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173rd FW fosters innovation across all ranks

During an exercise demonstrating lean principles, from right, Master Sgt. Melissa Monson, Tech. Sgt. James Hubbard and Staff Sgt. Dianna Pena and Tech. Sgt. Shawna Damrow work as a team to prepare identical sets of index cards in as short a time as possible. The 8-Steps to Problem Solving class stresses process analysis as a way to identify waste and increase efficiency. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

During an exercise demonstrating lean principles, from right, Master Sgt. Melissa Monson, Tech. Sgt. James Hubbard and Staff Sgt. Dianna Pena and Tech. Sgt. Shawna Damrow work as a team to prepare identical sets of index cards in as short a time as possible. The 8-Steps to Problem Solving class stresses process analysis as a way to identify waste and increase efficiency. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --

The United States Department of Defense is navigating budget turmoil which began in 2013 with sequestration, and continues today with a six-year congressional stalemate on passing a defense appropriations bill. Instead, congress has relied on continuing resolutions to fund the DoD and avert government shut downs, which can occur when neither side can agree to its terms going forward. Those six years have taken their toll, with readiness numbers trending down along with retention numbers, while the average age of weapons platforms and equipment is trending up. The Air Force is hard-hit in this environment due to its charter of air power and thus the reliance on airborne platforms including fighter aircraft and airlift capability.

These challenges visit difficulties upon many units including the 173rd Fighter Wing where F-15C pilots begin their careers. Currently, this unit copes with an ageing airframe that, unless extensive refurbishment programs are undertaken, will continue to soak up increasingly more maintenance and repair efforts to keep the mission capability rate high. Additionally, high attrition rates of fighter pilots are leaving cockpits empty and so the active-duty Air Force is asking Kingsley Field to ramp up pilot production as high as possible.

Squeezed between these competing realities, the 173rd Fighter Wing has responded with a drive to innovate processes and workflow. The first initiative offered at the wing is open to any who would like to participate—it’s called the the 8-Steps to Problem Solving. The title of the class may invoke images of communications principles, or of working through personality conflicts in between coworkers, but in reality this training is a very scientific and data driven approach to analyzing one’s workflow.

“This course gives a systematic way to view everyday tasks as a process,” said 2nd Lt. Jeremy Riblett, the project officer. “By turning activities into a process, and using tools from the course, areas in our own process can be identified where we are creating waste.”

In the past, training like this has been called Quality Air Force, AFSO21, and some current practices include Lean/Six Sigma among others. The underpinning philosophy of all of these is that there potential efficiencies lie in understanding what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it.

Lt. Col. Keith Townsend, the courses instructor, stresses that efficiency is not necessarily looking at what we do and finding ways to do it faster, instead he says, “Efficiency is killing waste.”

He explains that when we analyze our processes using hard data we can start to identify wasteful parts of the process. One local example of eliminating waste is the new process for creating appointment letters. In the past, appointment letters were carefully formatted official memorandums and required a commander’s physical signature. As often as not, the back-and-forth to get the formatting just right took longer than the actual drafting process. The 173rd FW commander has chosen to remove this waste by moving the process to email and requiring a simple “approve” or “disapprove” response from the commander.

“This was a fantastic example of eliminating waste,” said Riblett. “An outdated, time consuming process was changed allowing for a much quicker turn around in letters from the commander being signed.”

Riblett hopes that by spreading this kind of training members from all over the wing will help eliminate time consuming and less productive activities, making room for the critical work of flying aircraft and training new pilots. The next offering of the 8-Step course is planned for September.

By learning to eliminate waste in our own day-to-day lives, we can become better stewards of our resources, saving our own time, and the Air Forces money.”  

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