Unleashing the Power of Practical Problem Solving in a One-Day Workshop

  • Published
  • By Christopher Parr

In a dynamic effort to enhance operational efficiency and drive innovation within the Air Force, Process Improver Pipeline Coach Darla Kelly spearheads a transformative one-day learning laboratory. Known as the Practical Problem Solving Model (PPSM) workshop, this hands-on experience empowers small teams to see, understand, and trust the process, paving the way for improved unit performance.

With a commitment to active learning, the workshop goes beyond traditional methods by excluding slides, focusing instead on active connection with the accredited content available in free online computer-based courses hosted by the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, Management  (SAF/MG). Aligning with DAFI38-401 standards, these courses cater to a diverse audience, from the inquisitive to the expert, offering modules such as Foundational Skills, Green Belt, and Black Belt.

"The 8-Step Practical Problem Solving Model becomes the driving force behind data-driven decisions, eliminating unnecessary steps, and fostering creative ideas and innovations within the unit," explains Kelly, emphasizing the workshop's emphasis on practical application.

Participants delve into the crucial skill of identifying value versus non-value steps in a process and understanding how to measure outputs effectively. Armed with this knowledge, teams employ root cause analysis tools to unravel the reasons behind recurring issues, providing a foundation for proactive problem-solving strategies.

Kelly's vision extends beyond the workshop, aiming to inspire learners to translate their newfound knowledge into action within their daily work environments. "We want participants to recognize opportunities to apply these principles everywhere they turn, transforming theory into tangible improvements," she declared.

The workshop also serves as a valuable platform for coaches who collaborate with Kelly. By answering questions and explaining tools in real time, these coaches enrich the learning experience for their respective groups. "This interactive approach allows coaches to guide their teams effectively, reinforcing the application of learned principles," notes Kelly.

“Because the format was to learn as you were doing, I think the value the co-facilitators most provided was that on-the-spot clarifications and instructions,” said Ken Harris, 932nd AW Program Manager for Process Improvement and Innovation (CI²).  “It was more multiple smaller injections of assistance than it was a major single contribution."

Contrary to traditional testing methods, the focus is on real-world application, with the workshop participants having dedicated process managers in their units. These managers play a pivotal role in connecting participants to authentic problems within their units, facilitating a deeper understanding and practical application of the problem-solving principles.

"Having the students work with Lego for the construction assembly line simulates a micro-scale of what a real assembly operation might look like,” said Harris.  “It lets them get hands-on and internalize how inefficiencies in one area (or multiple) have a chain reaction on meeting or failing to meet voice of the customer (VOC) demands. I think that makes it very demonstrable and consumable at the same time…and allows visualization of how it would scale in a real-world operation."

In highlighting the workshop’s broader impact on operational excellence within the Air Force, Kelly concluded that "in essence, our goal is to see daily processes within the unit improve in terms of speed, resource utilization, and overall quality."

As this PPSM workshop continues to empower Air Force members, its ripple effect promises a more efficient and innovative force, ready to tackle challenges head-on in the pursuit of excellence.

CPI specializes in working different methodologies to solve problems for the Air Force while reducing unnecessary processes to increase efficiency. To learn more about the 932nd AW program, contact Ken Harris at kenneth.harris.32@us.af.mil.