(Last July, Michael C officially left active-duty U.S. Army service. In an attempt to explain why, he started a series about the Army’s culture, its successes and its failures. Read the rest of the “Why I Got Out” series here.
Also, On Violence is now taking on management. To read more management posts, click here.)
When Matt LeBlanc--the productivity expert, not the Friend’s star--enters a Starbucks, stopwatch and legal pad in hand, he doesn’t just want a cappuccino; he wants to measure the productivity of that cappuccino and the coffee shop making that cappuccino.
He times the barista. How long does it take to make a cappuccino? To take an order? To stock the fridge? If it took the barista five minutes to make a drink, why? Was it heating the milk? Was it reaching to get ingredients?
If Matt LeBlanc can decrease the amount of time spent brewing a cappuccino--say by two and a half minutes--than a Starbucks store could make twice as many cappuccinos. Shorter lines mean less waiting, which means more customers. More productivity means more efficiency which means more money.
That’s all great, but why, on a blog ostensibly dedicated to the military and violence, am I writing about a productivity expert who has the same name as the actor who played Joey on Friends?
Because the Army--and the military as a whole--does not value productivity or efficiency, and it shows. I think we should completely overhaul the Army’s culture to emphasize these values, avoiding past temptations to half-heartedly stop “waste, fraud and abuse” in the name of productivity, but continue on as we have for decades.
I’ve never met a productivity expert in the Army. As far as I can tell, the Army doesn’t have any. Or they do, but they never visit line units. Before more people complain about cutting defense spending, before politicians try to buy more overly-expensive, under-performing weapon systems (check out anyone of our On V updaters for an example), the Pentagon should hire an efficiency expert (or a whole team).
Let’s back-up. Matt LeBlanc--who I heard about on NPR’s "Planet Money" podcast--uses Lean Manafacturing to evaluate workers. Like Six Sigma and other efficiency systems, “lean manufacturers” looks for waste. Matt LeBlanc finds waste in seven categories: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and “not meeting customer demand”. Sometimes he can cut the waste; sometimes he can’t. Even if his customer cannot fix the waste, at least LeBlanc points it out.
Do any of those wastes relate to the U.S. Army or the Pentagon? Hmm. Transport? (See Air Movement Command.) Motion? (See “logistics in Afghanistan”.) Waiting? (See “hurry up and wait”.) Over-processing? (See the Littoral Combat Ship.) Not meeting customer demand? (See the F-22.)
While productivity experts normally live in the realm of manufacture and sales, that shouldn’t stop the Army from embracing them. In this brilliant 99 percent invisible podcast, a hospital administrator in Virginia, after nearing bankruptcy, went to an unlikely source to save his hospital, Toyota. Embracing the Toyota Production System, the hospital started turning a profit. More importantly, the health of their patients improved along with the bottom line.
The Army needs a new mindset. Every leader should have one priority: how often do my soldiers train on combat or combat-related tasks? How can we train more soldiers faster and safer? How many soldiers are combat--infantry or engineers--or combat support--like intelligence and signal--and how many are service and support--like finance, human resources or logistics? (Short hand--have more combat and combat support and less combat service and support.) Every soldier I know complains that higher headquarters orders lower units to waste time on unneeded tasks. An efficiency mindset would fight the impending drive of bureaucracy and paper.
I recommend that everyone listen to this “Planet Money” episode. Listen to 99 percent invisible too. Then, someone who can make the decisions, hire an efficiency expert. Hire a team if possible. Have them answer this question, “How efficient is the Army?”