Commentary Search

Process improvement

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rian Lawrence
  • 90th Communications Squadron superintendent
Have you ever been to a restaurant and remarked how the service was slow or otherwise not to your liking? You probably thought there was a smarter, more efficient way to do business; one that would make customers happy and increase the restaurants overall revenue. Well, there is one way and that way is you. When was the last time you looked at your work center with the same critical eye and saw room for improvement?

In today's military, where the mantras "Do more with less" and "Work smarter not harder" are the organizational norms, we need to look at our areas of control and pinpoint any areas of improvement. When we develop the mindset of working smarter and not harder, identifying inefficient process flows becomes easy and our ability to eliminate them breed's efficiency, through standardization, and helps create a cleaner work environment that establishes responsibilities, and better morale. But how are we supposed to do more with less? The answer is simple.

Identify repeatable processes and take the time to map out each step from start to finish. If one step requires you to be standing in a designated area for 30 minutes and the next step requires you to juggle three bowling pins for 30 minutes, can you not combine those actions and increase your efficiency by saving the 30 minutes of standing? After completing your map, have another person outside of your organization look at the new improved process; if the first question they ask is "Why do you do this" and the answer is not backed up with guidance or law, then you should consider eliminating that step.

When looking at your process for ineffective steps, do not forget the amount of time it takes travel from one work area to another. If the tech data or Air Force Instructions require you do certain functions and there is no way for those functions to be eliminated, then ensure your required tools are nearby. Do not waste your time or effort by repeatedly walking to your toolbox or to another office in order to get the proper equipment or tools. If your job required you to answer phone calls all day, would you keep the phone in another part of the building? No, you would bring the phone to you.

Another area you can evaluate is modernization. While it is true we could do our jobs with pen and paper or even the old school typewriter, computers have enabled us to employ time saving applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Access. The upfront cost is steep, but in the long run it would cost more not to have these applications. The amount of man hours that can be spent elsewhere by having the ability to edit a document prior to printing versus the old method of type/edit/retype/reedit/ then finalize products is immeasurable. Are there procedures in your work environment that are causing people or functions to be inefficient?

The final area I want to talk about is buy-in. How many times have you heard a leader say "get X done by close of business" without explaining themselves? So we do the tasker, while at the same time we grumble about what a stupid tasker this has become and how it is a colossal waste of time. (Side note: I know that at this point most readers will have their hands on their hips with chest puffed out saying "Why, I never!") You may be surprised how easy it is to have that scenario turned around by simply adding a sentence about how tasker "X" will save money, time, etc. Having that buy-in of those doing the work may be the most critical part of an organization and it is so often overlooked!

I hope the topics that I have discussed inspire each you to reflect on your business practices and help you to find ways to make your work life easier and more efficient. Maybe you can even impart some new process flows and business strategies to your next restaurant server ... after she serves you your food