SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
“If you don’t practice, you don’t deserve to win.”
The inspirational words of retired tennis ace Andre Agassi ring true in many contexts, perhaps none more so than the Commander’s Inspection Program.
In August 2013, the Air Force established the Air Force Inspection System which is an integrated, synchronized system of inspections conducted on behalf of the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and commanders at all levels.
“Continuous process improvement is the cornerstone of any highly successful organization,” said Lou Fischer, director of inspections for the 50th Space Wing Inspector General office. “Units must constantly look for opportunities to improve. As a wing, we address this through the Commander's Inspection Program. By conducting inspections, exercises and self-assessments, we are able to focus on our processes and how they support mission accomplishment.”
Four major graded areas make up these inspections. One of them is “Improving the Unit.”
“There are four main tenants of improving the unit: strategic alignment, process operations, CCIP and data driven decisions,” said Capt. Joseph Villalpando, exercise program manager for the 50th SW IG.
“This involves critically thinking through your unit’s processes and making sure what you’re doing still aligns with your mission and how those things fit in with the wing’s mission, vision and priorities,” Villalpando said.
“It’s great if you’re improving your processes, but if those processes aren’t supporting the mission, then you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere,” he continued.
Villalpando said Airmen at all levels are encouraged to critically think through their processes and if something doesn’t seem to align properly, to bring it to their leadership’s attention.
“It’s always best to fix things in-house,” he said. “A lot of times, people may simply not know if something is out of alignment.”
Tech. Sgt. Martin Howard, exercises section chief for the 50th SW IG, compared process operations to the National Football League’s New England Patriots.
“Sure, they lost the Super Bowl this year, but they are a contender every single year,” he said. “They’re constantly improving their game. Every year they get better and better because they’re improving their processes. They’re constantly identifying their weaknesses and fixing them.”
According to Howard, identifying processes that need improvement isn’t something people should wait until inspections to fix.
“The theme for the CCIP is ‘staying ready in the off-season,’” Howard said. “If you try and sweep something under the rug during practice, that weakness is going to come out during the game. Just because you don’t have a game coming up doesn’t mean you don’t have to improve during practice.”
“A big part of this is allowing commanders to gauge the risk they’re going to be taking,” Villalpando said. “Because we are humans, we err. As such, there is risk to everything. The CCIP helps commanders define risk so they can make the smartest decisions of where to allocate the manning and resources to fix the most imminent weaknesses.”
“By identifying what is broken, deficient, or causing bottle-necks in our day-to-day activities, commanders can assess the root-cause of these issues and take necessary actions to mitigate risk and make necessary improvements to mission accomplishment,” he said.
Howard pointed out that Airmen should look at inspections as positive events designed to help them improve, not punish them.
“Most of the time, if people are doing something wrong, it’s because they don’t know,” he said. “We get that, and commanders get that. We don’t come into your unit looking for people to get in trouble. We come to identify and fix problems.”
While constant improvement is something units should strive for, Villalpando said everything should be backed up by solid data.
“Make sure any and everything you do has data to support it,” he said. “Do a cost/benefit analysis. Ask hard questions and do the research to back up your decisions. Many times what may sound like a good idea turns out not to be when you look at the data.”
Howard said data-backed decisions are key to avoiding redundant or inefficient processes.
“If the data isn’t there to support your ‘improvements’ then you aren’t really improving your unit,” he said. “Make sure your decisions make sense under scrutiny.”
The 50th SW IG office conducts inspections with Schriever units throughout the year, including geographically separated units. These individual unit inspections all lead to a comprehensive wing-wide unit effectiveness inspection in December.
Howard said Airmen must take the findings to heart so the wing is ready on “game day.”
“Sometimes there’s a mindset that as soon as an inspection is over, you resort back to your old ways,” he said. “Why jump through hoops getting ready for a big inspection and then not carry those changes forward?”
“Once you’ve fixed a problem, keep it fixed,” he said. “Game day is coming, so stay ready in the off-season.”
Editor’s note: this is part one in a four-part series on the major graded areas of the commander’s inspection program.