Green Belt training teaches wing to slash waste

  • Published
  • By Maj. Candice Allen
  • 926th Wing Public Affairs

Lined on the wall in a conference room were words scribbled on sticky notes describing each step of an exercise. The exercise? An ABC simulation. Essentially, it is how to write the alphabet on 15 index cards in under two minutes with no errors.

This exercise was part of a Green Belt Training Course taught by Christopher Gruber, the 926th Wing process manager, at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, June 18-20, 2019.

On their first attempt, the group of eight Reserve Citizen Airmen completed this exercise just shy over nine minutes. The second time – one minute and 46 seconds.  

“You took what you already had, made some adjustments and improved the process by 84 percent,” said Gruber to participants the second time around. “We did this without throwing more manpower or money to solve the problem.”

This exercise drove home how minor adjustments to a process – a tweak here, a tweak there – can increase productivity.

Through hands-on exercises, Gruber helped train attendees on how to discard unnecessary information while improving efficiencies in the processes they manage. 

“This course shows individuals what is truly happening in their [problem solving] processes through visual aids and tools that allow them to identify and remove waste,” Gruber said.

The Air Force Green Belt training equips people to lead process improvements and boost efficiencies.

Over the course of three days, attendees learned the “why” behind Green Belt, identified a problem, mapped out the process from beginning to end, and then tried to solve the problem. All the while, participants eliminated redundancies and improved efficiency.

“In a nutshell, it [Green Belt] shows how lean [techniques] can affect organizational culture,” Gruber said.

Green Belt not only affects processes; it directly affects an organization’s operational cost savings. Gruber experienced this same savings effect at his previous jobs as process managers with the Veterans Administration and Department of the Army.

“When I worked for the VA, we redesigned the onboarding new employee process through using lean techniques and eliminating waste,” Gruber said. “It created a $1.4 million savings per year.”  

Maj. Ignacio Macapagal, the director of operations for 555th RED HORSE, observed firsthand the benefits of process improvement while working in the aerospace industry over two decades ago.

Lean practices [in the aerospace industry at that time] was about keeping only the value-added parts of the product while reducing overhead costs, said Macapagal.

His industry experience prompted Macapagal to volunteer as Gruber’s assistant for the training, because he knew of its value.

The 555th RED HORSE held its first Green Belt course earlier this year when it reviewed its travel order process. Since identifying redundancies and eliminating waste, the unit slashed its travel order process error rate by 98.9 percent. It went from being one of the units with the highest errors in the wing to the lowest.

This is the second Green Belt Course Gruber has taught since arriving to the wing late 2018.

“My goal is to leverage the experience and knowledge I have to better all levels within the 926th,” Gruber said. “That includes fostering synergy among Airmen in select positions to affect change culturally and through their processes.”