According to Carlson, they include a logistics and transportation system grounded in 40-year-old organizations and processes; a personnel system so arcane that no one outside the department understands it; an annual budget process so elaborate and cumbersome that it consumes thousands of man years in its preparation and produces only minor changes year to year; and an elaborate acquisition process that makes the development and production of new systems even slower and more expensive.
“Air Force Smart Operations 21 takes tools and processes successful in the civilian sector and implements them in the Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Donald Wetekam, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support for the Air Force.
“There is risk involved, but even more in not doing anything,” he said. “I think companies that understand process improvement, who have adopted the principles of Lean and other tools have a competitive advantage.”
Initially, even Wetekam was somewhat skeptical of the new initiative.
“I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of Lean, but gave it a fair shake,” he said. “And within six months, I was committed to using it as a centerpiece to our process improvement efforts – that was nearly four years ago. It will work in the Air Force; the Ogden Air Logistics Center is proving that right now.”
Specifically, he noted some 146 demands Air Force-wide that couldn’t be met just a year ago that are being met today because of Lean.
“The way we’ve done that is by improving the efficiency in shops,” Wetekam said. “Products are available to the warfighter today, not sitting on a shelf at Hill waiting to be repaired.”
“You take this analytical approach and it not only applies to cost efficiency, but to how much more effective you are in a combat role,” he explained. “If we can free up investment dollars by the things we do back at Ogden … then we have resources that we can apply towards equipment and other supplies to better support the warfighter directly.”
Air Force Smart Operations 21 is in its infancy, the general cautioned, so there will be plenty of skeptics.
“I think that skepticism is fueled by the fact that we have played with the idea of process improvement in the past, and we were not wholly successful,” Wetekam noted. “We took some good things away from those attempts in the past, but there were flaws in the approach we took that we’ve corrected.
“The perception of Air Force Materiel Command has changed dramatically,” he continued. “The command was a very large, cumbersome organization that consumed a tremendous amount of Air Force resources.”
“And the return on that investment wasn’t what is should have been. It’s still not what it could be or needs to be, but we’ve come a long way in the last four to five years,” Wetekam emphasized. “We’re now creating a surplus, and money is being free up to support other accounts … including investing in Air Force Materiel Command improvements.”
“It’s a direct result of increased efficiency and meeting financial targets,” he said. “In previous years we were coming up short and having to divert money from other accounts to prop up Air Force Materiel Command.”
“It’s a huge factor in the change in perception of the command,” Wetekam concluded. “For example, in 2001 our aircraft production rate was at 64 percent – last year it was over 99 percent on time. Those are the types of things that change perception in how we do business.”