Solutions to problems must pass three tests

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Steven Andrasz
  • 354th Fighter Wing Comptroller Squadron
I am a former squadron officer school instructor. The primary motto of that school is ‘cogito ergo sum’ which translates to “I think, therefore I am.” Put another way, my existence and survival comes from the fact that I use my mind to understand my environment and how I fit into it. 

Some say the environment of the Air Force has begun to change greatly due to transformation, but the Air Force has been undergoing transformations in one form or another since aerial combat began. 

At first, we thought the bomber would always get through if it was only armed enough.
Then we realized air power had to be packaged combining bombers with fighter escorts.
As we entered the cold war, we thought of everything we did, including our weapon systems, as being either strategic or tactical. 

That changed after we realized some strategic systems were being used for tactical missions and vice versa. We tried keeping the research and development of weapon systems separate from their support with systems command and logistics command.
Then we figured it would be better if we combined the two into Air Force Materiel Command so we could have cradle to grave seamless weapon system support. I could go on and on with examples showing how Air Force issues have always been in a state of uncertainty. 

This uncertainty has increased as time progressed due to advances in technology. But no matter what the situation has been, there have been people capable of surviving change and those who were incapable. Regardless of the situation, the tactics of thinking through a problem to a solution have remained the same. 

Regardless of whether we are looking at a corporation, the military or a non-Department of Defense organization, any solution to a problem must pass three tests. They are political, economic and doctrinal. 

The political test is simple enough. The question is if leaders are willing to accept the recommended solution. Leadership might reject a solution based upon anything ranging from costs, hard numeric data, or their feeling that power over a process will be lost from their organization. 

The important thing here is to understand the feelings and opinions of your leaders and try to find ways to “sell” the benefits of your solution and how it aligns to your organizations political climate. 

The economic test is simply based on the fact that money does not grow on trees.
There is a limit to the amount of revenue a corporation brings in for use on projects. There is also a limit to the tax revenues a city, state or national government has for distribution across identified needs. 

A dollar spent on one requirement is a dollar that cannot be spent elsewhere. Is the solution too costly? Can the organization’s budget support it? If not, are there less costly alternatives? If 75 percent of the funding needed was available would a scaled down version of the solution be possible? 

In this area, failure tends to arise if the problem solver has only one recommended solution and is unwilling to adapt their ideas to a smaller budget. 

The last test is doctrine. Doctrine is something found in any large organization.
Doctrine is that level of planning and organization between the strategic or national or grand vision of an organization and its departmental or unit level tactics. 

It does not provide specific steps to solve a problem, but does provide a basic understanding of what the organization’s objectives are and general concepts over how to organize and operate to support those objectives. The question in this case is the recommended solution in line with our organization’s mission and how it is organized?
An example of these tests applied to a simple problem happened recently within the wing staff agencies. 

With the military personnel flight downsizing, there were not enough personnelists remaining to handle the orderly room type tasks for the various smaller organizations in Amber Hall (wing staff agencies, mission support group staff, comptroller, contracting and services squadrons). 

A thoughtful solution was presented in which existing orderly room personnel would be combined into a single organization supporting the orderly room needs of all of these organizations. 

The same three basic questions had to be discussed to get to a final solution set.
First, are there any leaders who might feel their organization will be left out or lose power? Is each organization willing to give up some of its human resources in order to get an improved situation for all? 

Second, what are the total costs involved? Where will the combined organization be located? Are there added, hidden, support costs needed to create a shared organization? 

Is this doctrinally sound? Who will have day to day tactical control over the priorities tasks receive? Are there basic rules everyone can agree on for how major categories of work will be prioritized? 

Who will have administrative responsibility for these people? Who will be responsible for writing the enlisted performance reports for those who work in the combined orderly room? All of these issues are very well on their way to final solutions. 

It was great to see so many organizations come together to solve a common problem. All of us, regardless of rank bear responsibility for the success of our organizations.
I tell my own NCOs that if they see a problem, they have a responsibility as leaders to at least try and come up with potential solutions. 

The wrong action is to simply complain about their environment. And when they arrive at a possible solution, they need to understand that there will be political, economic and doctrinal issues they must be able to work through. 

You can either complain or think your way through a problem.