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VIEWPOINT - Making common sense common practice

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- My favorite uncle, Joe Kader, was fond of telling dry, deadpan jokes. One autumn day years ago when I was a teenager, I was taking a walk with him around his farm when a huge flock of Canadian geese flew over in their typical V-formation.

Uncle Joe Kader gazed up into the sky and asked me, "Do you know why one side of the V-formation is longer than the other?"

I thought about it for a minute and failing to come up with any logical explanation to his question, I responded, "I have no idea."

Uncle Joe Kader flashed his famous "got ya" grin and stated "Because there are more geese on that side." After falling for his jokes every time, he'd follow up with how most of life's successes could be had by simply applying good old common sense. I think he was right.

Over the past 30 years in the Air Force, one of the recurring themes I have supported and worked hard at over the years is helping the Air Force become more effective and efficient. If Joe Kader was still around he'd tell you becoming more effective and efficient are good things and just common sense. I think he'd be right again.

I believe the Air Force is making it difficult to apply common sense. We make it hard to understand and execute when we apply too much sloganeering and use flavor-of-the-month buzzwords.

As a second lieutenant back in 1981, the Air Force's latest version of process improvement was the pursuit of Quality Circles. Since then I've seen Integrated Process Teams, Process Action Teams, Tiger Teams, Deming's 14 Point Management Method, Juran's Management Method, Management By Objectives, Total Quality Management, Quality Air Force, Process Redesign, Empowerment Training, Reengineering, Business Process Reengineering, Process Transformation and our latest incarnation, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century.

I have labored mightily in all the above over the years and believe each effort brought some relative level of success and benefit to the Air Force. But if my Uncle Joe Kader was still with us he would surely point out the commonality across all the programs: they all are about process improvement! I think he'd be right again.

Let's cut the hoopla and keep it simple. I suggest a three step mental process as you work our eight-step methodology.

First, identify your key processes. Ask yourself why your organization exists and the answer will lead to the identification of your key processes. This is known formally as Strategic Alignment and Deployment.

Second, apply meaningful performance measures to your key processes. Some folks call them "metrics." "Meaningful" being defined as customer-focused and, if the performance measure goes wacko, it will drive leadership intervention and corrective action.

Customer-focused performance measures are not hard to develop. Ask yourself what is it about your process the customer cares about. Is it how long it takes? Apply a cycle time performance measure. Is it the quality of the output? Apply a defect rate performance measure. Is it the cost of your product or service? Apply a cost per unit performance measure.

You may elect to apply a combination of the three; for example let's say you are an F-15E pilot and the "key process" you own is blasting ground targets. We can apply cycle time; how long is your sortie length? We can apply defect rate; how many bombs missed your intended target? We can apply cost per unit; how much did it cost to execute the sortie? Armed with the answers to these questions you can very easily transition to applying the tools and techniques as applicable to every step of the the 8-Step process. Your efforts could lead you to identifying a shorter egress route resulting in shorter cycle time and cheaper fuel cost. Or it could lead you to select a different bomb load determined to be more effective against your desired target resulting in lower defect rate. Or you may find a faster and safer method of uploading bombs resulting in reduced cycle time for sortie turnaround and a reduction in the number of work-related injures.

The third and last step is to hold people accountable to meet the new standard. The eight-step method is simple and it works...and most importantly, when done right, is effective.

Our senior leadership speaks clearly on AFSO21. As former Secretary Wynne stated: "We will fund transformation through ... organizational efficiencies, process efficiencies, reduction of legacy systems and manpower while sustaining GWOT and ongoing operations in support of the Joint Fight." That's pretty clear. Simply put, we need money for recapitalization and modernization efforts and we're going to get it by reducing the amount of time it takes to get things done and manpower costs (read cycle time and cost per unit reduction). All the while ensuring we remain effective. Even Uncle Joe Kader could understand that.

We make it tough when well intended folks start wordsmithing and jazzing up our message with the latest buzzwords. I recently witnessed a presentation addressing a serious process improvement effort and a slide addressed cost reduction efforts and read: "Synchronizes process redesign funding allocations across implementation initiatives." While I'm absolutely sure the author knows exactly what it means and all the supporting rationale behind it, after reading it I immediately got a mental picture of my uncle scratching his head with a "What the...huh!?" expression across his face. If we expect every Airman to understand and help execute our process improvement efforts, why do we make it so hard to understand?

After all, according to Uncle Joe Kader, "It's all just a bunch of common sense; problem is, common sense is not always common practice." There he goes again, I think he's right.
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