'Why' Smart Ops 21?

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Christina Sukach
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Why do we do the things we do, the way we do them in the Air Force?

“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” is a common reply.

While tradition is important to the existence of an organization, the growth required to propel an organization forward doesn’t happen without honestly applying the question of “Why?” to its processes.

Air Force Smart Operations 21, which encompasses the improvement tools of Lean, Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints, asks Airmen to consider and answer that very question.

Why are EPRs and OPRs getting stuck in in-boxes?

Why is this essential flightline cart traveling an extra mile and a half during each of its trips?

Why are we using two people to park a vehicle when we could do it with just one?

Airmen from across the base, looking for better ways of doing business, asked these questions and more. Their answers and solutions have improved more than two dozen processes as a result.

Smart Ops 21 is not a program -- it’s a way of thinking that senior leaders would like us to adopt throughout the Air Force. It’s creating a culture of workers who ask: “Why do we do it this way and how can we improve it?”

Master Sgt. Donald S. Ebert, 436th Aeromedical Dental Squadron bioenvironmental engineering flight chief here, was one of the Airmen viewing processes around him with an eye for improvement. He noticed that EPRs and OPRs were taking longer than necessary to make it through his squadron.

“We found that we were bumping up against a 21-day internal suspense and always fighting that suspense,” Sergeant Ebert said. “One way we figured we could shorten that was to spend less time having (paperwork) going back and forth and sitting on people’s desks.”

Through electronic coordination, Sergeant Ebert and his team changed their EPR and OPR staffing procedures, pushing 21 days down to 14.

Elsewhere Airmen from two groups, three squadrons and five shops got together to find out why liquid oxygen, or LOX, servicing carts were going through an eight-step process and traveling one and a half miles more than needed during every trip each made to and from the flight line. Through process review and reworking the technical orders, Airmen removed six steps and lopped off an extra 1.5 miles of travel per cart and transformed what was a three-day process into a 30-minute job.

Even though all involved have made vast improvements in regards to the process concerning the LOX carts, the reviewing process never stops, said Tech. Sgt. John E. Haller, 512th Airlift Wing electrical environmental systems technician.

“We’re constantly looking for better ways of doing this,” Haller said. “You sort-of get caught up in the paradigms of the people who have been around a long time, but the folks who come up with some of the best ideas are the senior airmen and the young staff sergeants who are actually doing the work”

Most of the process enhancements discovered by those who asked “Why?” are simple solutions.

Sometimes the answer to “Why?” can be as simple as painting pavement.
When Airmen from the 436th Aircraft Maintenance Group asked why they needed two people to move vehicles when the job could be done with one, the parking lot changed. Parking spots were converted from straight pull-in and back-out slots, which required spotters for safety reasons, to a fish-bone design in which drivers could just pull in and pull out, eliminating the need for the spotter and saving countless hours.

Second Lt. Jason Stutzman, 436th Maintenance Group Lean program manager, said most solutions are just common sense.

“This is simple,” Stutzman said. “We just look at our processes and say, ‘Look, we’ve been doing it this way for however many years -- why do we do it this way? Is there a better, faster, safer, more efficient way to do business?’ And 99 percent of the time there is. It’s just a matter of sitting down and having the courage to look at it with fresh eyes and say, ‘Okay, I’m willing to look at the process and see if there’s a better way to do business.’”