Finding the best solution for your organization

  • Published
  • By Maj. SCOTT HALL
  • 56th Component Maintenance Squadron
Technology can play a tremendous role in the development and effectiveness of any organization. With the seemingly endless supply of technological solutions commercially available nowadays, how can we best leverage existing and new technologies to enhance our organizations? And how can we avoid the potential pitfalls of relying too heavily on technology?

These are questions most leaders have probably had to ponder at one time or another. I'd like to share some of my own revelations that were shaped as I witnessed past attempts to implement technological solutions in various organizations.

I remember a time, probably seven years ago, when headquarters staff proposed a new portable handheld device to assist aircraft maintenance technicians in documenting maintenance actions while working on the flightline. The device was intended to improve productivity by reducing the amount of time technicians spent documenting maintenance actions at computer terminals inside of buildings. It would allow them to stay outside on the aircraft where they are most productive. If I remember correctly, the staff purchased a few hundred devices for the unit. It was a really nice device -- light, portable, and rugged.

Too bad it didn't work as advertised.

The device relied on wireless technology that, at the time, was not conducive to the flightline environment. But no problem, we learned the device had a feature that allowed maintenance technicians to make inputs while outside and then download the information to a computer using a docking station once inside.

Problem solved, right? Not really. The maintenance technicians complained the menu screen was cumbersome with too many options. It wasn't user friendly. At least that's what they told me. So the devices stayed on the shelf and the maintainers continued with business as usual.

There was another time when another organization conducted a "Lean" based rapid improvement event that explored ways to reduce the technicians' downtime during a regularly scheduled aircraft inspection and overhaul that usually took about five days to complete. The tiger team consisted of maintenance technicians from the shop floor, me and a facilitator. The team determined that the most time was wasted (i.e. no wrenches turning) during the documentation process at the computer terminal.

After a little research, the team discovered the regulations did not require all maintenance actions to be inputted into the computer, only the tasks that affected safety of flight. We call them "red X" conditions. The remaining tasks could be handwritten on an automated paper printout and stored in the aircraft maintenance file.
With a little follow up, the team completed the actions necessary to initiate the new process. It worked as expected and was highlighted to the headquarters staff as a best practice.

In my final example, a headquarters staff member purchased a new piece of test equipment that would reduce the time required for technicians to perform functional checks on missiles once loaded onto an aircraft.

They invited our weapons technicians to participate in the initial operational testing of the device to get their input before purchasing it. The technicians simply loved it. They were salivating at the mouth waiting for headquarters to field the device, and they mentioned it every time I spoke with them.

The three examples above illustrate the challenges and benefits of using technology. It can be a great tool that increases efficiency in an organization if used correctly.

Based on my experience, organizations can implement technologies more effectively when the workforce has an opportunity to participate in developing the solution, because they will have "buy in" into the system. By using this approach, the workforce will be more willing to use technological solutions and will appreciate their leaders for responding to their needs. Nonetheless, solutions to problems can also exist outside of technology; as we saw in one case, using paper and pencil was more efficient than entering information into a computer.

As leaders, we must ensure we implement technology solutions that meet the needs of our personnel. We should also seek to remove or modify technology that is not user friendly or inappropriate for the task. Leaders should also include the rest of the workforce in the planning and execution of new technological solutions.

Finally, we should also consider "low tech" solutions to problems. By following these principles, we may have a greater measure of success in finding the best technological solutions to enhance our organizations.