Make sure you get buy-in from the users of the system and the true stakeholders at the beginning of the process.
  • Keep stakeholders involved, engaged, and active participants throughout the process—this will help ensure the system actually does what is needed to solve the problems identified.
  • Don’t try to ‘boil the ocean’; focus on solvable problems and reasonable goals.

Competitive Advantages

The competitive advantages from this implementation are significant—by improving efficiencies and streamlining ordering processes, SWIFT helps NSWG4 focus on what they do best—fighting the war on terror—rather than spending so much time on paperwork to ensure they have the tools and supplies needed.

Specifically, this program provides:

  • Total acquisition process visibility from purchase request to asset receipt through online monitoring, providing the system users FedEx like capabilities through the system. Real-time visibility into where the process is at any given time.
  • Email notifications result in accountability by triggering required approval and action steps by approver.
  • Real-time Purchase Requisition reports listing out costs, vendor data, and approvals saves time and ensures accuracy.
  • Significant efficiencies in Order Cycle times for purchase requests.
  • Eliminated paperwork through electronic request forms with product and vendor attachments.
  • E-Signatures with date/time stamps for each process approval is compliant with audit requirements.
  • Bottom line: SWIFT allows for SEALs and SWCCs “to do what they do best” instead of tracking down paperwork and material.

Technology

NSWG4 worked with RF Logistics and HandySoft to develop the specification and then customize BizFlow by HandySoft into the solution defined and desired by the SWIFT team. The GPCP process leveraged a unique combination of methodologies to ensure success, combining Lean, Agile, and BPM. The project’s foundation was built on Lean Six Sigma principles combined with Kaizen events to model and improve the process. A best of breed BPM technology, BizFlow by HandySoft, was then able to deliver on those process requirements through Rapid Application Development (RAD) session and Agile development methodology to quickly turn the requirements into a production, web-based acquisition management system in support of the SEALs and SWCCs.

The BPM solution, BizFlow by HandySoft, provides enterprise users with capabilities that improve their success, efficiency and self-reliance when dealing with ad-hoc business challenges, such as those faced by the SWIFT team in the GPCP process. BizFlow provides structure and traceability to dynamic business and structured business processes and web applications, increasing the transparency of ad-hoc tasking, and allowing users to clearly visualize and track “work in progress.”

In addition to the use of BPM technology as the foundation for this implementation, NSWG4 applied Six Sigma principles to help them move from disparate paper processes to a single, streamlined, unified process for GPCP procurement. NSWG4 conducted several Lean Six Sigma Kaizen events that included all the SWIFT team stakeholders involved in the GPCP request process to get a clear understanding of the end-to-end process, and to ensure that the new solution would address the approval and processing requirements of each respective contributor. The end result was SWIFT - a Lean Six endeavor of constant process improvement, which addressed and solved the following challenges indentified by the stakeholders:

  • visibility with a credit card purchase request
  • standardization and adherence to checklists
  • forcing function to require appropriate action within an allotted amount of time
  • process scheduler and established metrics
  • accountability during the approval and sign-off activities
  • specific guidelines or processes for ‘special’ requests that fall into ADP or HAZMAT categories

SWIFT makes use of the BizFlow monitor where graphic icons display all of the approvers in the purchase request approval path. As the request is routed through the various approvals, the user initiating the request can look online and see at what stage (i.e. reviewer) the purchase request is in the process. This visibility can be monitored through either the graphic icons that represent the approvers or via an activity table depicting the date and time stamp of the submission for approval and the date and time stamp of the actual approval.

The introduction of the BizFlow tool required the standardization of workflow processes, activities and forms used by the former paper based system. Standardizing the GPCP request processes and activities eliminated the inconsistencies experienced with the paper process, and greatly improved process cycle times while also creating an on-demand auditing system.

BizFlow also has a “forcing-function” where once a purchase request is created and submitted, an email notification is sent to the next reviewer in the process path for approval and a scheduler or clock is triggered for the allotted time established for the next activity. The email directs the reviewers to log into BizFlow, review their “work list” and review the purchase request(s) that require action. In the event that the next-in-line reviewer is out of the office, another approver can be delegated to act upon the purchase request. As the NSWG4 users became more comfortable and knowledgeable with the process, the approval process times decreased considerably.

Oversight and accountability is provided throughout SWIFT from the tracking number to the other monitor features. The electronic mail notification and scheduler functionality is directed to the specific user(s), requiring that they act upon the purchase request within a given time-frame or the request is elevated to that user’s supervisor. Additionally, those “special” item purchase requests that fall into required ADP or HAZMAT approval categories now have specific approval paths for routing. There is also the ability to view the defined set of reviewers and approvers that are identified beside each activity. Also, if a purchase request lacks the appropriate justification and/or documents at the beginning of the process, the next-in-line reviewer can return the request immediately to the requestor with comments detailing why the request is incomplete and what actions are necessary to secure approval. This accountability relieves the “downstream” pressure for short-turnaround reviews and approvals previously experienced on the back-end of the purchase request process.

All of this accountability contributes towards getting the process “right” at the beginning stages by eliminating the defects to ensure the reviews and approvals are moving through the approval path towards a successful purchase.

The Technology and Service Providers

HandySoft provided business process management (BPM) software (BizFlow), application development, and customer support for this program. HandySoft is a leading global provider of Business Process Management (BPM), Tasking and Compliance software and solutions for government and business organizations. BizFlow® is the first and only BPM Suite on the market to seamlessly integrate and automate dynamic tasks, case management, content collaboration, and structured processes along with Process Intelligence and RIA capabilities to drive visibility, control and productivity across all work that happens within an organization. For more information, visit www.handysoft.com.

RF Logistics provided consulting and integration expertise for this project. The firm played a prominent role in facilitating the Kaizen event, gathering the business requirements, developing the workflow application and conducting end user training. Founded in 2003, RF Logistics, LLC is a veteran owned small business dedicated to bringing process improvement to the workplace. They focus on business process reengineering and automated data operations for logistics & warehouse management, business & office management, or asset visibility at all levels of an enterprise. For more information, visit www.rflogistics.com.

Copyright: This case study was originally published in the Excellence in Practice series in the book entitled “Delivering Competitive Advantage” published by Future Strategies Inc. ©

Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.