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Document created: 1 March 2007
Air & Space Power Journal- Spring 2007
Senior Leader Perspectives
Lt Gen Terry L. Gabreski, USAF
Maj Gen Loren M. Reno, USAF
Brig Gen Robert R. Allardice, USAF
Air Force uniforms are the tangible heritage that starts and chronicles an Airman’s journey. Uniforms indelibly welcome newcomers into the Air Force legacy. They provide a common identity throughout an enlistment or career, and their symbolism evokes pride and emotion. At the same time, uniforms represent an individual and organizational expression. Because they literally “touch us” everywhere, any adjustments to them can become incredibly complex, often involving seemingly irreconcilable perspectives. Unlike civilian organizations or personnel, who can change clothing and subsequently their image “off the rack”—with easy access to end products from a market-driven, primarily international production process—the Air Force encounters compounding dimensions when it considers changes and improvements to its uniform.
In fact, the Air Force faces a multitude of challenges as it strives to develop and deliver new uniforms to Airmen. Any endeavor to adjust the external expression of our warrior ethos must consider image, function, and uniformity. Priorities must also reconcile desired timing with a long-neglected internal process, historically encumbered by a host of laws governing purchases of US-government uniforms. In order to navigate these restraints, stakeholders in Air Force uniforms have successfully applied the same discipline used for the development and procurement of weapon systems. This approach of “uniforms as a weapon system” fundamentally links the emotionally charged world of the Air Force uniform with the historically industrial process-improvement program called “Lean.”
Lean is an especially important tool not only for the acquisition of new uniforms but also for the ongoing sustainment of existing uniforms, both aspects involving many processes and agencies. This makes the uniform-process scenario an exemplary springboard for illustrating how the Lean methodology’s effectiveness aligns with nonindustrial processes. Equally vital is Lean’s potential during confrontation with cross-agency protocols. Although the Air Staff and Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) are key players for the Air Force, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)—not to mention several other critical stakeholders—are also substantially involved with uniform design, procurement, and distribution. Altogether, this diverse lineup encompasses joint, Air Staff, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force (SAF), major command (MAJCOM), field, and industrial arenas.
Industry literature defines Lean as the elimination of “wastage.” Within the Air Force, specifically AFMC, Lean has considerable impact, benefiting both customer and supplier. Despite this significant impact, the Lean approach, in theory, is quite simple. One sequesters personnel and gives them sufficient time to review process flows during a “rapid improvement event” (RIE), during which they identify inefficiencies and map improvements. A key element of the Lean methodology stipulates involving the right people in the RIE. Essentially, RIEs consist primarily of personnel responsible for and familiar with the specific process under review since they are uniquely invested to recommend and implement improvements. Lean RIEs have consistently proven themselves a triumphant approach to improving the way we go about our business, ultimately saving money and manpower.
Fortuitously, the Air Force established a program in early 2006 for use across all of its processes that enables the service to harness the power of Lean methodology. Air Force Smart Operations for the Twenty-first Century (AFSO21), an Air Force enterprisewide initiative, guides the implementation of continuous process-improvement tools and philosophies, including Lean, throughout the service. Although it will take time for most people to fully comprehend the implications of AFSO21, its designers built the initiative on a foundation of best practices as well as lessons learned. Lean constitutes one of four basic practices in use under the AFSO21 umbrella, the others including Business Process Reengineering, Theory of Constraints, and Six Sigma, many of them used by other Department of Defense (DOD) agencies. For example, the Army, DLA, and AAFES use a combined Lean/Six Sigma approach. AFSO21 is also part of the DOD’s transformation initiative, which involves all services and agencies completing internal programs with an eye on meshing well in a joint environment.
Beyond the obvious point that striving for more efficiency makes common sense for stewards of public resources, compelling dynamics drive the need to improve efficiency and protect Air Force capital. The five Lean principles include having customers define value (Value), mapping the process (Value Stream), making the process flow (Flow), producing goods and service on demand (Pull), and striving for perfection (Perfection) (all of them providing an overlay for enduring change as processes undergo review). Application of these principles and tools to organizational processes has yielded positive results.1 Essentially, Lean principles apply to any process, regardless of whether it involves a maintenance function, contracting procedures, time-sensitive-targeting routines, or the acquisition of new uniforms.
