Achieving “excellence” through continuous process improvement

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NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.—The third core value of the Air Force is “Excellence in All We Do.” According to Air Force Instruction 1-1, the “Little Blue Book,” Excellence in All We Do, directs us to develop a sustained passion for continuous process improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward vector of accomplishment and performance.

I’d like to say it simply as a desire to improve processes and solve problems in support of our mission. But are we excellent in all we do?

Do you work in a chaotic and disorganized workplace and go home drained at the end of the day? Do you work with processes that are broken? Are you stressed because you waste time with rework, duplication and unnecessary steps in your daily work processes? (The OPR/EPR/Awards/Decorations process comes to mind). Are you constantly “putting out fires?” Do you work in an organization with recurring problems? Only you can determine if you’re excellent in all you do and if not, how can you get there? The answer is continuous process improvement.

CPI is an ongoing effort to improve quality, products, services or processes and solve problems; it’s about getting better at what you do. Problem solving is one attribute of CPI and learning the methodology behind the AF practical problem solving model and properly applying it in your organization will help Airmen become better problem solvers. The result; an increase in Airmen productivity, motivation, morale and a problem solved.

The traditional thinking of problem solving is to throw additional resources (money/manpower) at it and expecting resolve. It’s a kneejerk reaction and for a majority of problems, it doesn’t work or you get “short lived” results. Problems are usually solved through the use of collective knowledge, analysis and creativity; it’s about people using brainpower.

On April 13, 1970, approximately 200,000 miles from Earth, Apollo 13 encountered a problem, resulting in additional concerns; carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup, reentry and the astronaut’s safe recovery. NASA’s failure to solve was not an option as three lives were at stake. To solve, the folks on the ground, and the astronauts used brainpower, ingenuity and some makeshift materials (duct tape, cardboard, hose and a few other basic items)— you gotta love duct tape.

NASA was able to fit a square peg in a round hole and bring the astronauts home safely. Despite not landing on the moon as intended, I believe NASA achieved excellence that day, and they did it without throwing additional money or manpower at it—they used what they already had.

When you’re plagued with problems facing your work center, don’t default to “throwing” money and/or manpower at it to solve — use your mind and seek the collective knowledge of Airmen, and you too can put a little “excellence” back in to what you do.