In February 2015, I participated in the Army’s Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt training. It was a great course and it provided me with an opportunity to put my quantitative analysis skills to use in a setting other than a CFA study session. It dovetailed quite nicely with my CFA level 2 quant studies at the time. I never realized until I took the class that the “Six Sigma” in the title referred to 3 standard deviations from the mean (3 standard deviations above and 3 standard deviations below equals 6). It is basically a process to reduce deficiencies to the point where they rarely happen (we are usually only concerned with one tail of the distribution here, so, the deficiencies would be reduced to .015% of the time or 1.5 out of 10,000 attempts). The other half of the title is “Lean” and it refers to reducing waste and making processes more efficient.

The reason I bring up my Lean Six Sigma training over a year after I completed it is because once in a while I come across something so amazingly inefficient that it boggles the mind. After my training, I often view the world through my Lean Six Sigma Lense. The latest example is when my family began the process of renewing our children’s passports. How long should a passport require to be produced? In my mind, this should be done in one day and the longest wait should be the actual physical delivery of the passport. You fill out an application, the State Department checks against whatever databases they need to in order to ensure you are not some raving mad lunatic, they hit the print button and Violá. Passport complete.

Imagine my surprise when the State Department says that it will take 6 weeks to get a passport renewed (screen shot of the madness below).


Maybe passports are more complicated than I could possibly imagine. Let’s assume passports are extremely complicated and compare them to manufacturing a car. How long does it take to put something complicated together like an automobile? According to this paper by Robert M. Wilson, in North America, it varies from 28.46 hours per vehicle for Nissan to 35.82 for Ford.  Assuming a passport is an equally arduous task as the production of a Ford Mustang, what is the State Department doing with the other 972.18 hours necessary?

I have no idea, but I would love to see the swimlane for passports.