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Innovative training fosters acquisition transformation

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force acquisition community is transforming the way it does business by not only reforming its processes but also changing the way its workforce thinks and acts.

To accomplish this, Paradigm Learning Inc., helped the Air Force develop a new learning tool for the entire acquisition workforce, according to Sandra L. Meckley, a management analyst in the Air Force's acquisition management policy division at the Pentagon. The training will be unlike anything most airmen and civilians have ever experienced, she said.

"It's serious, but it's also fun," she said. "This innovative tool, the Air Force Acquisition Discovery Map and Simulation Exercise, was developed exclusively for the Air Force and is based on a learning method called discovery learning."

Training will begin in March at the Pentagon, at Air Force Materiel Command headquarters, at product and logistics centers and at other acquisition workplaces. The Air Force's acquisition leaders are pushing to have thousands of people experience the training in the next six months.

Discovery learning differs from traditional methods of training or schooling that people may have gone through in the past, Meckley said.

"It's definitely not 'death by PowerPoint,'" she said.

The new method has been used by 60 percent of "Fortune 1000" companies. It takes advantage of games, simulations and other high involvement activities to help people understand and internalize new information and messages, Meckley said.

At the center of the training is a huge, brightly colored map that features everything from modern weapons systems to ogres, castles and moats. By exploring the map, Meckley said, participants "discover roadblocks inherent in our current process, the need for change and the potential in moving to a new system that stresses speed, credibility and collaboration."

Blaise J. Durante, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition integration, said the Air Force chose discovery learning because the service needed a way to help its people understand the importance of a needed cultural change.

Gen. Lester Lyles, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, agreed.

"I really believe our people are going to like this type of training," Lyles said. "This talks about what I think people want. They want to innovate. They want to seize the initiative, and they want to be free to do their best for our warfighters. This training lays the groundwork for that."

"Agile Acquisition: The Transformation Discovery Map" is a half-day training seminar designed to impart four key principles to the participants.

The principles include: collaborating with people, thinking innovatively to come up with creative solutions to problems, building trust between business partners, and encouraging people to take a vested interest in what they're doing to make the acquisition process better, Meckley said.

The half-day training, conducted by a facilitator on videotape, begins with a simulation where each participant plays a different part of the current acquisition process. They will try to get a product through the procurement cycle to the warfighter using today's acquisition realities, she said.

"This first portion of the training results in the trainees successfully getting the product to the warfighter but at a higher cost and increased production cycle, highlighting the need for acquisition transformation," Meckley said.

After the introductory exercise comes the Discovery Map activity. Trainees are shown the Discovery Map, which is a large graphical representation of both the current and transformed acquisition process. They are able to discuss the current process and how they can make a positive impact not only on the acquisition community but also on the warfighters.

The trainees then replay the first scenario. However, this time they are asked to bring a different mindset to the game and try to apply the new behaviors outlined in the Discovery Map activity.

"They should experience the benefits that result from following the Discovery Map and see how they are able to get a quality product through the acquisition cycle to the warfighter in less time and at a lower cost than originally projected by applying what they learned," she said.

The final portion of the training seminar gives participants an opportunity to look at how they can apply what they learned to their own work and to discuss their experiences with the group. They will also develop a personal-action plan that outlines how each one will apply these lessons for themselves once they return to their duty locations, she explained.

"This training will help our people clearly envision where we came from, what is generating the cause for this change, and most importantly, where we need to go and how we are going to get there," Durante said. "Everyone should have fun while gaining immeasurable insight."

Acquisition officials intend to offer Discovery Map training to everyone in the acquisition community. Eventually, the training will also be offered to other people involved in the procurement process, Meckley said.

Dr. Marvin R. Sambur, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said the objective of this training is to help everyone involved in the acquisition process understand the need for change, the power of innovation and collaboration and the benefits of embracing a new way of doing business.

"It's not about changes to the process, but how we as individuals can change our behavior and mindset to enable acquisition transformation," Sambur said. "Only by transforming our acquisition process will we be able to provide the warfighters with the expected capability in the expected amount of time and at the expected cost."

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