How do you define quality?
It’s one of those tricky words that has a subjective definition, but is used liberally in discussion and (generally) agreed upon.
What makes for a quality car? A quality job? A quality hamburger?
What about a quality process?
That’s where the subjectivity comes into play. You can’t measure the quality of a process by its output. You can, however, measure the quality of a process by the consistency of its output and the efficiency of its operation.
That’s what the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center believes, anyway.
The AFLCMC has been around for six years, and it was created to manage the lifecycle of Air Force weapon systems, all the way from a weapon’s inception to its retirement. That’s sensitive stuff, and because of the volatile nature of their work, the AFLCMC’s top priorities are consistency and sustainability.
The closer a process is to standardization, the more predictable the outcomes become.
“Standardization is important because everybody doing things however they want to, whenever they want, with whatever they want results in chaos,” said Dennis Scott, a strategic planner with the AFLCMC Strategic Planning and Transformation Division, in an article on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base website.
The AFLCMC is responsible for advising organizations in the center on new process implementation.
“Therefore, standard business processes are intended to ensure everyone is operating or moving the same way, doing things the same way so that we can have a more defined more predicable outcome.”
Eradicating Needless Bureaucracy
Part of Scott’s job is to pinpoint wasteful processes and eliminate them. That includes bureaucracy – something so prevalent in government-run agencies, that it has become a cliché.
Take, for example, the Air Force’s Agile Combat Support (ACS) Directorate. 75% of ACS decision-making went through one person: the program executive officer. All other senior leaders accounted for only 25% of decisions being made on a daily basis.
There were bottlenecks. As you might imagine.
By simply flipping those statistics – giving the program executive officer 25% of the decision-making power, and splitting the rest among other leaders – the ACS senior staff has recovered more than one-fifth of their working hours every week. The workload hasn’t actually changed at all; the only difference is the flip-flop of the decision-making process.
The Military’s Process Improvement Tradition
The military is no stranger to process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma and Lean. Only a handful of months ago, Moody Air Force Base, in Georgia, completely revolutionized their engine maintenance and repair process.
Instead of waiting to receive damaged engines, assessing the issues and then getting to work, the crew at Moody took a much more strategic approach to their jobs. They’ve gone from being reactive to being proactive by…
- Training Airmen on common problems
- Using projections to determine engine parts that would be needed in the future to stay ahead of demand
- Improving communications across the squadron
- Adding photos to technical orders
The results have been staggering. With this simple change in process, the base has been saving approximately 32 hours of labor per engine, and as of September, 2017, had produced 18 consecutive engines with zero defects.