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Making Training Development Processes More Efficient Through Lean Six Sigma

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In July 2009, the Army Soldier Support Institute (SSI) hosted an Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) accreditation team. The Recruiting and Retention School (RRS) had just completed a Lean Six Sigma project on training development and identified a new process for developing training materials and lesson plans. The TRADOC accreditation team identified RRS’s innovative, streamlined process as a best practice during its visit to SSI. This article describes how RRS used technology to develop training for a geographically dispersed command while minimizing the impact on training delivery in a rapidly changing environment.

As SSI strategically plans for Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN), RRS has developed innovative, creative, and adaptive methods to generate course materials, process change requests, and maintain audit trails for accreditation purposes. RRS has been very successful in streamlining the training development processes and enhancing the ARFORGEN relationship among institutional, organizational, and self-development training domains. RRS offers a dynamic, streamlined training development process, innovative training solutions, and the integration of multiplatform systems for single-source documentation management.

In recent years, RRS has struggled with decreasing resources and a smaller workforce. So, in February 2008, the school’s commandant sent the director of training to the Army Lean Six Sigma course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The instructions from the commandant were simple: get trained and launch a study on how to streamline the training development processes. With a training development team (TD shop) of 10 people, including 8 civilians and 2 Soldiers, RRS developed the training materials for 16 functional courses that had to be relevant to the ever-changing recruiting environment.

The project was launched in March 2008 and was completed just before the TRADOC accreditation visit in July 2009. During the final accreditation briefing, the accreditation team recognized the RRS TD shop as the most innovative, motivated, and dedicated training development team they had seen in over 30 years. The lessons learned from the RRS Lean Six Sigma project can be shared by all Army schools.

Applying Lean Six Sigma to Training Development

The RRS TD shop established a charter and immediately designed a SIPOC [supplier, input, process, output, and customer] model of the current training development process. Once the process was defined and properly scoped, the director of training brought in five of the TD shop’s customers, the RRS cadre instructors.

The instructors were given a quick briefing on the process and were asked what was important to them. All five agreed that a training developer’s most important tasks are lesson plans, multimedia products, examinations, and any homework or practical exercises used in class. When asked why these tasks are so important, the instructors shared that they cannot stand to be embarrassed on the platform with bad test questions, outdated training materials, and grammatically incorrect documents. They did not know what audit trails, critical task site selection boards, Training Requirements Analysis System (TRAS) documents, and quality assurance procedures were. They simply wanted quality, relevant products.

Once the cadre clearly defined the voice of the customer (the critical customer requirements), the TD shop documented the voice of the business (business requirements, regulatory guidance, organizational leaders’ desires, and TRADOC mandates). The team briefed the RRS commandant and deputy commandant, Colonel James Comish and Lieutenant Colonel Alfonso Mandujano, Jr. The briefing revealed that the commandant expected the TD shop to update all 16 courses and make sure the material was as relevant as possible—and do so with only the 10 personnel already assigned to the TD shop.

The team was given complete autonomy to create a process that would satisfy both the customer and the business requirements. As the team moved forward, they had to capture the current processes and determine how well they were performing.

To gauge current process efficiency, the TD shop designed an evaluation sheet for the products developed by the process. The five products the team reviewed were critical tasks, lesson plans, multimedia, practical exercises and homework, and examinations. For each of the 5 products, the team took a sample of 30 pieces of course material and graded each of them against the evaluation sheet. The team found that the current processes were producing products full of errors, key training management items were missing, and critical tasks were not linked to testing.

The TD shop personnel investigated each step in the process and discussed them all thoroughly. They soon realized they had too many redundant systems managing the training material development processes. They were attempting to manage all the training materials in several different software packages, including the Automated Systems Approach to Training (ASAT) and its replacement, Training Development Capability (TDC), Digital Training Management System, Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and Blackboard. The team decided it was time to streamline, standardize, and let the software packages do what they do best.

The New Training Development Process

The TD shop brainstormed and had weekly Six Sigma meetings for more than 2 months and, after several pilots and newly developed software capabilities, soon developed a new training development process.

The new process requires six steps. Step 1 is to identify change requirements. Step 2 is to update lesson materials. Step 3 is to update examination materials, as needed. Step 4 is to update or validate TRAS document changes, as needed. Step 5 is to complete a quality control and approval process. Finally, Step 6 is to notify personnel of the change or conduct instructor and key personnel training (IKPT).

Identify change requirements. No formal or informal methods had been established to identify the needed changes to course materials. Previously, instructors would make their own changes and not share those changes with other instructors or the training developers. The change requirements for RRS training materials came from a long list of contributors, and a training developer could spend his entire workday researching and looking for necessary changes and often not find the reference to document a desired change.

To address the many change requirements, the TD shop asked the cadre, staff, and doctrine writers to submit change requests. Initially, the TD shop had a difficult workload because of all the necessary changes, but after 2 years, the workload is now very manageable.

The TD shop personnel developed a SharePoint-based workflow system to accommodate change requests. This system allows field users, cadre, and Army Recruiting Command staff members to review training materials and submit change requests to help keep training material current and relevant. Because of this system, training material changes no longer lag behind doctrine changes.

Update lesson materials. The biggest gap among the lesson plans, multimedia, and practical exercises and homework was caused by the systems that were being used. Lesson plans were written on a Microsoft Word document generated from ASAT/TDC, and a separate Microsoft PowerPoint presentation was used for the multimedia, and yet another type of document was used for practical exercises. Opportunities for error were scattered throughout the process. If a developer made one change to the lesson, he had to remember to make the change in all of the separate documents.

