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Multidisciplinary team tackles process-improvement at Kentucky Air Guard

Tech. Sgt. Marie Plaza and Master Sgt. Gary Spaulding of the 123rd Airlift Wing discuss the Line of Duty determination workflow during an AFSO21 team meeting at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., June 28, 2012. AFSO21 -- shorthand for Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century -- is an Air Force process-improvement method that can be used to improve virtually any program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck)

Tech. Sgt. Marie Plaza and Master Sgt. Gary Spaulding of the 123rd Airlift Wing discuss the Line of Duty determination workflow during an AFSO21 team meeting at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., June 28, 2012. AFSO21 -- shorthand for Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century -- is an Air Force process-improvement method that can be used to improve virtually any program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky Air National Guardsmen have a new toolset to help improve programs and processes across the base.

Called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21, the system can be used to "lean" almost program by cutting off excess fat, said Chief Master Sgt. Lori Zinsmeister, chief enlisted manager for the 123rd Force Support Squadron.

She recently served as the AFSO21 team lead for a review of the Line of Duty claims program, which tracks injuries or illnesses experienced during military duty.

Zinsmeister explained that the LOD system had become challenging for members to negotiate, necessitating a re-think of the program.

"It was taking up to 90 days for a Line of Duty claim to get through and people weren't getting paid on time," Zinsmeister said. "According to the Air Force Instruction, we are supposed to do it in a 65-day period."

And so, for two-and-a-half days in June, a team of Kentucky Air Guardsmen used AFSO21 for the first time to analyze and streamline an existing process.

The first problem that needed to be resolved was that Line of Duty determination processing took too long at the local level. The team examined the local workflow to figure out how they could "lean out the fat" and make it faster.

"The goal was to improve the process for the individual Airman," Zinsmeister said.

Based on their findings, the team created checklists for all involved parties, from the member and the commander to the medical group and the judge advocate general. The team also created a policy letter that allows a traditional commander to use a proxy to sign LOD paperwork, so cases can be expedited.

Moving forward, the group will develop a training program to make sure everyone is well informed on how the LOD process is supposed to work.

When an Airman gets sick or injured while on duty, he or she typically files a Line of Duty determination, which is tracked to ensure the Airman is given proper medical care and compensated for any lost time. They are then supposed to be returned to duty or evaluated for a medical disability.

"This is a very long process, and it involves a lot of different elements from within our wing, from finance to medical to the Force Support Squadron to legal to the individual Airman and his command element," said Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing. "This AFSO21 analysis improved all the steps to make it more efficient and timely to support the Airmen as best as possible."

Lt. Col. Robert Hamm, vice wing commander, brought in Phil Chansler, director of Air University's Lean Six Sigma Business Office at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., to help with the wing's first AFSO21 case.

The goals of AFSO21 are to provide a standardized Air Force approach to continuously improving any process that employs Air Force capabilities, eliminating waste, sharing best practices and reducing cycle times.

AFSO21 also ensures that all Airmen understand their role in developing the ability to affect change and continuously learn new ways to improve processes in their daily activities, Hamm said.

AFSO21 uses an eight-step problem solving scheme that can be employed to fix any broken process:

1. Clarify the problem
2. Break down the problem and identify performance gaps
3. Set improvement target
4. Determine root causes
5. Develop countermeasures
6. See countermeasures through
7. Confirm results and process
8. Standardize successful processes

Nelson said he wants AFSO21 to become a "virus" that spreads base wide, to be used by individual Airmen all the way up through the flights, squadrons and groups.
He likes the AFSO21 improvement process because it combines Six Sigma, a private industry improvement process, with elements from combatant planning, such as the "OODA" loop -- observe, orient, decide and act.

"The LOD evaluation is just the first event," Nelson said. "I look for this to be a benchmark event that we can capitalize on and use for any process."

The Kentucky Air Guard LOD team consisted of Zinsmeister, Master Sgt. Gary Spaulding, Lt. Col. Pat Pritchard, Maj. Robert Geary, Chief Master Sgt. Johnie Cherry, Tech. Sgt. Marie Plaza and Maj. Bruce Bancroft. Hamm and Chansler were facilitators.