Joint Base Charleston


Continuous process improvement begins with you

By Col. Albert Miller | 437th Airlift Wing vice commander | November 20, 2012

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As our civilian leaders search for solutions to the country's mounting fiscal challenges, we must continually find ways to work smarter, not harder.

With possible manning and budget reductions on the horizon, finding efficiencies in everyday operations is vital to the success of our mission at Joint Base Charleston and of the United States military as a whole.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley touched on this in September when he said looming budget reductions would drive our force to protect readiness by "trading size for quality."

The message is out there; we must all look for ways to find efficiencies as we can no longer afford to apply brute force manpower to overcome a problem. We have to learn to work smarter.

Therefore, it is no secret where we stand now or where we need to go. However, how do we get there?

First, we all must examine our workplaces to find efficiencies. Not simply making change for change's sake, but if there is a possible improvement - make your voice heard. Squadron, group and wing leadership want and need your help. The wing has a select group of trained and highly skilled individuals who are ready to help facilitate and take your Continuous Process Improvement ideas to the next level.

Not every idea has to go through a full eight-step problem-solving process to be successful. Most ideas brought forward culminate in a "just-do-it" and the problem gets resolved very quickly. The important lesson here is to speak up if you have an idea, because your leadership realizes the best ideas come from the men and women on the front line getting the job done every day.

Make your plan known and you will get the support you need to realize efficiencies in your shop. One of the best parts of my job is I often get the opportunity to sit in on Rapid Improvement Event out-briefs. I see firsthand, the progress our Airmen and civilians make as they take ownership of their work centers and seek to find efficiencies wherever possible.

At the RIE out-briefs, I always ask the participants a few questions: Did they have any reservations before beginning the RIE? Did they know what to expect during the RIE? After working through the process, do they feel their time was worthwhile and do they see how the RIE could benefit them?

Without fail, the responses are always the same. Before beginning the process, they have all had reservations about the worthiness of an RIE. This was probably due to the answer they give to the second question, which is they really did not know what to expect during the RIE. The best part is the answer to the final questions, which validate the process when they are believers who feel the time spent on the RIE was worth it, and they see how the recommendations and action plan will benefit them.

As we strive to streamline our processes, the 437th Airlift Wing has conducted several RIEs in the last year. For example, the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron recently examined an issue they were having with repeat and recurring maintenance discrepancies. Essentially, the rates had exceeded Air Mobility Commands standards for five out of six months, so they held an RIE to determine a root cause and ways to address it.

After gathering subject matter experts together with a facilitator and providing a distraction-free environment, they combed through two years' worth of data, identified areas for improvement and developed six JDIs to combat the problem. By recognizing the issue and addressing it, the 437th AMXS not only has a way forward, but also a history of steps taken to fix this issue.

The 437th Aerial Port Squadron has conducted RIEs to fix inefficiencies in the pre-deployment process and also vehicle and Material Handling Equipment tracking. After implementing several ground-level training and procedural changes for vehicle tracking, the squadron expects to see a work force savings of 95 percent on 33 percent of the vehicle fleet.

As I mentioned earlier, not all good ideas will require an RIE. More often, an Airman's idea will result in a JDI project. The 437th Operations Group completed 19 JDIs and/or projects this year alone, ranging from training improvements to decoration tracking. Perhaps most importantly, by maintaining a record of these improvement efforts and countermeasures, the group can easily reference the lessons of the past and better understand the necessary steps required to make the process even more efficient in the future.

Clearly, we will face some challenges as the defense budget changes and priorities shift in the next few years, however, it is important for all of us to work toward improving our processes now. By eliminating what is not necessary and focusing on what is necessary, we 'can' do more with less -- less effort. If you can do your job more efficiently, get your chain of command involved and document your progress ... CPI starts with you!


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