Commentary by Lt. Col. Jim Lovewell
21st Logistics Readiness Squadron commander
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 2000 Nissan Altima. It’s not a car likely to turn heads around town or to inspire questions from car aficionados at the gas pump. It was my “lieutenant-mobile,” the first new car my wife and I ever bought. It’s been on the German Autobahn, through the Alps, France, the United Kingdom and across the United States. What it lacks in automotive finesse it makes up for with having been paid off for many years, making room for more “mission-essential” purchases such as mountain bikes and outdoor gear.
Last spring, the window switch started to give out. It became more and more difficult at the gate each morning to move the window up and down to hand the security forces professional my identification card. Each month, a little more wear and tear brought with it the requirement for me to develop a new and innovative way to jiggle the switch just so in order to make it work. I kept reminding myself to look into replacing the part, but there always seemed to be something more pressing to do. Then one day the window switch pulled completely off the door. I now was very motivated to order the replacement part as each day meant having to open the door to pass my ID to the curious (and probably entertained) defender at the gate. Three days of shipping and $30 later, the fix for my door took all of 10 minutes.
I enjoyed my newfound window freedom a great deal coming into the base the next day. As happy as I was with the fix, I had to ask myself how it might have been different if I would have made time to order the new part the first week I started having issues. In the end, it would have taken the same amount of time, but saved me a lot of frustration. There’s a parallel here that goes far beyond car electronics and the finer points of the Nissan Altima. Think about how you’re preparing for our 2013 Compliance Inspection or perhaps a life goal. We’re all very busy identifying what needs fixing, but it’s just as important to make the fixes as soon as feasible and thoroughly. With the Compliance Inspection example, imagine the man-hours saved fixing just one potential write-up now, as opposed to implementing fixes for months (and perhaps years) following. Now is the time to sweat the small things and put plans into place to fix what needs fixing.
I’m sure I had many reasons not to fix the window switch the day it started going downhill. But then again, I’m sure if I’d made it a priority I could have fixed it within a week. No one expects you to fix all the compliance deficiencies in one day, and we definitely know it’d be worse to make an incomplete fix too quickly and buy your unit a write-up. Now is the time to perfect your shop’s prep plan, master the finer points of Management Internal Control Toolset and methodically clean house on any areas identified as deficient.
Consider another example of taking time out now to prevent problems in the future — the Vice Chief of Staff Supplies Efficiency initiative the 21st SW is in the midst of completing. This project seeks to apply the “6Ss” of lean, six sigma/Air Force Smart Operations 21 processes: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Safety, Standardize, Sustain (and a seventh we added, “Security”) to purge our offices of excess supplies and consolidate for future use, repurpose or remove low-use assets and keep our workplaces efficient and de-cluttered for years to come.
If the “6S” project hasn’t already been to your building, you’ll get to be part of this process between now and spring 2013. To date the 21st SW has identified $1 million in excess furniture, $200,000 in excess computer equipment, gathered $10,000 in excess office supplies and freed up more than 3,400 square feet of storage. The LRS has seen its fair share of results from unit-level efforts. A two-day 6S event cleared out a storage facility that was full of unused furniture and equipment. Some of the furniture was sent to Defense Reutilization Management Office for disposal and the remainder went into a collective wing pool for reutilization at other units. Equipment and supplies which were previously stored at random amidst the furniture was brought to the work floor which allowed us to optimize processes flow. In the midst of making our work sections look better and function more efficiently, we were able to free up 1,500 square feet of storage space and revitalize a make-shift break/meeting area into something that made us all proud. No different than inspection prep, 6S is yet another way to seize the initiative and make lasting change now.
There’s a lot to be said about the “just do it” approach when it comes to so many other areas of our lives: health, fitness, family time or long-term goals. It took a few months of me wrestling with a window switch to realize the wisdom of fixing the small things now! I hope you’ll invest in your future by wrapping up those small, often easy to ignore (for the short run) compliance items, use “6S” to make your offices more efficient or to tackle those life-goals, no matter how big or small.
It’s almost time to head home for the evening — and I think I’ll roll the windows down, just because I can.