375th AMW Engine Room: Platform for Continuous Process Improvement

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Erica Fowler
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
The 375th Air Mobility Wing is embracing the goals of Continuous Process Improvement through its use of an Engine Room.

The Engine Room, located in the wing headquarters building, is where senior leaders come together for a quick weekly meeting to align the wing's strategies and find solutions to areas of concern. The idea for an Engine Room was based on a St. Louis company's successful use of this methodology.

The Gund Company uses the Engine Room model to track their engineering and material manufacturing processes. Leon Harris, Gund's Continuous Improvement and Quality Corporate Director, said the Engine Room has been hugely successful for their company.

"It's where you can get your entire organization moving in the same direction working for a common goal using the same systems and tools," Harris said. "(To be successful) the culture has to be right among your people, and they have to be on board."

The Engine Room works on a red and yellow card system. Any member of an organization can identify an area that needs improvement, which goes on a red card. Then when a team is ready to work on the solution for that item, it's moved to a yellow card and then tracked through completion.

The idea is that team members report on their progress weekly in brief 10-15 minute meetings, thus eliminating many other time consuming meetings that would be needed to address each individual item.

Master Sgt. Steven Dengler, 375th Force Support Squadron and wing Engine Room lead, explained that having red cards on an organization's board which highlight a problem can make some people feel uneasy.

"For CPI to be effective in a unit, it must be accompanied with a change in culture," Dengler said. "Red is not bad; issues identified are not weaknesses, but opportunities to prove your unit's strength."

Dengler said he sees the Engine Room as a benefit to the wing, and that groups and squadrons can develop their own strategy boards as well.

"At the lowest level you can see how your function fits into the strategic plans for the wing, and the wing can reduce (its singular) thinking among the groups and think more as an enterprise," he said. "Enterprise thinking reduces duplication of efforts and emphasizes inter-functional communication and assistance. The engine room is Col. Laura) Lenderman's vision. She truly cares about the women and men working on Scott AFB, and she wants to provide the support they need to accomplish the mission. The Engine Room is her way of capturing the health of the wing and how well the wing is supporting this installation."

The goal of every organizational level of CPI is to eliminate waste, while maximizing customer value. To accomplish this, the Engine Room process promotes daily inter-functional communication and encourages members to identify inefficiencies in order to overcome them.

Helping the wing launch the Engine Room was the result of a three-person team within the 375th Mission Support Group's Center for Unifying and Building the Enterprise, or CUBE. Their mission was to join their efforts across the squadrons to focus on CPI issues and project management.

Maj. Sofia Ciro, 375th MSG CUBE member, explained that the Engine Room allows wing leadership to use visual management to proactively work together in one room to directly impact wing priorities. The weekly meeting allows for commanders to cross communicate. Displaying the issues on a physical board prevents problems from falling through the cracks, she said.

"If a group has an issue, it can be raised here to get on everybody's radar," said Ciro. "This transparency allows organizations to more easily ask for help from each other. Any Airman is invited to visit the Engine Room anytime."

The Engine Room displays the Air Force, Air Mobility Command, 18th Air Force and wing priorities prominently on the wall so they can be easily seen and understood.
Master Sgt. Christopher Garrett, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron CUBE member, said, "When you see a mission statement, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to actually meet that mission objective, to achieve that vision?

When the wing commander sets out her priorities, everyone should be able to see what they're responsible for, and that is how we begin to truly execute our mission."
Gailyn Gonzalez, 375th Force Support Squadron CUBE member, said if an Airman has a new idea, he or she should speak up with a plan and use the suggestion system that is in place in each of the groups to make changes.

Gonzalez said that identifying the issue on a board highlights it to leadership. The issue stays there until it's resolved, so it can be addressed on the priority list, rather than getting lost in email traffic. Tracking the issue on the board provides Airmen at the Squadron level a constant, visual reminder that the problem is being worked and that the issue was not forgotten.

Garrett added, "When the issue does come up to the top, we also need to find a mechanism to get it back to the Airmen so they understand what was done about the issue, and what the outcome was. That's how you show people that this process works. Each group and wing has a Master Process Officer who ensures everyone is involved in using this process continuously, and that it remains effective and intact throughout changes in leadership."

The Engine Room is an excellent way for the wing to focus on their priorities, according to Ciro.

Ciro said, "I think this is moving everyone in the right direction to achieving goals and making things better. Part of our expectations is that we strive for Innovation, Communication and Excellence. When members use CPI, they work together to meet those expectations. What they do has an impact on strengthening mission and community partnership."

Darla Kelly, Air Mobility Command's new lead for CPI, said Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21, was refined in the fall of 2015 to better align with the Department of Defense terminology and Inspector General requirements for continuous, daily upkeep with compliance and communication. A key part of using CPI is making the process work for each unit, Kelly said, by using data-driven decisions, and knowing what to track as a measure of success to make the organization successful.

Part of learning about CPI is seeing it in action, and Kelly organizes trips for Team Scott members to see a model for how these processes are set up in the civilian business world such as with The Gund Company. Her office also teaches the CPI Green and Black Belt certifications, as well as CPI's 8-Step Problem Solvers course.