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Evolve or risk extinction

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joe Heilhecker
  • 6th Maintenance Squadron commander
A basic law of nature asserts species adapting to changes in their environment will evolve and survive. The ones lacking the capability to adapt will merely become nonexistent. In a similar fashion, free-market businesses will either adapt to changes in customers' expectations, supply chain situations and work force issues, or go out of business. As with college and professional sports, the teams aggressively adapting to injuries, new plays, and better skill development become successful. Others will fall short and eventually get new coaching staffs and players.

So what is changing for members of the 6th Air Mobility Wing? With the fiscal issues facing our government, budgets will definitely be cut. The Air Force is still over the authorized manning levels for active duty. Along with new civil service hiring rules of engagement, overall end strength will be lower. And, watching the world news there is no indication of stability in some regions and Mother Nature will still cause havoc around the globe requiring our support. Essentially, there is no sign of our current operations slowing and our deployment rates will remain high. Basically, we are facing reduced resources and manpower with the same operational tempo.

I know I'm not the brightest kid on the block, but it appears to me, status quo will not work. How should we address present and future problems? Well, problems aren't truly understood and solutions aren't found in a conference room. Lending to the idea of Go and See, leaders and team members should be at the point of truth ... where the problem is occurring. This will help elevate the problem to an opportunity for a cross-functional team to solve. If the "they" becomes "we," then problem solving gets much easier for a team with a common goal. Also while inquiring about the situation, the questions should address what, how and why leaving the "who" to the owls.

Accepting the problem as a process failure, not a personnel failure, will accelerate finding the root cause of the waste. If we take a moment to look at our processes from our customers' point of view, be your own customer, the waste becomes obvious. All of our processes have at least 80 percent waste and most have more than 90 percent. Then, with a little reflection, we'll realize we don't have money or manning problems. We are drowning in waste.

How often do we wait during our duty day? Travel back and forth for information, equipment, and supplies? Rework a form, slide, or package? Deal with a defect or mistake? Firefight to reach a goal? We are constantly dealing with waste with blind acceptance.

This condition highlights the tenet "Chaos is simple and simplicity is hard." Accepting the current wasteful process is far simpler than seeing and eliminating waste thereby changing people's behavior to a higher level of performance. Especially since many are passionately allergic to Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, the resistance to change is great. The elimination of waste in a methodical way is in all practical purposes stagnant. However, the results of true process improvement have teams doing less work while being more effective. AFSO21 takes common sense and makes it common practice by empowering Airmen to improve their daily operations. Ironically, this is exactly what our changing environment is demanding us to do.

So, will you change?