Work smarter, not harder

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon
  • 86th Airlift Wing commander
Last week several of our wing leaders learned about "lean principles" at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart. We made this trip to witness Porsche's continuous process improvement journey they have been on for the past 15 years.

Our Air Force is on a process improvement journey, too. While we haven't been doing it nearly as long as Porsche, we call our journey Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21. And the 86th Airlift Wing has been on our AFSO21 journey for a couple of years.

The reason Porsche started their journey was simple. Every year they were spending more money and working harder while producing less sports cars and suffering from decreased quality. Many within Porsche said in order to turn things around what the company needed was to spend more money and to hire more people. Instead, Porsche identified and eliminated wasteful areas and processes, eventually doing more with less. And as our two-day visit showed, they have been very, very successful.

Today our Air Force is faced with challenges very similar to those that Porsche faced 15 years ago. Our people are working incredibly hard. The U.S. taxpayers continue spending more money every year and as our AF mission expands, many say the only solution is spending more money and adding more people.

But right here in the 86th AW, bright Airmen are proving exactly the opposite. By embracing AFSO21 and focusing on continuous process improvement, several of our squadrons are doing their jobs smarter and safer, resulting in more efficient and effective mission accomplishment:

- Ramstein Official Mail Process: developed standard work, reduced number of process steps by 40 percent and processing time by 57 percent
- Driver's license testing process: Reducing customer wait time by increasing customer capacity 210 percent
- 86th Aerospace Maintenance Squadron Wheel and Tire Shop: reducing C-130 wheel and tire processing time by 75 percent
- 86th Logistics Group Report of Survey process: Standardize wing's ROS process, reduce number of steps in ROS process by 35 percent and ultimately reduce flow time for reports by 78 percent

And additional great customer focused AFSO21 events are coming soon:

- Finance Office customer service: USAA-style approach to customer service will eliminate customers waiting for up to three hours, anticipate reducing processing time by 80 percent and document rejects by 90 percent
- 86th Medical Group Special Needs Identification and Coordination operations: lean processing techniques will reduce total document flow time from 105 days to 38
- Housing referral office: reduce time to find a house from months to a couple weeks
- Pass and ID and Passports: reduce/eliminate customer waiting time

And we are not stopping there. Every First Term Airmen is receiving AFSO21 training before we send them to their units. Additionally, we are partnering with our sister wings at Aviano and Mildenhall in order to share our success as well as incorporate theirs. By sharing already-proven techniques with other commands, we can help spread the AFSO21, lean operations concept across U.S. Air Forces in Europe and our Air Force.

Successful organizations don't complain about what they can't control, they fix the things that they can. Porsche, a very successful company, has been on their process improvement journey for more than 15 years. While Porsche is years ahead of us, if our AFSO events listed above are any indicator, we are learning fast.

We have multiple challenges ahead: mission growth, high deployment rates, bigger budget cuts, more uncertainty. Rather than lamenting these challenges, I encourage each Airman to embrace AFSO21 and the continuous process improvement it brings, as demonstrated by Porsche and our own successful units.