Why Lean Six Sigma is the Ideal Civilian Career Choice for Veterans


Are you ready to transition from the military to the civilian workforce? It’s a question that strikes fear into the heart of veterans more than most others. But, once the decision to transition from the army to a civilian career has been made, it can bring about some relief. Once you’ve made the decision, it’s easier to start switching your focus and you’re able to feel more excited about the future and new opportunities. But one day, you might get a numb feeling in your gut, and the questions will start running through your mind. If you’ve decided to make the switch from the military to the civilian workforce, you might be wondering:

“What am I going to do for a living?”

“How am I going to compete in the workforce?”

“Do my skills translate to the civilian workforce easily?”

Things are getting real – and like any big transition, embarking on new experiences in an alien environment is always going to be nerve-wracking.

But don’t worry! As a veteran, you’ve already got so many of the qualities that are in high demand in the civilian workforce. You fully understand the need to be on time, dress appropriately, can pay strong attention to detail and you’re committed to hitting your goals. In fact, many civilian job seekers are only just developing the skills and attributes that you have already developed as a service member; you are strides ahead and will do just fine. You will easily be able to translate many elements of the training you’ve completed and skills you’ve developed into a meaningful civilian world. And one area where your skills are in high demand right now is Lean Six Sigma.

You may have even already had the opportunity to be trained and work in Lean Six Sigma in the military; if you haven’t already, then you should definitely jump at the chance. Lean Six Sigma professionals are in rapidly increasing demand in the civilian workforce. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology based around eliminating problems, reducing waste and inefficiency, and improving working conditions in order to provide better responses to customer needs.

It is a combination of the tools, methods and principles of both Lean and Six Sigma into one powerful, popular methodology to improve an organization’s operations. And, the team-oriented approach has consistently proven results in terms of maximizing efficiency and drastically improving profitability for organizations around the globe.

Lean Six Sigma has three key elements, which are:

  1. Tools and techniques: A comprehensive set of analytical tools and techniques used to both identify and solve issues
  2. Process and methodology: A series of phases which organize the use of problem-solving tools, ensuring that true root causes are determined and that solutions are fully implemented
  3. Mindset and culture: A way of thinking which relies on processes and data in order to continuously improve by consistently reaching operational performance goals

The three elements of Lean Six Sigma reinforce each other. Analytical tools and techniques will not be used efficiently unless there’s a process in place for applying them, and each person in the organization has a continuous improvement mindset that creates the need for them.

No improvement process will lead to the necessary results unless it includes the tools and techniques needed to define the process steps activity. And, a culture that insists on a systemic, data-based approach to solving issues is essential.

But, a culture of continuous improvement will be continuously frustrated if there are no analytical tools and techniques available, and no methods or processes that can be easily applied to organize and focus any efforts toward improvement. This is why the Lean Six Sigma approach includes all three.

What is Lean?

Lean was developed as part of the Toyota Production system, with the fundamental driver being the elimination of waste. If a company is doing high-quantity, large-scale production like Toyota, a process that includes waste means that the company is producing the same scale and quantity of waste; something that no organization wants to do. The five principles of lean manufacturing are:

  1. Value: This is determined by what the consumer considers to be of importance within a product or service, compared to what the individuals developing or delivering the product or service think
  2. Value stream: This is a set of business activities and steps that are involved in the creation and delivery of products or services to the customer. The value stream connects the steps, rather than considering each step alone
  3. Flow: The uninterrupted flow of activities that provide value to the customer, compared with waste and inefficiency, which interferes with the flow through the value stream
  4. Pull: The degree at which the value stream is processing products and services that there is customer demand for, compared to creating something and hoping that there will be a need for it
  5. Perfection: The constant assessment of value stream performance in order to identify and improve the value created and delivered to the customer.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma was first developed during the late 1980s at Motorola. The methodology was pioneered by quality engineers Bob Galvin and Bill Smith, with the ultimate goal of improving the way that the quality and measurement systems worked in order to eliminate errors. At the time, the Motorola systems were tolerant of error rates that led to too much waste, reworks, redundant testing, and customer dissatisfaction.

The Six Sigma approach focused heavily on identifying and eliminating anything that led to variation in the process. With the elimination of the variation, it became much easier to precisely predict process results every time. But, the engineers at Motorola knew from experience that many process changes were ineffective as they did not address the root cause of the problem. And, as operators reverted back to doing things in the original manner over time, the changes made would not stick. Therefore, Six Sigma was organized with these five phases, to address these issues.

  1. Define: A stage where the boundaries for the process being analyzed are set, along with the expectations or desired performance defined from customer perspective. The aim of this stage is to ensure that any changes enhance, rather than degrade the customer experience.
  2. Measure: This phase measures the current performance of the process, service or product in order to determine what is actually occurring – particularly from the customer’s perspective. It ensures that the analysis and solution are based on actual performance.
  3. Analyze: This phase analyzes the process, product or service using measured data, determining the source or sources of any variations that are leading to the problem. It ensures that the true root cause of the issue, rather than a symptom, is identified.
  4. Improve: By this phase, the possible changes to the process, product or service are determined, and a set of changes for a solution is designed and tested. Testing is important to ensure that the solution leads to the desired effect, where the variation is eliminated or reduced.
  5. Control: In the final stage, the changes are applied, the supporting systems are updated, and the product, service or process is put under statistical process control in order to ensure that the solution is fully implemented in a sustainable manner.

Why Veterans are a Good Fit for Lean Six Sigma:

If the U.S. military were a business, it would be the largest and most powerful organization worldwide. Efficiency must absolutely be prioritized in order to remain effective in an entity of that size. And it’s ingrained in every single military process from the way that service members dress to the methods by which information is communicated.

The good news for veterans looking to transition to civilian work is that this mindset aligns closely with Lean Six Sigma. Training in Lean Six Sigma is already available through the army for service members, but even without certification, you already have a strong foundation on which to build.

How to Get Certified in Lean Six Sigma:

There are several options to consider when it comes to getting professional training in Lean Six Sigma. A college degree is not always necessary, although if you are aiming high with your civilian career and want to challenge yourself, you might want to consider a lean manufacturing degree available at an institution like Kettering University Online. Coupled with Lean Six Sigma certification and your military experience and skills, this can help you stand out in the candidate pool.

There are three levels of Six Sigma certification:

  1. Green Belt: This provides a basic understanding of statistical analysis along with the ability to analyze and solve problems related to processes. Typically, you will need to get at least three years of relevant work experience before getting a green belt.
  2. Black Belt: This certification focuses heavily on leadership and decision-making and how they relate to process improvement. You will need at least three years of relevant work experience along with successful completion of one relevant project.
  3. Master Black Belt: This certification provides you with the skills and knowledge necessary to act as liaisons with upper managers or coaching others about process improvement. You will need at least five years of Black Belt experience along with successful completion of at least five Black Belt projects.

Whichever path you choose when it comes to getting qualified in Lean Six Sigma, you’re headed in a good direction.

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