MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany's Maintenance Center is taking the lead as the benchmarking giant for the Department of Defense. Extending beyond just the Corps, the southwest Georgia depot has welcomed members of other services and contractors alike in a strong show of jointness.
Experience has shown benchmarking to be a powerful tool for assessing cycle time, quality, sales productivity and other business-related issues. For a benchmarking program to succeed, it must be relevant and useful - ask those who visit the Albany depot.
According to Darren Jones, manager for Albany Maintenance Center's Production Management Department, the multi-commodity depot has conducted nearly a dozen benchmarking sessions during the first quarter of 2003.
"So far this year we've had Maintenance Center Barstow [Calif.], Robins Air Force Base [Warner Robins, Ga.], Tinker Air Force Base [Oklahoma City], and personnel from several other installations both near and far visit our depot to benchmark off our successes," Jones said.
Two main successes Albany's Maintenance Center enjoys have been the Theory of Constraints scheduling and Lean Thinking initiatives.
Personnel from both Robins and Tinker were the latest visitors to the Albany Maintenance Center, April 10. Eleven military and civilian employees along with two contractors from Robins joined four Tinker employees for a bird's eye view of how TOC and Lean Thinking propelled operations at Albany's Maintenance Center.
"The first time I visited Albany's Maintenance Center was last week when I was here for a business process review trip," said Sam Malone, Tinker's deputy chief of engine production.
"When I saw what was going on here, I immediately called my bosses to share my excitement. Then I called Trent Blalock [Albany Maintenance Center's deputy commander] and asked for a detailed visit, and he was excited to have us back."
When Malone returned, co-workers John Stewart, chief, engine production branch; Curtis Bratcher, chief, scheduling branch; and Maj. Lina Henneman, chief, lean transformation, joined him.
"Even though we have different products as an Air Force Base, our basic processes are the same," Malone pointed out. "We were interested to see what the Marine Corps did for their customers by using the Theory of Constraints and other initiatives."
After seeing the initiatives in operations firsthand, Bratcher felt that cleared up many of the questions he had previously.
"TOC and the drum buffer rope theory sounded complicated when I first heard about them," Bratcher said, "yet the way they've been implemented at Albany is very simple. I've been impressed with the common sense approach Albany's folks have taken."
The common sense approach Bratcher spoke of may appear elementary, but management at Albany's Maintenance Center had the daunting task of changing the culture of its workforce before the depot could realize any visible and measurable benefits, according to Col. Steve Foreman, commander at Albany's Maintenance Center.
"We just closed out a great month of production," Foreman reported. "We're awaiting our final financial numbers, but we expect them to be almost $1.8 million ahead of plan. Since Christmas we have received millions in additional workload - and have been able to handle this increase without any real negative impact on our master work schedule."
With savings like those Foreman highlighted, Albany's visitors wished they had heard about the initiatives sooner.
"I wish we had visited here long ago," said Henneman. "What we've seen is another tool to help improve our processes at Tinker. Now the key will be if we can change the culture of our folks like Albany managed to do."
Although changing the culture of a workforce takes time and patience, Malone said he recognizes areas where Tinker can make some immediate improvements.
"TOC can pay immediate benefits for us," said Malone. "Just as with Albany, our number one goal is to support the warfighter. Next, we focus on keeping within cost, and with the lessons learned here our chances of remaining a viable depot within the DoD increase."
As Malone and his counterparts departed the Albany depot shortly after noon, Jones began preparing another Theory of Constraints brief he was delivering to another group of visitors that afternoon.