KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 403rd Wing is continuously seeking new ways to innovate and accelerate change to improve processes and increase efficiency, especially in times of increasing requirements and decreasing resources.
To educate wing leaders and spread awareness of Continuous Process Improvement and Innovation concepts, the Air Force Reserve unit hosted a two-day course for senior leaders here May 3-4.
CI2 is about finding ways to maximize Air Force resources and increase efficiency in areas concerning people, money and time, said Stacey Huffman, the 403rd Wing process manager who assists leadership with implementation of CI2.
The course was taught by Dr. Phil Chansler, Senior Leader Course instructor for Air University’s Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development Continuous Process Improvement School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The course was also attended by Brou Gautier, Department of the Air Force director of Spark Tank that sponsors the annual AF-wide innovation competition.
“Leadership and senior management play an essential role in setting the example and establishing the practices that ensure Airmen embrace the concepts of process improvement and innovation that help the unit perform more efficiently in all aspects of daily operations, which improves readiness,” said Chansler. “A culture of ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ can be chalked with waste, so leaders can show their Airmen respect by getting rid of the tasks that do not add any value and waste time.”
This is further emphasized in Air Force Instruction 90-201, The Air Force Inspection System, which states that leadership must be committed to have oversight of continuous process improvement methodologies for reducing waste in processes used to execute the mission, including feedback from those executing policy and guidance.
To assist leaders with the development and implementation of a strategic-level continuous process improvement approach, the course reviewed process improvement methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Business Process Re-engineering, Value Stream Mapping, and the Air Force CPI 8-Step Practical Problem Solving Model.
The 20 wing leaders who attended the course had various backgrounds with CI2 ranging from first-time attendees to the very experienced.
Lt. Col. Carmel Weed, 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, has an extensive background in CPI2 as he works at Air University with Dr. Chansler as a Black Belt Schoolhouse Instructor at Maxwell AFB. As a black belt, his expertise isn’t associated with martial arts, but the art of process improvement and lean initiatives. Individuals start with green belt training working their way towards a black belt certification.
“The Senior Leaders Course is intended to educate senior leadership on the principles and application of Air Force Process Improvement and Innovation. Coming to this course should prime us as leaders to be ready for the wing’s strategic alignment event in June, and this course will help us understand some of the moving parts and some of the value added pieces of what we are doing here,” he said, adding that as leaders their roles are to promote the CI2 program, sustain it and make those actions repeatable.
Weed is practicing what he preaches.
“I’ve created CPI business rules for my squadron that entails an awards program, a database to track all of our improvement efforts, and a data collection form for our Airmen to collect data on waste within our organization,” said Carmel. “I implemented the program during the April Unit Training Assembly and within 12 hours I got two submissions, one of which we will be taking action during the May UTA, building a team to start collecting data to get the process started.”
Lt. Col. David Gentile, 403rd Operational Support Squadron director of operations, also attended the course. He has taken part in process improvement and lean events in his career, although this is the first time he’s attended the CI2 Senior Leader Course.
“Obviously, the best case would be a full-on culture shift where everyone applies these concepts in their work centers, but the reality of it is, after being in for 19 years seeing various iterations of CPI, such as AFSO-21 (Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century), it can be a challenge to obtain a culture change. But if you can at least get people to identify and eliminate those tasks or processes that are a waste of time, then that is step in the right direction,” said Gentile. “And, the more exposure people get to it, the easier that culture shift will be.”
As an Air Force reserve unit, the 403rd Wing has 1,600 Citizen Airmen who come from 25 different states to train two days a month and 15 days a year, so time and efficiency is crucial when it comes to accomplishing the weather reconnaissance, tactical airlift and aeromedical evacuation missions and supply combat ready Airmen to combatant commanders, according to Huffman.
“So, it’s important that we listen to and support Airmen who have fresh ideas or have frustrations with processes in their work centers,” said Huffman.
In addition to providing wing Airmen a voice locally, either through squadron programs or through the wing’s feedback button on the Air Force Connect App, the Department of Defense and the Air Force have implemented programs where service members can share their innovative ideas service-wide. DEFENSE WERX and its associated “WERX” infrastructure, connects innovators across government, industry and academia. Information about the program is available at https://afwerx.com. Another option for Airmen is Spark Tank, an annual competition where Airmen can pitch innovative ideas to Department of the Air Force leadership and a panel of industry experts. It’s hosted each year at the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium. To support this program, the Secretary of the Air Force launched the Guardians and Airmen Innovation Network (GAIN) platform, which also allows members of the Air Force and Space Force to share their ideas. Visit, https://gain.apps.dso.mil/ for more information.