HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Military and civilian leaders learned how to embrace a lean-management mindset at an Air Force Continuous Process Improvement Senior Leader Course held here July 8-9.
Throughout the Air Force, CPI practitioners employ common business tools and techniques to reduce waste, cut costs, streamline processes and improve customer service.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Ferland, 66th Air Base Group deputy commander, kicked off the event, stressing that CPI should not be viewed as an end state, but as a continual approach.
“We here at the 66th have really been embracing CPI, and have adopted it in our own group with a strategic plan we just developed,” Ferland said. “We’re utilizing those initiatives to this day, and have actually changed the way we’re doing business within the Air Base Group.”
In fact, the recently published 66 ABG Strategic Plan was the impetus for the course being held at Hanscom, according to Jennifer Russell, management consultant and CPI lead on the ABG’s plan. She briefed its key points and strategic objectives, including focus areas on improving hiring processes, infrastructure, innovation and customer service.
Course instructor Dr. Phillip Chansler, certified CPI Black Belt and assistant professor of Operations Management with Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, said CPI courses are usually practitioner-level covering the “nuts and bolts, the process of process improvement,” but added that while practitioners’ technical proficiency is essential, commanders and supervisors also play an integral role in CPI because lasting, sustainable change starts from the top down.
“Leadership has to be able to use those tools, to guide how all that stuff gets done. So this course provides that higher-level look more from a strategy side, and then how to execute that strategy,” he said.
The curriculum included sessions on the fundamentals of CPI methodologies and practical examples of their various uses, the five principles of lean, major lean tools, the seven types of waste, and leaders’ role in executing the 8-Step Problem Solving Model. Participants also toured Raytheon Co. in Andover, Massachusetts, to experience firsthand how businesses successfully use CPI methods in their day-to-day operations.
The common thread running through the lessons was the importance of developing a lean way of thinking in order to build a culture of change. And to achieve results and sustain them over time, leaders need to understand and embrace their function in the process, Chansler said.
“We’ve been doing CPI 1.0 at least since AFSO 21 came into play and we’re getting some improvements, but not the synergistic effects of having a lean organization. We want to get 100 percent of our people to be part of all of this, and getting to CPI 2.0 requires a change to the way business is being done,” he said.
Improving processes requires a lean mentality and effectively utilizing the technical aspects, but it also requires a personal focus, the instructor noted.
“There are two sides of this thing called CPI. One is the tools, techniques, calculations and measures; the other is called respect for people,” Chansler said. “So it’s just as important to make sure you’re building up your people. Part of the leadership job – as lean leaders all the way up through the supervisory chain – is to make sure your employees can do their work, but also to model to the behavior of how to use CPI.”
Chansler said leaders need to provide a persistent, consistent message and become familiar with practical CPI tools.
Learning how to train and take full advantage of Green Belt and Black Belt experts’ knowledge and how to ask good questions as part of CPI events are also central roles for leaders, he added.
Hanscom’s installation process manager and certified Black Belt, Sam Doucette, echoed those recommendations.
“I found the course very beneficial especially from a culture-change perspective, both locally for Hanscom and from seeing CPI implemented in industry,” he said. “I think the biggest takeaway was greater insight into how senior leaders can successfully implement a culture of structured, strategically aligned problem-solving in their units.”
Twenty-four senior leaders from Hanscom and bases across the country were in attendance, including participants from Hill AFB, Utah; Tinker AFB in Oklahoma; and Air National Guard locations at Rhode Island’s Quonset Point, Pease in New Hampshire and Otis on Cape Cod.
For more information on the CPI program at Hanscom contact Doucette at 781-225-1707 or email@example.com.