Our objective was to evaluate the U.S. Postal Service Greensboro District’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) Priority Air/Surface continuous improvement process project. We will also summarize our prior continuous improvement audit work.
What the OIG Found
Greensboro District management did not comply with DMAIC process requirements or meet its Priority Air/Surface service goal of 96 (out of 100) percent. In the last 20 weeks of the project the achieved service score was 94.01 percent, an improvement of only .02 percent.
The DMAIC process is a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) problem-solving method, which includes defining a problem and implementing solutions to establish best practices.
Between April 15, 2016, and February 16, 2017, the Greensboro District conducted a DMAIC project to improve its on-time Priority Air/Surface service score. Prior to beginning the DMAIC project the score was 93.99 percent.
The Greensboro District DMAIC team did not notify or involve the required benefit validator that is supposed to independently validate DMAIC project benefits, have a signed project charter, or ensure project documentation was consistent and updated. In addition, the LSS Green Belt candidate did not lead or complete the entire project and the LSS Black Belt candidate was certified prior to a required post-project interview by the Manager, Continuous Improvement Office. The Postal Service awards LSS Green and Black Belts to employees when they meet project leadership requirements.
We identified opportunities to save almost $11,000 in salaries, training, and travel costs for the Greensboro project team. We also made a referral to our Office of Investigations concerning the Greensboro District’s lack of compliance with the DMAIC process for a Green Belt candidate to lead and complete the LSS project.
While performance marginally improved during the Greensboro project and in the three prior projects we audited, none met their goal. We also identified recurring project management issues such as:
- Lack of leadership and independent supervision;
- LSS belt certifications awarded without required documentation or proper project completion;
- Project benefit validation process not followed and validator not independent of the project;
- Lack of segregation of duties;
- Missing or incomplete documentation;
- Absence of core project team members’ involvement; and
- Inaccurate documentation of project goals, targets, and results.
Since 2007, the Postal Service has documented over 7,000 LSS continuous improvement projects in its national LSS project tracker database and over 6,800 employees have attended LSS training, with about 3,490 becoming belt-certified. There are currently about 1,700 active projects.
In all four of our continuous improvement audits, we found inadequate project management due to a lack of oversight. The Manager, Continuous Improvement Office, delegated oversight responsibility to the area Master Black Belts. They are responsible for the continuous improvement projects in their Postal Service area; however, the manager did not put controls in place to ensure there were effective oversight reviews.
Because we found process issues in these and prior continuous improvement project audits, we analyzed a random sample of 150 of 567 Network Operations projects from the national LSS project tracker database for FYs 2015 through 2017. Overall, we found 130 projects had missing or incomplete documentation, 107 had members with improperly awarded belt certifications, and 46 did not report savings/costs in the LSS project tracker database.
When LSS processes are not followed, the estimated service and financial benefits cannot be measured and realized.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management:
- Ensure benefit validators are notified and involved throughout the benefit validation process.
- Ensure all LSS projects have signed charters and are consistent.
- Ensure project documentation is consistent, updated, and validated.
- Ensure LSS belt candidates complete entire projects properly with all required documents before receiving belt certifications.
- Develop and implement a control process to ensure that all LSS process requirements are followed.
- Ensure project costs and savings are independently evaluated and reported.