The entire training package for a lesson plan is now developed and contained in one PowerPoint document. The team discovered that all business requirements could be added to the document to eliminate the need for copying and pasting files from Microsoft Word into ASAT/TDC. If a change occurs, the training developer simply edits one document and all changes are captured in the lesson plan, multimedia, and practical exercises and homework, thus eliminating opportunities for error.

Again, the TD shop used SharePoint, this time to control versioning, make the files readily accessible to all cadre and field users, and maintain the audit trail of the changes. SharePoint allows for maximum control, excellent audit trails, and complete sharing of course material.

The TD shop also chose Blackboard for resident instructors to use when teaching students internal (resident) or external to the institution. All lessons remain on SharePoint while instructors use the Blackboard platform for examinations, check-on-learning exercises, surveys, and homework.

Update examination materials. After creating course test plans (through SharePoint) for each of the courses, an audit trail was formed to track changes to critical tasks, knowledge, and skills. An audit trail allows a developer to have a visual representation of the test plan to ensure that all critical testing hurdles are designed and implemented.

SharePoint serves as the primary location for all test plans, audit trails, and skill-to-knowledge task matrices. This audit trail previously was not captured by any system and was often maintained on a local server or training developer’s hard drive, which hindered collaborative development procedures.

A new initiative began by having the course managers migrate all testing and check-on-learning questions to Blackboard. So that an instructor can ascertain whether or not all students understand the information, instructors measure each student’s learning with three to five questions at the end of every lesson. This offers a better picture of student understanding and allows cadre to better coach and mentor each student.

Update or validate TRAS documents. The next step was to ensure all TRAS documents reflected all changes made to the curriculum. It is important to “balance the check book” for training programs. The TD shop realized that instructors were often teaching 8 weeks of training materials in 7-week courses. This was because of the tendency over time to add a small training support package or lesson plan to a course. The increase of lesson plans was not being captured, and needed resources were not being documented.

Instructors must now verify that the changes being made have not affected or altered the current individual training plan. They must also ensure that the terminal learning objectives information is current, resources are validated, and all other tabs in ASAT/TDC remain relevant. ASAT/TDC is the primary system for course administrative data and program-of-instruction development and is an excellent tool to document these requirements. ASAT/TDC does a great job of generating Soldier training publications and officer and civilian foundation standard documents. Training development personnel are required to validate that all critical skills, knowledge, or tasks remain current and relevant. These final approved documents are in the TRAS folder in SharePoint.

Maintaining a balance between the program of instruction, the training schedule, and available lesson materials is essential. These documents are maintained on SharePoint, and when changes are required because of new mission requirements, the request for change generates an approval workflow.

Complete quality control and approval. Lean Six Sigma describes quality control as waste. If you have to stop the process to ensure it is running correctly, then you have added waste to the cycle. It is better to control for errors and eliminate opportunities to create errors rather than add quality control to a process.

Given this information, the TD shop added control sheets at each of the new process steps to ensure that a training developer has a tool to gauge his work. Once the instructor meets the minimum requirements of the control sheets, he can move the documents through SharePoint workflow to be approved for publication and incorporation into the courses.

SharePoint allows for a documented approval process, which reduces the need to transfer large files through email. RRS successfully fielded this system and reduced email server requirements.Training developers now generate workflows through the system directly to the director of training. Previously, the process had three levels of quality control that required the document to be returned several times before an approval could be obtained. This process of perfection has been eliminated, and training materials are released to production with a 90-percent or higher error-free rate.

Notify personnel of change or conduct IKPT.
Once the approval process has been completed and the training materials have been approved, one of two types of notification must occur. If the change is minor and requires no major adjustments to training schedules, delivery methods, or content, then the process is simple. The training developer notifies all cadre and division chiefs, through SharePoint, that a new file is posted and provides a simple write-up describing the change.

If the change is major, the training developer is required to schedule IKPT. This process allows the developer to deliver the training as designed and offer instructors a chance to ask questions or garner additional clarity if needed.

SharePoint files can be edited and an email can be sent to all members of the group to notify personnel of the change. If there are any questions or the material was changed incorrectly, instructors can still submit a workflow to address any changes that may still be needed.

The instruction for IKPT may be delivered face-to-face or virtually. If done virtually, the use of Centra Virtual Classroom is the primary tool used. When the training is delivered face-to-face, all instruction is provided through SharePoint to reinforce the use of current systems.

RRS has delivered training to over 15,000 field users through a blend of approaches, including institutional (resident instruction using SharePoint and Blackboard), organizational (synchronous virtual instruction using Centra), and self-development (asynchronous instruction through Blackboard, the Army Learning Management System, webpages, and SharePoint). This new business process allows all course material to be linked from SharePoint to all other software systems that are used for educational delivery. Virtual training sessions are easily accessible, and the new approach allows for posting homework, taking quizzes, completing check-on-learning activities, taking examinations, and participating in distance learning.

The Army is beginning to use SharePoint at an enterprise level. SharePoint allows schools to share and communicate training products, so all organizations should consider it and take a new look at some old problems.

The key capability development from TDC is the ability to have one standardized process across TRADOC for TRAS development, management, and sharing. RRS has developed a process using current Army enterprise systems, and it shares all files with field users, other institutions and schools, higher headquarter elements, and staff principles. TRADOC TRAS managers, training developers, and distance learning managers could easily adopt these processes.

Donald D. Copley, Jr., is the director of training and personnel development at the Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and master’s degrees from Webster University in human resources management and human resources development.

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