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Lean event restructures vehicle re-registration

  • Published
  • By Michelle Corcoran
  • Installations and Mission Support Directorate
The Air Force Materiel Command work force has been asked to re-think how it conducts its business. The command needs to stay in front of its adversaries by continuing to dominate air, space, and cyberspace. To do this, the Air Force has adopted a mindset of continuous improvement through a concept called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century, or AFSO21.

Did you know that an improvement process called Lean has been employed by industry for more than 50 years? For example, Toyota has a history of using Lean techniques. After repeated Lean improvement events, they have increased their efficiency with each event and are still improving the process!

I recently became the Installations and Mission Support Directorate's AFSO21 lead. The directorate nominated Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's vehicle re-registration process as a "quick-win" initiative for improvement.

As the directorate's lead for AFSO21, I'd like to tell you what went on during the improvement event we just completed.

First, our team was given a sensei. This is someone with formal process improvement training and experience. Our sensei helped us select the correct tool to examine our process. Although many tools are available like Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, etc., we selected the Lean tool and our sensei led us through the first phase of improvement.

Interestingly, our process had previously been identified for improvement with an automated solution. I thought, "Well, we are already improving this process. Shouldn't we pick something fresh?" What I learned is Lean can validate improvements in processes and highlight areas we may have overlooked.

We began our Lean event with an overview of Lean concepts and tools, as well as reviewing some of the improvements made by air logistics centers. We then reviewed our charter. The boundary of our effort was clearly defined and our target population for the re-registration effort was primarily active-duty military and civil service employees working on Wright-Patterson.

Our sensei helped us identify the entire value stream for this process. In other words, each step in the re-registration process was defined with start and stop events. We walked and timed the entire process. Our process measured anywhere from 15 to 37 minutes.

We then identified whether or not a step added value from the customer's perspective. Each step was labeled as 'valuable', 'no value but required' or 'no value'. I found this different from previous improvement events. In other events the process focused on saving time and dollars, with the assumption that a product produced faster or cheaper must be better. This might not be true from the customers' perspective.

Value can only be defined by the customer in terms of a specific product meeting the customer's needs at a specific price and at a specific time.

We brainstormed ideas for improvement. Automating part of the process seemed like a viable idea. Also, processing re-registration via mail seemed viable. Both ideas were tested. The automated solution times ranged from 7 to 15 minutes, while the mail option took 11 to 12 minutes.

So, the improvements to the process ranged from 46 to 78 percent in time reduction. The current automation effort was verified. Additionally, this improvement was accomplished with no additional manpower and cost only approximately $3,000! The savings from the process improvement far outweigh this low cost.

It dawned on me that there is no end to reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes while offering products that the customer actually wants. As one of the team members said, "I'm not so [arrogant] to think that an old process can't be improved." I would add that an improved process can be improved also!

So, how do we meet the future needs of our Air Force? We continue to improve how we do business, what we do and what we deliver. If we do not continue to design our future, we will not survive.