SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – In his action orders to accelerate change in the Air Force, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. challenges each Airmen to harness energy and focus it in a purposeful direction, even at the expense of the status quo, to effect necessary change in the service.
“Therefore, if our Nation’s military is to remain the best in the world, we need to do our part to challenge the status quo and make necessary changes in our Air Force today so we are ready for tomorrow,” he wrote.
An initiative that encourages innovation and creativity that challenges the status quo is underway here to take a soups-to-nuts look at the technical training process and, over time, improve its various phases employing a constraints-based management system used by the Air Force Sustainment Center.
Art of the Possible requires leaders and stakeholders to cooperatively engage in mapping out the processes of a machine – technical training in this instance – and looking for opportunities of heightened success. The piece of the technical training apparatus placed under the microscope during initial meetings Dec. 7-11 here is one that has perplexed the training enterprise for years – student assignments.
The multifunctional group had to identify the current state of the student assignment process, develop an ideal state, and, finally, come together on a future state that improves and standardizes the process.
Joe Rock, chief of Training Operations for the 82nd Training Wing, said attempts have been made in the past to streamline the Airmen in Training assignment process and its complexities. At issue, he said, is the disparity among each of the wing’s six training squadrons’ management of student assignments. What they knew and affirmed was that the six squadrons had six different processes when it came to overall administration of Airmen in Training assignments.
“It was a very squadron-centric, a unique-to-the-squadron process,” he said. “That’s the current state. We looked at the squadrons on Sheppard Air Force Base that have AiTs. That’s six squadrons and six different methods of doing it, but they were all doing the same thing.”
Simply put, there was no uniformity in how the squadrons handled this process including how squadrons received assignments from the 82nd Force Support Squadron, notified Airmen, and scheduled appointments and briefings. The end result of the varying administrative approaches was a delay in students leaving Sheppard AFB after they completed their training and arriving at their first duty assignment.
Rock said AoP mentors from the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex guided them through a very detailed mapping of the assignment process to get to the current state, but then began the task of determining what would be the ideal state. He said members of the group began to think about their own process and that their way wasn’t necessarily the best way. The team brainstormed potential solutions, and collectively decided on a standardized way forward.
The former aircraft maintainer said it was encouraging to see the group move from their squadron-centric focus to a unified front, but it took a little work to get there.
“At first, walking through the process the first day or day-and-a-half was a bit discouraging because there was so much disparity,” he said. “But then as we walked through that process and to see the light bulbs coming on and some concerted efforts to ‘Hey, there is a better way,’ that was really exciting for me. It was exciting to get to the point of we can do this better; we can do this smarter.”
Brian Clark, an AoP facilitator from OC-ALC, said conducting a deep dive into the student assignments process is a perfect fit for Art of the Possible concepts. Clark has been part of 280 AoP improvement activities at six production squadrons, two staff offices, and several enterprise partners including Hill AFB, Utah; Warner Robins ALC, Georgia; Luke AFB, Arizona; and OC-ALC.
He said taking this small nugget of the technical training apparatus through AoP concepts was an important first step in the improvement process. There has been buy-in by the process doers, and the team has support moving forward.
“It was critical for the Sheppard team to see an improvement activity from start to finish, understand what it takes to bring a multifunctional team together, understand how each team member impacts one another up and down the process flow, and what it will take for all parties to improve a process,” he said. “This was a great first step, and now the real work begins.”
The decided future state of the student assignment process has FSS working in concert with the training squadrons from beginning to end. Student assignments from the Military Personnel Data System will go into a standardized source form which squadrons will pull information. Once the squadrons get the info, all six will notify AiT and schedule appointments and briefings the same way.
To get to that future state, though, will take a little work. Rock said the team has 40 action items to work on to get there, and they have benchmark briefings to 82nd TRW Commander Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell every 30 days for the first 90 days.
Rock said the next focus of the technical training machine will be student arrivals after graduating from basic military training at Lackland AFB, Texas. He said that piece of the puzzle will be a little different than this initial event in that it requires the participation of enterprise partners from Lackland and the Air Force Personnel Center, for example.