Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Emily Johnston
Virtually everything in life involves a process: a series of steps to reach the desired end-goal. On Navy ships, processes are imperative. It is vital that every step is executed properly, and that the personnel involved are actively engaged in order to accomplish the mission. The more efficient each process is, the better.
AIRSpeed is a Navy program committed to observing and improving processes to decrease man hours, increase morale, save money, and improve mission readiness by making them more efficient. The comparable program is known in the civilian world as Lean Six Sigma.
“AIRSpeed is decreasing input to increase output,” said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class Rebecca Sova, from Sheridan, Mich. “The goal is to do less to get more done.”
Sova runs the AIRSpeed program aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
“AIRSpeed Is a methodology that’s used for process improvements,” said Cmdr. Michael Mulhern, from Brandon, Fla., the maintenance officer aboard Nimitz. “It doesn’t mean anybody’s doing anything wrong; it just means there could be a better way of doing things. We try to get rid of any wasted movement, wasted time, anything that takes up the Sailors’ ability to do their job, and we try to capitalize on efficiencies.”
First, the AIRSpeed team, led by Sova, chooses a process to conduct an event on. That process is observed over the course of multiple days, and the team looks closely at each step, looking for anything that can be changed to make the process more efficient. Then, changes are implemented; parts tools are moved or organized, paths are shortened, and unnecessary steps are removed. After the changes are implemented, the team observes the process again and compares the efficiency of the process from before and after the event was held.
More often than not, work centers with processes chosen for AIRSpeed events feel targeted, like their process is wrong.
“I think we get tied up in a ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ kind of attitude,” said Mulhern. “Nobody likes change.”
The goal now, Sova said, is to eliminate the negative stigma and spread the word about how impactful AIRSpeed really is, and get as much involvement as possible.
“We’re getting the word out as to what AIRSpeed is on the ship and what we do,” said Ens. Joseph Hibner, from Austin, Texas, the AIRSpeed divisional officer. “Even the people who don’t know what AIRSpeed is are still reaping the benefits of it.”
There are multiple levels of qualification in AIRSpeed/Lean Six Sigma. The lowest level certification is yellow belt, which is easily attainable aboard Nimitz. It covers the basics of conducting an AIRSpeed event. Sova teaches a yellow belt course regularly, and anyone from any department has the potential to be certified.
The next level of certification is green belt. Green belt members must already be yellow belt certified. Green belt certification provides a level of greater knowledge and experience into Lean Six Sigma methodology. After green belt comes black, followed by master black belt, which is the highest attainable certification.
“We just finished a green belt course that completed training for 18 people,” said Sova. “This time around, we are going to maintain AIRSpeed through the shipyard period, which has a lot to do with the unlimited support of the AIRSpeed chain of command. I see the program growing through the long-term sustainment, getting more people certified and involved.”
Certification for AIRSpeed, like yellow belt and green belt, are easily translated into the civilian world. Qualification in the Navy counts towards qualification in a civilian job.
The AIRSpeed team, according to Hibner, is trying to get as many Nimitz Sailors involved as possible. They are trying to start small by getting people from various departments yellow belt certified, and branching out to green belt, eventually attaining command-wide involvement.
“AIRSpeed’s goal isn’t to point out the things you’re doing wrong,” said Hibner. “The goal is to improve the process of what already might be a good process. It’s to help you reduce the time required for the actual work, distance traveled, and to save the Navy money.”
The AIRSpeed team has completed several events this year. One such event saved an approximate 75% in man hours, improving mission capability and readiness and creating greater efficiency in that work center.
“I would say give it a chance,” said Mulhern. “We’re not making any changes to the end product, we’re changing the way you get to the end product. If we can save a Sailor an hour out of the day, that’s an hour they get back. If you can minimize the time spent walking from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ to get a part, that means we’re getting that part through the system a bit quicker, that means we’re saving unnecessary travel for the Sailor, we’re saving wasted steps. So I think in the long run, it’s a way to improve their processes.”
As a part of everyday life, processes need to be as seamless as possible. AIRSpeed strives to increase efficiencies wherever possible, in the best interest of Sailors and the Navy as a whole.
Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.