As previously mentioned, the uniform process provides a good case study for illustrating the broad applications of Lean. But to fully understand where Lean begins facilitating restoration of an outdated uniform process, one must review the origins of the dilemma. For starters, the Air Force Uniform Office underwent dramatic downsizing in the early 1990s. Consequently, no overarching processes or primary point of contact existed. Many uniform-related tasks proved successful, such as functions of the Uniform Review Board, which meets annually, but the lack of a process led to wide variations in predictability, in turn causing delays to the implementation of uniform changes. Also problematic was the lack of timely updates to applicable governing publications, complicated by noncentralized communication of changes. These issues highlighted the lack of thoroughly documented roles and responsibilities.
The initial uniform-process RIE occurred at the enterprise level, establishing a full life-cycle time and process baseline for the development and fielding of a typical Air Force uniform—the Airman battle uniform. The baseline documented the current time of four and one-half years required to develop, produce, and issue a new uniform. Major subprocess identification during the baseline also provided focus for future RIEs, underscoring the cross-enterprise dynamic of the uniform process. The four subprocesses include requirements and funding (owned by Headquarters USAF/A-1—the Manpower and Personnel Directorate), development (owned by Aeronautical Systems Center), issue-item procurement (owned by the DLA), and optional-item procurement (owned by the AAFES).
Subsequently, application of Lean tools to the entire uniform cross-enterprise required scheduling a total of seven RIEs. To date, four have come to fruition: the initial enterprise RIE, requirements-and-funding RIE, issue-item-procurement RIE, and optional-item-procurement RIE. All of them attained goals set in the charter, established by participants at the onset of each RIE. The three remaining events are scheduled for completion by summer 2007. To ensure sustainment of long-term improvement, part of each RIE process establishes a timeline for future RIEs targeting the same process, allowing a second review. This guarantees setting aside a designated time to allow thorough assessment of the implementation of process change, fostering the permeation of continual process improvement into the organization.
The requirements-and-funding RIE, involving the earliest phases of the uniform process, documented a nonindustrial application of Lean tools. With all stakeholders involved, plus a facilitator at hand, participants put the primary phases of the uniform process—requirements and funding, development, procurement, and distribution—on paper (i.e., mapped them). Then they sequenced and authenticated processes within each phase, paying close attention to points that created a cross-agency interaction and/or dependence. At that point, the individuals most familiar with the specific tasks and any existing workarounds aggressively and meticulously scoured them. As suspected, numerous gaps came to light, as well as wasteful redundancies, resulting in the preparation of detailed courses of action. From this endeavor, RIE participants recognized the need for (and subsequently added) a review of communication rules of engagement. The team then synchronized the requirement-collection processes to ensure that participants ask the right questions at the right time, thus eliminating procedural delays in response time.
The requirements-and-funding RIE also revealed the need to increase the use of automation to achieve efficiencies—specifically, implementation of an e-uniform software architecture, now in development. The plan includes a user-friendly, easily accessible Web-based tool capable of hosting virtual Uniform Review Boards. This goal of improving customer input will increase the frequency with which boards meet and will reduce travel requirements for their members. Also, boards will consider suggestions quarterly rather than annually. Hence, Lean tools not only improve processes but also increase personnel buy-in and customer involvement.
In addition to improving process documentation, interagency communication, and automation, Lean improved bottom-line numbers. As a result of the requirements-and-funding RIE, Headquarters USAF/A-1 cut nearly 80 percent of the time spent on its uniform-requirements processing and review cycle, eliminating 528 of 663 days. During the issue-item-procurement RIE, the team removed 26 percent of the cycle time—77 of the 294 days currently required by the DLA to establish Air Force uniform contracts. The long-term, cumulative goal of these improvements calls for reducing the uniform-enterprise process-time requirement from a problematic four and one-half years to a diligent, responsive target of just over one year, assuring that the approximately 530,000 Airmen in the Total Force have the right uniforms when they need them.
A subsequent government/industry RIE, aimed at reducing production and delivery time, has been set for early 2007. The seventh RIE will return to the initial enterprise-level review, enabling examination of the integration of previous RIE sequencing and process improvements.
This recent experience in applying process-improvement tools in a cross-agency, enterprisewide process has yielded significant, encouraging observations.
Interagency improvement works, so we should strive to “widen the net”! The uniform commitment from stakeholders up and down the chain of command led to visibility across the entire uniform-enterprise spectrum. As a practical example, this prompted a number of improvement discussions among joint, MAJCOM, external, field, and Headquarters USAF senior leaders to focus the improvement effort. Additionally, it established the Uniform Enterprise Working Group, comprised of representatives from each associated agency, which convenes weekly to maintain dialogue and troubleshoot any disconnects before problems become overwhelming. This is continuous process improvement in action.
