By Lt. Col. Gregory Karahalis
12th Space Warning Squadron commander
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — One of the toughest aspects of an assignment at Thule Air Base is managing job know-how and passing it on. For the most part, this doesn’t apply to the mission-related functions for which one has received training at tech school and developed expertise elsewhere in the Air Force. Rather, it applies to the many specific-to-Thule activities that often go undocumented and are not conveyed when your replacement arrives a year after you did. Unfortunately, it is an all too common occurrence to have an Airman discover a briefing, spreadsheet or application that would have saved them hours of work had they known about it months before.
Here at the 12th Space Warning Squadron, we’ve begun capturing the processes and vital knowledge that fill each person’s job jar, and organizing our electronic information more effectively. We hope to create that prized continuity that units with slower turnover enjoy and pass along the details of the seemingly mundane which doesn’t get covered in the week of changeover between the incoming member and the outgoing (and out-processing) member. Our goal is to avoid the countless hours lost when the new person has to learn or re-create a process for the first time. Ultimately, our vision is to eliminate lost continuity by providing the squadron a useful and valuable knowledge base.
We’ve identified three basic kinds of knowledge: functional, temporal and situational. Functional knowledge is that set of processes that define the day-to-day aspects of one’s job, like how to manage a crew schedule. Temporal knowledge, or time-based activities, captures those activities that occur daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually, such as a quarterly OPSEC report. The final type, situational know-how, captures those occasional events that require much effort and don’t fit neatly into any one person’s job jar. Knowing how to handle a major facility maintenance issue is an example of situational knowledge. In each case, knowing in advance who, what, where, when, how, or in particular, why things are done a certain way from a ready resource will greatly streamline learning, while increasing efficiency and effectiveness.
Undoubtedly, getting the correct information can be challenging. Our starting task was simple — have everyone make a list of all they do each day. Very quickly functional tasks became apparent. In time, temporal duties emerged into a schedule of regular suspenses. Finally, as events dictate, situational responsibilities took shape. These lists will be organized into shop level know-how files and the details of each task documented. By providing a starting format for each entry and borrowing heavily from Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century and operational risk management lessons learned concepts, we’ll be able to capture what’s on everyone’s mind and keep it for our successors.
There is also a tremendous amount of data on the squadron’s file server (about 100 gigabytes worth for 12th SWS alone). Unless the squadron staff has guidance and is trained on how the squadron keeps digital data, people will repeatedly create their own organization and start from scratch. This wastes time and file space and undermines efforts to dominate the information. In tandem with these efforts, we’re also employing records management principles and restructuring our shared drive space to enhance the retention, organization and discoverability of file information. This will include a common sandbox space, an archive space and personal spaces. On regular intervals we’ll clean the sandbox, and archive finished work so it can be found and re-used.
Knowledge operations managers are probably wondering how this is different from established protocols. The key to our initiative is operationalizing our knowledge. We are systematically structuring know-how from our members into a thoughtfully designed and well-tended information space. We’ll actively train and retrain the squadron process for knowledge management in a way that goes beyond the vague what to do of AFMAN 33-363 and AFI 33-322 to a “why-” and “how-we’re-doing-it-here” approach. Don’t get me wrong — each step of the way we’ll consult those documents to benchmark our processes.
At the 12th SWS, we hope to turn the corner on continuity. Rather than getting killed by a lack of continuity we are planning to create killer continuity. Our vision is to create a simple, sustainable knowledge management process that enables efficient and effective execution of our mission.