by Lt. Col. James R. Burns
For the last two years, the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) has been on an aggressive journey to improve its operational performance. The method chosen to spearhead change and improvement was the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria.
From the beginning, we knew that significant change could not be achieved unless we committed to training leaders, managers and the general work force. Through the years we have trained the work force in total quality management principles and tools, but were unable to determine if we were achieving improvements. On the military ("muddy boots") side of our operations, we have a system that allows us to evaluate where we are, plan future actions, continuously improve, focus on important processes, allocate resources to accomplish the desired results and continuously measure against standards. But on the business side of our operations, we did not have a standard, reliable business management system. Under the direction of Gen. Dennis Reimer, the FORSCOM Inspector General was tasked to develop a process that would drive engineering, improve business systems and provide a framework for measuring progress. Gen. Reimer stated that this effort "was the most important thing we will do, short of going to war."
The Inspector General, Col. Dick Wallace, energized his office to develop a systematic process that would drive the desired improvements and allow assessment against specific standards. The Baldrige criteria was chosen as the framework for the design. The FORSCOM effort was named Centurion, with the motto "Guardians of Excellence." Centurion has two aims: to create a doctrine for Army business systems and to create a method to assess the installations' business systems against that doctrine. Initially, Centurion used the Baldrige criteria in its pure form, but later converted to the Army's version of the criteria, the Army Performance Improvement Criteria.
Centurion was designed to provide the framework to train, self-assess, give feedback and share good practices. We implemented this framework by first making participation mandatory for all of our subordinate installations. The command experienced the usual resistance to change at first, but through training and the steadfast support of senior leadership, the program took flight very quickly. Successors to Reimer as commanders of FORSCOM, Gen. John Telelli and Gen. David Bramlett, came to the command as believers in performance improvement and also gave their support of the effort.
Because there is always fear of the unknown,
we endeavored to make the program widely known
and understood by the leadership.
Knowledge alleviated many of their fears.
Training began when each installation sent representatives to Atlanta to be trained as examiners. This was essential for providing a basic awareness, getting buy-in at the installation level and making them part of the process. Twenty-eight installation staff representatives were trained as examiners. They became the local advocates of Centurion and took to educating their leaders, peers and subordinates on the merits of the process. We followed the examiner training with another round of training focused on the senior leadership of each installation. Because there is always fear of the unknown, we endeavored to make the program widely known and understood by the leadership. The leaders received one full day of training, which focused on the criteria, the self-assessment process, and the integration and linkage of the criteria's elements. Knowledge alleviated many of their fears.
Next we focused on the installations' middle management and staffs to give them in-depth knowledge of the criteria. During nine-day training sessions, we taught them how to apply the criteria to their organizations' activities, processes, planning methodologies, measurements and customers. They were shown how to conduct a self-assessment and write a self-assessment document. The instructors facilitated the development of a plan for conducting the organizational self-assessment and an outline of the actual contents of the self-assessment document.
The enthusiasm of the middle managers and staff was overwhelming. Once they understood how this framework was going to help them and their organization improve, they began to change their paradigms. At the completion of the training, the installation was allowed 90 days to complete the self-assessment and submit the self-assessment document to FORSCOM.
FORSCOM received the self-assessment and assembled a team of examiners. We drew on the initial set of examiners trained from the installations as well as examiners from other quality management programs, such as the Baldrige Award, the Presidents Quality Award, the New York Excelsior Award, the Florida Sterling Award and selected private-sector businesses with Baldrige-based internal quality assessment processes. We found great value in having outside examiners on the team because they brought a fresh outlook on our business processes and related their business experiences to installation personnel. Examiners individually reviewed the self-assessment, scored it and identified issues for further review on-site.
About three weeks before the scheduled site visit, the examiner team met for one day to come to consensus on the site visit issues and determine the overarching, cross-cutting themes of the installation. These two items provided the focus for the site visit. The team also reached consensus on the initial comments for the feedback report to the installation.
The site visit lasted four-and-a-half days, beginning on a Monday. The purpose of the site visit is to verify and clarify the information presented in the self-assessment. The examiner team also provides instruction, guidance and next steps to the key process owners on the installation. The data-gathering and interview phase of the site visit lasted two-and-a-half-days, ending on Wednesday. Examiners then pooled their information and developed an installation feedback report, which was presented to leadership at the out-brief.
The feedback report was not restricted only to identifying the installation's strengths and areas for improvement. We also included analysis of their strategic plan deployment and suggested "next steps" to assist in the continuous improvement process. Additionally, the commander of the organization received a special report that compiled information, perspectives and insights gathered through various focus group sessions. All information was left with the installation for their use in improving and planning. Good practices identified by the team were advertised on the special Centurion bulletin board, which resides under FORSCOM's home page on the Internet.
Our progress in the Centurion effort, which began in earnest in April 1995, is impressive by anyone's standards. Fourteen installations have received both the one-day leader's training and the 90-day staff training. All have completed their self-assessment and received their five-day site visit. As a result of the groundswell of positive publicity, the USARC Headquarters, 1st Army Headquarters and one Reserve Support Command have also received our training and are undergoing the self-assessment process. The first round of Centurion has given our installations a baseline to track their improvement efforts over time.
The second round is set to continue with training and site visits beginning in December 1996. As a result of the first-round feedback from the installations, some improvements have been made. One organizational change has been made to consolidate FORSCOM's improvement efforts under one directorate. Centurion, the former Reengineering Office, the Quality Leadership Office and the Activity Based Management team now reside under the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Resource and Evaluation in the Strategic Systems Division. Additionally, the FORSCOM headquarters self-assessment identified the need for a strategic planning process to focus the improvement efforts. An organization was formed and also integrated into the Strategic Systems Division to perform this process. Now the installations under FORSCOM can look to one central office for all their improvement needs. This also allows the headquarters to better coordinate efforts, better use resources and avoid conflicts.
Now that we have a good baseline for where our installations are, we want to assist them in making improvements necessary to get to the next level. Our FORSCOM Centurion focus will evolve to a consulting and assistance role. The new organization will actively market our services to provide specific improvement training in strategic planning, activity-based management, process management, performance measurement and human resource development. By developing the skills within the new division, we can save installations' resources by allowing them to use internal FORSCOM assets rather than outside consulting and training services.
We are going to include installation garrison commanders, deputies and key directorate heads in the next group of examiners. This will allow them to see, firsthand, the process in action and observe the efforts of peer organizations. They will also gain an even greater understanding of the criteria and its application.
Our expectations for the second round are very high. We fully expect to see improvements of 100 percent or more at our installations. That is ultimately our measure of success -- making continuous improvement happen.
About the author
Lt. Col. James R. Burns is chief of the Business Systems Branch of FORSCOM. Commissioned in the Infantry in June 1978, Burns has more than 17 years of military experience in acquisition, staff positions, aviation and infantry. He is lead senior examiner of Centurion.
Burns' awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Army Commendation Medal, two Army Achievement Medals, the Ranger Tab, the Master Parachutists Badge and Army Aviation Wings.