An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

ACC commander outlines how to operate better, smarter, faster

  • Published
  • By Gen. Ronald E. Keys
  • Air Combat Command commander
I know what you're thinking. "Here it comes again - a new fad." And I've been in the Air Force long enough to have seen my share too. Lean, Six Sigma, Action Workout, Re-engineering, and Quality Air Force - we just never seemed to get them right across the Air Force. Either we improved in a scatter-shot pattern at the local level, or descended into a full-time program of education with no output, or couldn't get the policy level of the Air Force interested in kicking over the hurdles that really were holding up progress. 

But each time, within each effort, there were seeds of success: money saved, process time saved, quality improved. But we never got those seeds to sprout so we could harvest across our Air Force. AFSO21 is an approach to finally do it right - not a bunch of training, not a bunch of AFSO21 offices to stand up and drain manpower from an already stressed force.

The point of all this is that it is time for us to do some hard reviewing of our organizations and the processes within them. Soon we are going to be about 40,000 full-time equivalents smaller across the active, Guard, Reserve, and civilian force. That means we have to stop doing things that don't really add value to our force anymore - even if we do them very well. And we need to start looking at all of our processes to understand where the value-added steps are, and where is the waste and delay that can be carved out. 

Last December I asked everyone for some suggestions on where we start. I got 428 ideas - 122 on improvements and 304 that challenged the rules that impeded smart operations. The tenet is this: If today we started doing whatever it is we are doing - would we do it at all, and if so, would we do it the same way? If we started with a clean sheet of paper, what is the better, faster, cheaper way to do what needs to be done? So you have to start with your process and that really has to start with your customer. Who is demanding your product or service and why are you producing it in the first place? Once you get past that, then you take whatever it is that you make, improve, provide, and map out how you actually do that from the moment you start until you finish.

To look at it another way, I spend a lot of time talking with many of you when I visit your units. Most of the time I shake your hand and ask you, "How are you doing?" I haven't had anyone yet answer anything but an enthusiastic, "Great!" What would you do if I followed that up with one more question, "How do you know?" I'd be impressed if you said, "Well, here is what I am tasked to do, here is who I do it for, and here is how I know how fast I do it, how good the quality is, and how costly it is. And, I watch these metrics to compare how well I am doing against how well I should be doing - and they tell me I'm doing great!"

Some of you have done some great work already - mapping out the routine things you do, cutting out extraneous steps, reflowing your work, and making sure that each step that remains adds value, or if it doesn't add value per se, is it still required for safety, or legal safeguards, or other policy rules - and challenging the rules if they don't make sense for today's world. One unit found out they could save 5,000 hours per year by just changing where the entry point was on their parking ramp. That means 5,000 hours more spent on their jets. 

Another unit has succeeded in reordering how inspections are done so they only open jets up twice instead of four times to get things done, and that gets us 15 days more flying on each of their jets. 

There are countless examples out there of innovative thinking. So I encourage you all to get that big roll of wrapping paper, a basket-full of yellow-stickies, get your process buddies together and start sticking the steps on the paper. I think you'll be amazed at what you find out. 

Here are some things to consider as you do it: if the customer knew you were doing all the things you do to their product, would they want to pay for all of those things (a good judgment of value-added)? If not, why are you doing them? If the product is waiting for something or someone, why? If one of the steps is "inspecting," see how many times the inspector finds something. Can you design that fault out? Or, if the fault doesn't rise to the level of "fatal," can we accept the consequences, and skip "wasting time" looking for it? And by the way, it helps to have a couple of folks on your team who know nothing about the process. They can ask those embarrassing, "Why do you do that, and why do you put that there?" questions that you're too close to the process to see.

Remember, the output is mission accomplishment. "Faster, better, cheaper" is the filter for our measures of merit. If we can accomplish the mission faster, maybe we can reduce our shift time, or maybe we will have more capability available without more equipment. If we can do it better, maybe it will last longer and we will save on repair or rework time. If we can do it cheaper, maybe we can take that money and fix something that takes money to fix. In any case, we're looking for ways to do the right things in the right way.

My challenge is to take all of your good ideas and institutionalize them across Air Combat Command. My vision is that if you are doing this better than anyone in the Air Force, why, in this plug and play force, isn't everyone using your process and why isn't it the standard? 

Part of my job is to insure that we don't have a dozen units re-inventing the same wheel but coming up with different rims and tires. Our intent is to take shiny new efficient processes, institutionalize them across the command, and move on to other processes. That will also include all of those IG "Best Seen To Dates," and "Benchmark Programs" to jump-start improved process work. 

I'm the project officer on this, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth DeCuir, the ACC Vice commander, is our champion. We're in the midst of standing up analytical experts in ACC/A-9 to be able to help you set up your first few reviews if you need help, or show you how you can use data to ensure your process is in control and staying fixed. Plug in with them as you have questions. To get started though, I need you to pull out the paper, the stickies, and your ideas on how to put our processes together faster, cheaper, and better - and make them last. Keep asking, "What if?" and keep your ideas coming.