Designing the future step by step

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Headquarters, Air Force Materiel Command

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OH -- The Air Force Materiel Command Continuous Improvement and Innovation team, also known as CI2 , held a training symposium at the Wright Brothers Institute, Dayton, Ohio, April 25-29, with a theme of, “Creating the Next Generation of CI2 Leaders: Let’s Design the Future.”

“Our goal is to infuse every Airman with CI2 knowledge so that it becomes part of their DNA,” said David Tyler, chief, CI2 Cell. “We want everyone to know the basics of problem solving, even if it’s as simple as identifying a gap in a process and knowing how to create an improved process map.”

The event is an opportunity to meet, share, connect and train process improvement or innovation practitioners and coaches within AFMC and Space Force. More than 130 individuals attended the hybrid virtual/in-person each day of the symposium.

The attendees were ultimately a healthy mix of full time CI2 practitioners or innovation coaches and other career fields including contracting officers, engineers, aircraft supportability professionals, medical technicians, and National Air and Space Intelligence Center personnel.

Day one of the event focused on Air Force strategic methodologies and how the tools help drive and support the Commander’s intent. This was followed by how to use the Commanders Inspection Program (CCIP) to help validate the strategy execution and the health of the organization. The key was helping them understand how to support our leaders through continuous improvement.

The second day of the event focused heavily on leadership development and emphasized how one could become a ‘person of influence’ to drive change. Several guest speakers shared stories on how process improvement has benefited diverse areas of responsibility.

(Dr.) Brig Gen. John R. Andrus, commander, 711th Human Performance Wing, shared a personal experience that demonstrated what could be done if everyone is invited to the table to submit ideas.

He mentioned speaking with a first-term Airman who had submitted an idea and was amazed that it was being considered. The Airman’s excitement built his trust in leadership, and he was enthusiastic about being the ‘eyes and ears’ of the commander and coming up with other innovations and improvements.

Andrus advocates the use of a real or virtual visual anchor. In his workplace, this is a white board where anyone can submit an idea or a problem to be solved via a sticky note. All submittals are addressed in some way.

“Problem solving should not be a special project done by special people, but a normal and natural way of doing business,” Andrus said.

Day three of the event detailed the Six Sigma application and the new process for Air Force Green and Black Belt certifications, with Darla Kelly, a Certified Black Belt Instructor and member of the CI2 team. For certification, the eight-step process for complex problems is required, but Kelly reiterated how anyone can use the process improvement training to share their ideas and get leaders to listen.

“I’m the port captain on your journey,” said Kelly. “I know the route and can guide you and tell you who you should talk to, but you have the oars – you do the work.”

The attendees and leaders talked about the current process used for certification and brainstormed how it could be improved. The eight-step problem solving model, nicknamed the dreaded A3, was discussed along with ways to make it more user-friendly and streamline the process.

The final day emphasized the innovation ecosystem. Bethany Weiser, AFMC Spark Lead, created the space for creativity.

She brought in guest speakers from across the globe to share their innovation journeys starting with the Tactical Anesthesia Workstation, an innovator idea submitted last year. There was also a collaboration with the Air National Guard on how to leverage your support network, and the Iceman Spark team from Eielson Air Force Base who spoke on how collaborating improvement and innovation accelerates change.

Another highlight of the symposium was the awards ceremony.  In the past, the team chose one process improvement professional to recognize each year.

The improvement and innovation environment is changing rapidly,” said Mary Moore, a lead command innovation and improvement consultant and the event organizer, “We needed to make sure we supported this change by recognizing those CI2 NextGen leaders.

For that reason, several new categories were added such as the “Enabling Leader Award.” The award was a tribute to the leadership the CI2 team experiences with Lt. Gen. Carl Schaefer, Deputy Commander, AFMC.

“We were asked by other commands how we have been able to accomplish so much since 2019 when the office was stood up,” said Kim Norman, AFMC/CDX Director. “The reason was overwhelmingly the support we received from Lt. Gen. Schaefer. He is such a champion to what we do.”

Many of those passionate about process improvement reach a stumbling block when they bring ideas to their leaders. The award recognizes leaders who embrace and encourage suggestions of every member of their team.

Another notable award was the “Fail Forward Award.”

“Not all ideas end successfully,” said Moore, “It takes courage to try and fail, and we wanted to recognize those who went through all the steps, but decided to let the idea die by conscious decision.”

According to the comments received, the event was a big win.

“I didn’t know that you don’t have to be an engineer to innovate. That’s life changing!” said one attendee.