Using an enterprise process leads to “knowing what you don’t know.” For this particular process-improvement effort, we rapidly discovered that we had not previously captured the end-to-end process. This had profound implications, as we identified cross-agency-process disconnects, duplications, and waste that optimized one part of the process at the expense of another. Simply put, we didn’t really have a “complete” uniform process. As a result of this enterprise perspective, the development of a uniform-requirement document process has finally captured what information we need, where we can obtain it, and when we need it.
We need not always execute improvement events sequentially. In fact, we can engage several aspects of Lean concurrently. Doing so expedites the overall review process and identifies problem areas that will affect processes earlier. Horizontal application of the uniform Lean effort with involvement from AFMC as well as the Air Staff, DLA, and AAFES was accompanied by vertical campaigns that drilled down into AFMC-specific areas (Air Force Clothing Office [AFCO]) and those within the Air Staff (A-1’s relationship with A-4 [logistics] and Financial Management [FM]). By approaching the uniform process in this multidimensional manner, we garnered benefits such as clarifying the AFCO’s relationship with SAF/FM.
Lean is a paramount component of an extensive process-improvement net being widely cast across the Air Force. The overall objective seeks to cultivate throughout the service a deliberate conviction regarding the perpetual identification of processes—or in some cases, the absence of processes—for improvement. We can continuously—or at least regularly—scrutinize, streamline, reshape, develop, or even eliminate processes or process interaction for the ultimate purpose of improving efficiency. Evolving from its industrial genesis, Lean has become more than a force multiplier; potentially, it is a bellwether for an organizational mind-set.
Obviously, the cornerstone to true success of any kind remains the Air Force’s personnel—the process owners and subject-matter experts. But tools are vital. If Michelangelo had had no paint, brushes, or canvas, he would have remained brilliant—but bereft of art. We need the imperative linkage of both talent and tools. When applied by the right talent, Lean works in virtually any organization or with any mission. More than ever, AFSO21 and MAJCOM initiatives compel commanders to empower personnel to infuse the benefits of Lean into their organizations—whatever the mission.
1. James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 16, 19, 21, 24, 25.
Lt Gen Terry L. Gabreski (BA, Louisiana State University;
MPA, Golden Gate University) is vice-commander, Air Force Materiel Command,
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. General Gabreski has directed two aircraft
maintenance units, served as a squadron maintenance supervisor in three units,
commanded three maintenance squadrons and a logistics group, and twice served as
director of logistics for a major command. She has served at the Air Staff,
Secretary of the Air Force, and Joint Staff levels. During Operation Allied
Force in the air war over Serbia in 1999, the general directed logistics efforts
as the A-4 for the air war across the entire theater. Prior to assuming her
current position, she was commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center,
Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. A graduate of Squadron Officer School, US Army Command and
General Staff College, Air War College, and Defense Systems Management College,
General Gabreski holds a master aircraft maintenance badge and a basic parachute
Maj Gen Loren M. Reno (BS, Cedarville University; MS, University of
Southern California) is vice-director, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), Fort
Belvoir, Virginia. General Reno has had assignments in flying operations,
training, and logistics. His staff tours include duty at Headquarters Military
Airlift Command and Air Mobility Command, the Air Staff, the Secretary of the
Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison, and the DLA. He has commanded two
aircraft maintenance squadrons, a technical training group, and the Defense Fuel
Supply and Defense Energy Support Centers. The general flew four missions into
Saigon in 1975 and led air mobility logistics support for Operations Noble
Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Prior to his current position, he
served as director of logistics, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB,
Illinois. A distinguished graduate of Officer Training School and undergraduate
navigator training, General Reno is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air
Command and Staff College, and Air War College.
|Brig Gen Robert R. Allardice (USAFA; MS, University of Southern California) is director of Airman Development and Sustainment, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, Headquarters USAF, Washington, DC. He has commanded at the squadron, group, and wing levels. Prior to his current assignment, he served as director of personnel at Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. A command pilot with more than 4,700 hours in the C-141, C-5, and C-17, the general deployed twice to command operations during the global war on terrorism. In 2001 he commanded the strategic humanitarian airdrop, which began on the first night of combat operations in Afghanistan. In the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he commanded and led the airdrop of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, seizing vital territory in northern Iraq. General Allardice is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.|
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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