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Smart Ops teams simplify processes to save thousands, earn certification

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- Thousands of dollars in savings are on the horizon for Tinker AFB as a result of the work by two Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century process improvement teams who presented their final projects and graduated Level I from training Jan. 14. 
   In August 2007, two four-member teams were given one air logistics center problem each with a goal to reduce variability, cost, and drive process improvements. One group improved the command section's read-ahead materials, while the other found ways to prevent the base from incurring future Oklahoma Gas and Electric bill late fees. 
   Team one reduced the 80-plus page binder to an e-mail. The improvement ultimately saved Tinker AFB at least seven hours per day of preparation time and $1,200 each month in materials. Furthermore, unlike a binder, the e-mail is accessible by laptops and senior officials who cannot make a command section meeting can view necessary materials and still make comments. 
   "You've totally simplified the way we (produced) this material," said Dr. Ronald Ritter, special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force and Deputy Director of the AFSO21 Office in Washington, D.C. "This is a great way to apply AFSO21 principles to solve time-consuming, everyday problems." 
   The new read-ahead manual process was implemented the first week of January. 
   The second group analyzed the reasons that led to Tinker's electric bill being paid late. Each year, Tinker AFB spends about $20 million on electricity. Yet, in the past two years Tinker AFB spent more than $253,000 in late fees, said Cathy Scheirman, group member. 
   "That's just one bill and it's not buying us anything," said Maj. Gen. Loren Reno, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center commander. 
   The group realized it had taken Tinker AFB about 20 days to pay the electric bill. 
   Tardiness had been blamed on inconsistencies including a slow facsimile, illegible writing on the bill and multiple people being tasked with getting it paid. 
   To prevent future late payments, the group suggested a sticker or a stamp with the necessary payment information be used instead of penmanship. 
   They also made just one person accountable for getting the bill paid and said the entire process should take no more than two hours. The group implemented the change at the end of 2007. 
   After their respective presentations, the teams graduated and were awarded AFSO21 Level I training certificates and "green" karate belts. 
   "The charge now is to push the improvements you made here across the Air Force," Dr. Ritter said. "I like coming to the air logistics centers; I am always impressed with what I see. The rest of the Air Force depends on the depots to keep blazing the trail on AFSO21 because we need ideas and applications like the bill payment team discovered. 
   "Simplifying work processes to achieve better use of an Airman's time and achieving hard financial savings are two huge benefits that really illustrate what the Smart Ops program is all about," Dr. Ritter said. "Our challenge now is to integrate these terrific ideas over the rest of the Air Force and Department of Defense." 
   Taught by the Lean Institute at Tinker AFB, AFSO21 Level I Facilitator training classes emphasize Lean and Six Sigma tools including 6S, value stream mapping and cause and effect analysis.