The key to innovation: YOU

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The question: in the current climate of fiscal constraints, how do we continue making the mission happen?

Several years ago, the Air Force set out to solve this very issue. Thus was born a program called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century an initiative where organizations reexamine their own procedures and processes to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

"AFSO21 is all about saving time, money and doing things smarter," explained Master Sgt. Jim Ottman, the wing AFSO21 Superintendent. "If an organization is interested in finding ways to be more efficient, contacting the AFSO21 office is the first step."

Airmen like Ottman have been specially trained to use tools and concepts to an organization and find small ways to improve routine actions into larger savings over time. For example, last year when the staff at the comptroller squadron had fallen below Air Mobility Command standards on military pay accuracy, Ottman was able to help them reevaluate their process and solve the issue.

He met with the staff and talked with them about their daily routines. What he found was a lack of process standardization within the staff and an overall breakdown in communication.

During the event, Ottman had candid conversations with the staff about some of the issues they faced. He had some suggestions on what they could do, but really, they were the ones who had the answers, he said.

"I coached them along and helped them focus on the waste associated with their everyday processes," Ottman explained." With their hard work and bright ideas I helped them make a couple of small changes - cheat sheets printed out at the counter to input correct codes, dedicated time to file pay data and an internal cut off to make sure documents are put into the system by 3 p.m. every day.

"So when someone gets upset because the customer service desk closes at 1500," Ottman added, "keep in mind it's because they're making sure everyone on base is getting paid."

The staff saw the pay off just a few weeks later when their accuracy rate improved 20 percent and processing time was reduced 30 percent.

AFSO21 experts like Ottman use an eight-step problem-solving process based on the "OODA Loop" principle.

"We're taught in professional military education to use the OODA Loop - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act," Ottman said. "AFSO21 is an extension of that idea. We look at a situation and go through the steps to find ways to eliminate waste to save time and money, which is very important in today's Air Force because we all have constraints on manpower and resources.

"The only solution is to make ourselves more efficient," he added. "Commercial industries have been using these ideas for years, so we know it works."

AFSO21 has its roots in programs called "Six Sigma" and "Lean," which were developed by manufacturers to ensure product output stayed efficient.

"Everyone wants to get more bang for the buck," Ottman joked.

Anyone interested in finding ways to get more bang for their buck can contact Ottman and schedule an AFSO21 event.

"It's my job to find ways to help you do yours more efficiently," he said. "And while I offer an outsider's viewpoint - because that might be all that's needed sometimes - really it's the people who do the job day in and day out who have the answers. Supervisors should encourage people to speak up if they have a better way of doing something.

"You," Ottman added, "are the answer."