The Lean Six Sigma team improves the performance of business processes by identifying and removing causes of waste.
Chris Williams and Jeff Green are showing clients how to think lean, save money and operate more efficiently.
Burns & McDonnell's new Lean Six Sigma team also is building strong relationships — much like the friendship the two of them formed more than a decade ago.
Lean Six Sigma is a business management strategy developed by Motorola in 1986. It became famous after former Chairman and CEO Jack Welch put it into practice at General Electric in 1995.
Its purpose is to improve the performance of business processes by identifying and removing the causes of waste and minimizing variability. While most commonly utilized in production environments, Green and Williams are proving the strategy can be applied successfully in other areas, including accounting, human resources, government, energy and healthcare.
"It can be challenging to have them on my staff because they constantly evaluate our processes and pick things apart," says Leslie Duke, vice president of the Burns & McDonnell Dallas-Fort Worth office. "But in reality they raise the bar and we improve because of the solutions they bring forward. These solutions heighten our service to clients and improve the way we work."
A Combined History
Green and Williams have been a team long enough to know and show that Lean Six Sigma works. Their partnership began 10 years ago in Fort Worth, where they paired up on projects for Bell Helicopter, and they have been working together since. The work comes naturally to both men, who share in the love of analysis but couldn't be more different.
Green grew up in Dodge City, Kan., and joined the U.S. Navy after earning his bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from Kansas State University. As a young lieutenant qualified in submarine warfare, Green traversed the country enjoying duty stations from Newport, R.I., to Omaha, Neb. He hung up his uniform after eight years to pursue a second career in manufacturing. Green started as a shift supervisor in Corning Inc.'s telecommunications products division and progressed to managing manufacturing and assembly operations for a plant that Corning acquired in Marlboro, Mass. He quickly became a highly trained specialist, earning the title of Master Black Belt, the highest level of Lean Six Sigma training.
"I love it — the work is analytical and so am I," Green says. "I got to see more, do more and learn more about the business than I ever could have in a ‘functional' role."
After leaving Corning, Green landed at Bell Helicopter, where he met Williams, a cowboy boot-wearing geologist with a flair for problem solving. Williams, a Texas native who earned his bachelor's degree in geology and master's in environmental science from Texas Christian University, worked as an environmental consultant specializing in hazardous material program management. The son of a pilot with an interest in aerospace, he shifted gears and joined Bell Helicopter's Lean Six Sigma team. "I love the challenge of learning new processes outside my traditional background," says Williams, who is also a Master Black Belt. "I like fixing things that are ‘broken' and challenging the status quo of ‘we have always done it this way.'"
Burns & McDonnell saw the value in that and hired Williams in 2008 — a few years after he had hired Burns & McDonnell to design a chemical process line for rotor blades at Bell Helicopter. Green followed his path, coming aboard last year. Both are managers in the Aviation & Facilities Group based in Texas.
"Chris is an extremely ambitious guy who's hungry for success," Duke says. "His Lean Six Sigma business development skills, paired with Jeff's focus on specific projects and clients, bring value to our projects that is priceless."
Moving into a new space provides a unique opportunity for clients to improve process efficiency, which is why Burns & McDonnell gets involved in the early stages of design. "A company has to live with design decisions for decades, so applying lean principles up front can pay off," Williams says.
The team is teaching clients they don't always have to spend money on new buildings or equipment if they get their processes on track first. For example, Green and Williams identified short- and long-term solutions for a client in Missouri that manufactures personal hygiene products. The client's master plan called for installing new equipment in an area where its central utilities were located. Burns & McDonnell showed the client that moving the utilities to make room for the equipment would have been costly and disruptive to the factory's 24-7 operation.
Constructing a small, stand-alone facility attached to the main building was a less expensive solution and provided a platform for improving product flow through the factory.
"We raise a lot of eyebrows when we tell people not to spend money," Green says. "But it's all about doing what helps the client be more successful while building relationships along the way."
Green and Williams are doing just that with an international cosmetics company whose products are produced almost entirely at a plant in northern Texas.
"The company is dialing all the way back to the procurement of materials, how raw materials are being delivered and how products are being checked in and finding there is a lot of opportunity for improving efficiency," Duke says. "The facility is simply not as efficient as it could be."
More with Less
In building design and construction, improving process efficiency isn't the only benefit. The capital investment required for construction or expansion can often be reduced or delayed. For example, in one design project, Burns & McDonnell reduced the required footprint of a new aerospace manufacturing facility by nearly 20 percent, saving the client several million dollars in design and construction costs.
"We might not have landed a contract with that client for a larger facility at the time, but we earned their trust for future projects of equal or greater significance, which is just as important to us," Green says.
Lean Six Sigma is gaining traction at Burns & McDonnell where, until now, clients typically hired a third party to do the work.
"Our biggest value is to be a resource on all types of projects, bringing a different perspective to unique challenges," Williams says. "Offering the services in-house is something we intend to grow into a highly skilled group of consultants able to affect the outcomes of a full-range group of projects."