1996 Presidential Award for Quality

Army Research Center Targets Quality

ARDEC's flat quality management organization moves
from concept to production in record time.

In June, the Office of Personnel Management announced that the winner of this year's Presidential Award for Quality is the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

The Presidential Award for Quality is the government's highest recognition of federal agencies for quality achievement and is based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Located on 6,500 acres 40 miles west of New York City in Picatinny, New Jersey, ARDEC employs about 4,200 civilians and has a yearly budget of about $1.3 billion. ARDEC conducts or manages research, development and life-cycle engineering for a wide range of guns, fire-control and associated weaponry. At present, ARDEC has 134 products in development, 160 in production and 1,500 in active use.

A quick glance at ARDEC's management structure shows that perhaps what sets ARDEC apart from other military-run organizations of its size, and what has led to its success, is the structure of its quality program. As a military organization, ARDEC has the traditional command-and-control, top-down structure. However, the organization's quality management structure is predominantly flat and typified by its extensive use of empowered cross-functional teams.

ARDEC operations divide into 11 systems, each of which is responsible for system measurement, team development and system improvement. The four mission systems are technology base, development, production and field support. The seven support systems are customer support, resource management, procurement, business management, human resources, base operations and information.

Within each of these systems, ARDEC employs process action teams, quality circles, self-directed work teams, natural work groups and a quality management board that coordinates that system's quality efforts. Each team controls its own quality process.

"System owners are responsible for improving and measuring their system, forming teams and all using quality tools within the system," notes TQM Officer Kathryn Daut.

One of the more important features of ARDEC's quality system is benchmarking, says Daut. The organization belongs to two benchmarking services, and each system is responsible for comparing its processes with other best-in-class organizations.

For instance, ARDEC is responsible for investigating all field accidents associated with their products. It was the field support system's responsibility to find an appropriate benchmark for this function.

"We found out that the best-in-class for accident investigation is the National Traffic Safety Board," says Daut. "When an airline accident happens, they get to the scene in minutes and start collecting evidence. They became our benchmark."

It isn't enough that each system have an excellent quality system in place, says Anthony Desmond of ARDEC's Business Development Office. Since 1989, ARDEC has been developing a quality system that communicates best practices, tools and techniques throughout the organization.

"We make sure that if we are improving the process that one group would use to get a rifle through to production, that those who are making howitzers have the benefit of the same processes," says Desmond.

To ensure the flow of useful information throughout the organization, ARDEC utilizes its board of directors, executive council and each of the system's quality management boards. Each level is cross-functional and receives input from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

The board of directors and executive council are co-chaired by ARDEC's Commanding General Brigadier General James Boddie Jr. and Technical Director Carmine Spinelli. The board includes the six planning system owners (which represent the 11 systems) and the three senior leaders from Fire Support Armaments Center, Close Combat Armaments Center and Armament Engineering Directorate-ARDEC's major mission organizations.

The executive council oversees the 11 systems and is made up of systems owners, their customers, suppliers and union officials. The council meets every two weeks to discuss systems progress. Members spend a significant portion of their time on strategic planning and quality. This includes working on ARDEC-level systems, networking with customers and suppliers, meeting with employees and participating in process improvements of quality management boards and process action teams.

The result of all this cross-communication is the ability to move quickly from idea to production. Add to this ARDEC's focus on and involvement with customers throughout the entire product life-cycle, and you end up with an organization that exceeds customer needs, and does so in record time and for a fraction of the cost of some other defense agencies, says Desmond.

For example, two years ago, ARDEC saw a market for nonlethal munitions-an entirely new direction for an organization that has "Ammunition Lethality" as one of its quality metrics. The market developed as the result of U.S. policing actions around the world in places like Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. A secondary market includes local and federal law enforcement interested in riot control and nonlethal confrontation.

ARDEC teams quickly determined their core competencies in this area and set out to fill in the gaps that would allow them to develop nonlethal weapons that met customer requirements.

"We knew how to put things into gun tubes and shoot them out," says Geza Pap, division chief for quality assurance. "All we had to figure out was how not to shoot them out as fast or how to put sponge instead of metal coating on the end of a bullet."

In two years' time, ARDEC fielded two nonlethal weapons systems in Haiti and will soon be fielding three or four in Bosnia, says Desmond. By comparison, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has spent $5 million and five years trying to develop nonlethal munitions, he adds.

ARDEC's quality management structure and subsequent success did not occur overnight. A formalized TQM system began in 1989 when then-Brigadier General Joseph Raffiani invited the Defense Systems Management College to train ARDEC top-level management in TQM. In 1992, ARDEC applied for the Presidential Award for Quality. And although they didn't win the award, they used the feedback to modify their quality program. In 1995, ARDEC won the Quality Improvement Prototype Award and used feedback from that process to prepare them to reapply for the 1996 Presidential Award.

Although Daut, Desmond and the others are excited about winning the award, the award itself was not the goal, they say. ARDEC used the Presidential Award criteria as a template for improving their quality system.

"The process itself allowed us to change better and faster than we would have without it," says Daut.

An added benefit is that despite the frequent management changes, ARDEC has been able to not only maintain but to continuously improve their product, observes Pap.

"Since 1989, there have been four commanders and three technical directors," he says. "There must have been a very strong commitment by the organization as a whole to keep going despite those changes."

1996 Presidential Award for Quality: ARDEC Best Practices

The following are ARDEC best practices as identified by the Presidential Award for Quality site evaluation team:
Category 1: Leadership-Integrated the process for quality management boards and process action teams throughout the organization. Effective use of cascading communication via chain-link teaching.
Category 2: Information and Analysis-Effective information system created. Program Integration Scheduling and Management system is designed to plan, manage, track, monitor and evaluate project, product, production and delivery performance. Innovative use of the World Wide Web to provide data to customers, managers and others.
Category 3: Strategic Planning- Effective review process. System measurement review, including a process that simply but effectively ensures the continual improvement of key metrics within the organization.
Category 4: Human Resources Development and Management-Placement of culture survey results on World Wide Web. Effective application of employee fitness program called Fit to Win.
Category 5: Process Management-Put in place a deployment process, including a QMB and PATs, structured training and an advocacy position (a person who provides training and support) for new concepts such as concurrent engineering, benchmarking and quality function deployment as they are introduced into the organization.
Category 6: Business Results-Effective contractor performance certification program. This process for managing suppliers is built around ISO 9000.